Roger Federer produced his best display of the year to defeat Marin Cilic in four sets in the second round of the French Open.

The 20-time grand slam singles champion overcame frustrations with the umpire and the powerful resilience of his opponent to win 6-2 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Thursday.

The Swiss great holds an 11-1 lead in their head-to-head record, that one defeat coming back in the US Open semi-finals in 2014 when Cilic went on to lift the trophy, and it seemed as though Federer had their latest contest on his racquet early on.

He raced into a 5-1 lead in the first set before closing it out in just 31 minutes, the crowd left stunned when the eighth seed stretched up to produce a remarkable drop-shot return winner.

Matters became trickier in the second set as Cilic went 3-0 ahead and only some precise serve-and-forehand work from Federer prevented the double break.

A curious moment occurred with Cilic leading 3-1 when Federer was issued a time violation when receiving serve at deuce. A bemused Federer spoke at length with the umpire before calling to Cilic, "Am I playing too slow?".

Although far from descending into a shouting match, the incident seemed to throw off Federer, who gifted the set to Cilic with two forehand errors and looked unsettled until he refocused with a ripped backhand winner in the opening game of the third.

Cilic forced the tie-break after Federer had spurned an easy chance for a double break, but a double fault from the world number 47 handed the initiative to his rival, who by this time looked imperious on serve and in control from the baseline.

An ace on his first set point wrapped up the breaker and another Cilic double fault saw him fall a break behind in the fourth. This time, Federer did not allow a sniff of a comeback.

Data Slam: Federer back in the groove with clinical display

More accustomed to facing Cilic in the later stages of majors – he has beaten the Croatian in Wimbledon and Australian Open finals – Federer nonetheless needed to find something close to his best tennis after allowing early control to slip away in only his fourth match since returning after knee surgery.

The 39-year-old fired down 16 aces to one double fault and 47 winners to just 27 unforced errors. As Cilic said before the contest: "No matter the age, Roger has the formula."

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Cilic – 43/44
Federer – 47/27

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Cilic – 12/6
Federer – 16/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Cilic – 3/8
Federer – 5/16

Novak Djokovic booked a place in the last 32 of the French Open with a straight-sets victory over Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas.

The top seed, seeking just a second triumph at Roland Garros, followed up his emphatic win against Tennys Sandgren in round one with a slightly tougher 6-3 6-2 6-4 triumph against Cuevas.

World number one Djokovic had 31 winners to 22 unforced errors and will now face James Duckworth – who beat Ricardas Berankis earlier on Thursday – in the next round.

Djokovic initially took some time to get going and lost his serve in just the third game, before instantly hitting back in the fourth.

The 18-time grand slam winner did not look back from that point, serving up some impressive tennis on the clay and breaking Cuevas again in the eighth game to take a one-set lead.

Cuevas has reached the third round in Paris on four occasions, but hopes of doing so again this year were effectively put to bed in a blistering second set from Djokovic, who was successful with all 11 of his first serves to close in on victory.

Playing on Court Suzanne-Lenglen did not faze Djokovic – with Roger Federer taking prime position on Court Philippe-Chatrier – as he held throughout a gruelling third set and completed the job with a 10th ace of an entertaining contest.

Data Slam: Another milestone reached for Djokovic

Thursday's match was Djokovic's 350th at a grand slam and he looked very impressive pretty much from the moment he recovered from his early wobble. Cuevas also played well, but his opponent saved eight of the nine break points he faced to set up a meeting with Berankis.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 23/22
Cuevas – 31/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 10/3
Cuevas – 5/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 5/8
Cuevas – 1/9

Stefanos Tsitsipas has been delighted with the backing he has received at the French Open as he continues his quest to better last year's semi-final run.

The 22-year-old has previously spoke of his fondness for Roland Garros, and he earned a tour-leading 35th win of the season against Pedro Martinez on Wednesday.

It finished 6-3 6-4 6-3 in the second round in favour of the fifth seed, who is yet to lose a set at this year's second grand slam.

Tsitsipas is leading the FedEX ATP Race to Turin, and John Isner stands in his way of a fourth-round place.

"I really like playing in Paris," said Tsitsipas, who won titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon before heading to Roland Garros.

"I feel like the fans have embraced me and made me one of them. So, I'm really glad my tennis is there, my performance is there, and I'm able to deliver not just good tennis but also create a good atmosphere on this court."

Tsitsipas, who at one point dropped his racket while serving, did have to work for his win, though. Martinez broke him in the first and second sets, and the Greek was then denied the opportunity to serve out the win in the third.

Martinez's stand did not last much longer – Tsitsipas' backhand winner in the following game sealing the win.

"I've had good weeks this year, I've had some good results, but, of course, I feel like there's always better," the world number five added.

"I don't see my performance so far as super-excellent and outstanding, but I've been consistent and that's very important."

MEDVEDEV BITES BACK

Daniil Medvedev might finally have settled into life at Roland Garros. The second seed had a dismal record in the French Open heading into this year's grand slam, but despite a shaky start on Wednesday, he defeated Tommy Paul 3-6 6-1 6-4 6-3 to claim a place in round three.

Though Paul made the most of a shaky opening set from Medvedev, the Russian rallied in set two and kept the momentum going, winning 80 per cent of his first-serve points in a victory which took two hours and 18 minutes to round off, and also included eight breaks of serve from the world number two.

Next up is Reilly Opelka, who saw off Jaume Munar. The American has a losing 2-1 head-to-head record against Medvedev, though this is the first time they will meet on clay.

There was a shock elsewhere, as 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut was dumped out by Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen.

ZVEREV GETS SNAPPY AFTER RAGGED DISPLAY

World number six Alexander Zverev was made to work for his place in round three, as he overcame Roman Safiullin 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 7-6 (7-1).

Zverev trailed in both the second and third sets, as the 24-year-old needed two tie-breaks to beat the qualifier.

"Obviously, I don't do it on purpose," Zverev said. "I don't go into the match and say, 'Okay, my tactic is I'm going to be a break down, I'm going to fight back and come back'.

"That's not how it works. I'm a break down most of the time because I play unfocused games or the opponent plays well."

Zverev will play Laslo Djere in round three, and despite his frustration after the match, the German has moved onto 20 wins for the season, which already includes titles in Acapulco and Madrid.

Djere beat fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, and if Zverev should keep winning, he may well face a quarter-final against Casper Ruud, the promising Norwegian player who beat Kamil Majchrzak 6-3 6-2 6-4 to make it to the third round at Roland Garros for a third straight season.

Standing in the way of Ruud and the last eight is Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who went the distance to defeat Botic Van De Zandschulp.

Men's top seed Novak Djokovic says he empathizes with Naomi Osaka having been on the wrong side of the media in the past following her withdrawal from the 2021 French Open.

Four-time grand slam winner Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers said her continued refusal to attend compulsory news conferences could result in her being expelled from the Open.

Osaka had come out publicly prior to the French Open and announced she would not attend the news conferences after matches at Roland Garros, citing mental health reasons.

After winning in the first round, Osaka opted out and explained her decision in a social media statement where she said has had bouts of depression since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction.

Djokovic, who came under fire last year for his role in the Adria Tour and his US Open default, was asked about Osaka's situation at his post-match news conferences after his straight sets win over Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday.

"Naomi is very young… I can understand her very well. I can empathise because I was on the wrong edge of the sword in my career many times with media," Djokovic said.

"I know how it feels. I support her. I think she was very brave to do that.

"I'm really sorry that she's going through painful times and suffering mentally. I wish her all the best.

"She's a very important player, brand and person for our sport. We need to have her back.

"This was a very bold decision from her side but she knows how she feels best. If she needs to take time and reflect and recharge, that's what she needed to do. I respect it fully. I hope she'll come back stronger."

Djokovic, who was 18 major titles to his name, added that he understood the stance of the French Open and other Grand Slams who have insisted on news conferences being mandatory after every match.

"The grand slams are protecting themselves and their own business," he said. "Of course, they're going to follow the rules and make sure you are complying otherwise you'll be paying fines and getting sanctioning.

"It's not surprising to me that that was their reaction. We're used to this environment and the principles of us doing interviews after every match and getting to answer questions that are majorly quite similar.

"But it's part of our sport and what we do. The media is important without a doubt. It's allowing us to have the platform to communicate with our fans but in a more traditional way.

"It used to be the only way how we could reach out to our fans. In the last five to 10 years it's not the case anymore. We have our own platforms and social media accounts."

Djokovic won 6-2 6-4 6-2 over Sandgren, compiling 33 winners to extend his outstanding French Open first round record to 17-0.

"I thought I played really well, moved very well," he said. "From the later stages of the Rome tournament until now, I'm finding my groove on the court, striking the ball well."

Novak Djokovic eased into the second round of the French Open thanks to a straight-sets win over Tennys Sandgren in the final match at Roland Garros on Tuesday.

The top seed – beaten by Rafael Nadal, who is in the same half of the draw, in the Paris final last year – had won his previous 16 first-round contests at the French Open, and there never appeared to be any danger of him failing to extend that record on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Indeed, this meeting lasted under two hours, with the world number one cruising through 6-2 6-4 6-2 without conceding serve and while hitting 33 winners in the process.

It also brought up his fourth career win over Sandgren, maintaining a 100 per cent record over the world number 66. Pablo Cuevas awaits in round two.

Sandgren was a break down in a hurry as Djokovic breezed through the first set in just 31 minutes.

The 34-year-old – a five-time Roland Garros finalist who claimed his solitary title at the event in 2016 – grew frustrated in the second set as he made nine unforced errors and offered up six break points, yet he saved them all.

It evidently demoralised Sandgren, who had put everything into trying to draw level, and the American swiftly found himself 4-1 and two breaks down in the final set, with Djokovic moving through the gears.

A sloppy shot into the net cost Djokovic his first match-point opportunity at 5-2 up, yet he made no mistake as he served out for the win – Sandgren's overhit cross-court forehand rounding off a one-sided contest.

Data Slam: Super Djokovic serves up a treat

Eighteen-time grand slam champion Djokovic may not have needed to live up to his own lofty standards, but his service game was typically excellent in the evening session. He landed 49 of 73 first serves, helping him to win 86 per cent of his first-serve points (42/49). 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 33/21
Sandgren – 25/27

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 4/2
Sandgren – 5/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 5/11
Sandgren – 0/6

Rafael Nadal has tipped Alexei Popyrin for greatness after being tested by the youngster in the opening match of his latest French Open title defence.

World number three Nadal saved two set points in the third set on his way to a well-earned 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-3) victory in Tuesday's contest at Roland Garros.

It means that only three players have taken a set from the Spaniard at the grand slam event since 2016 – Diego Schwartzman, David Goffin and Dominic Thiem.

Nadal's victory over Popyrin was his 31st in a row in Paris since 2015 and keeps him on course for a record-extending 14th triumph in the French capital.

The third seed was impressed by what he saw from his 21-year-old opponent, who showed admirable resistance by saving four break points to force a tie-break in the third set.

"With this serve, with these kinds of shots from the baseline, he has everything to become a top player," Nadal said. "If he wants to do it, of course he is going to have his chances, because he has a lot of very difficult things in his game.

"He has everything to become a great, or at least a fantastic player. Let's see. Let's see what is going on in the next couple of months and years."

Asked about his impressive record of rarely dropping a set, Nadal said: "We are playing best-of-five. The other player needs to win two more sets to beat you.

"I know I'm going to be there fighting for every single point. Of course I don't want to lose the set at all, but that's part of the game.

"I'm happy to win that third set. I don't know how I won it, but I did, and I'm glad."

RUBLEV BEATEN BY BIG-SERVING STRUFF

Nadal's path to another French Open title is a little clearer following seventh seed Andrey Rublev's surprise first-round exit to world number 42 Jan-Lennard Struff.

Rublev had reached the quarter-final stage at his previous three majors and was much fancied to go far in Paris, but he fell 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 3-6 6-4 to the big-serving Struff.

The German hit 25 aces on his way to beating a top-10 opponent at a grand slam for the first time, setting up a second-round meeting with Facundo Bagnis.

"I was feeling fine," Rublev said after the defeat. "I practiced well. I don't know why I lost. I think we played a good level today. I played a solid two sets, third and fourth, and then the fifth set.

"I think I should have won the second set, but this is tennis. I was serving for the set and I didn't make it, then in the tie-break I was a bit unlucky and he played well."

MONFILS ENDS SLAM DROUGHT

Fan favourite Gael Monfils battled back from a set down to beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 1-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 6-4 and earn his first grand slam win since the 2020 Australian Open.

Monfils has struggled since tennis resumed last year after the coronavirus-enforced break, with Tuesday's win on home soil just his second this season.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev kicked off his French Open campaign with victory over Jenson Brooksby in three sets.

Tenth seed Schwartzman, who reached the last four in Paris last year, saw off Lu Yen-hsun 6-2 6-2 6-3 in his opening match.

Matteo Berrettini was made to work a little harder for his victory against Taro Daniel, the ninth seed advancing through 6-0 6-4 4-6 6-4.

There was an upset later in the day, though, as number 20 seed Felix Auger Aliassime was beaten in four sets by world number 98 Andreas Seppi.

Rafael Nadal started his quest for a 14th French Open title with a straight-sets defeat of Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday.

The defending champion will face Richard Gasquet in the second round after a 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-3) victory over powerful Australian Popyrin on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Nadal, eyeing a record 21st grand slam title, saved two set points in the third set as Popyrin gave a demonstration of his promise, but the world number three finished off the job in in two hours and 23 minutes on a glorious day in Paris.

Popyrin held to love in his first service game and matched Nadal in the first set before he ballooned a forehand long and wide to go 5-3 down.

Nadal served out the set in typically composed fashion and maintained his momentum in the second, charging into a 4-0 lead.

The third seed lost only three points behind his first serve in the second set, saving the only break point he faced as Popyrin was unable to live with his power and precision.

Popyrin would not go down without a fight, though, and although Nadal levelled at 2-2 after fending off a break point, he was unable to deny the world number 63 a first break for a 4-2 lead.

The 21-year-old failed to win two set points when he tried to serve it out at 5-4 up as Nadal got himself out of trouble and went on to dominate the tie-break, ending the match with a rasping forehand that his opponent returned well wide.

 

Data Slam: King of Clay Nadal up to 101-2

Nadal's latest victory in Paris took his record at his favourite grand slam to a staggering 101 victories and two defeats.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 28/23
Popyrin – 34/43

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal– 7/5
Popyrin – 8/5

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 4/11
Popyrin – 1/4

Roger Federer is enjoying the "whole rhythm thing" of playing at a grand slam again but admits he has no idea what he is capable of achieving at the French Open.

The Swiss looked sharp in his first-round match on Monday against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, posting a 6-2 6-4 6-3 win – coming through his first match at a major since the 2020 Australian Open and subsequent knee surgery.

It was partly his prowess but perhaps also the shortcomings of Istomin's performance that allowed 2009 champion Federer to put on a show on Court Philippe Chatrier, setting up a clash with a familiar foe in Marin Cilic next.

Federer and Cilic will be going head to head for an 11th time – Federer leads the series 9-1 – and for the first time since the 2018 Australian Open final, which went the way of Basle's 20-time grand slam winner in five sets.

It will be their sixth clash in a slam and at the earliest stage they have encountered each other at a major, with those past tussles also including the 2017 Wimbledon final, when an injury-hampered Cilic lost in straight sets.

Federer spoke after beating Istomin of how it is difficult to gauge what he might go on to manage at Roland Garros.

"In a way, I like this situation, that I don't know what's next, how my next match will be. I don't even know who I play, to be honest," Federer said.

"I take it round by round, match by match. I think it's going to help me, with the way I go about it. I'm very happy I won today. It gives me a chance again to test myself on Thursday, I believe. I don't know when I'm playing.

"So see how I feel tomorrow morning. Just all these things going through practice, coming to the site, seeing people, just this whole rhythm thing.

"It's nice to be back in it."

Federer is in Paris without his family due to COVID-19 restrictions and worries it will be the same story at Wimbledon.

But he added: "We signed up for it. I didn't do rehab to then sit at home again. There's a lot to look forward to."

MEDVEDEV WINS AT LAST

Daniil Medvedev's status as the second seed in Paris was the factor that made it possible for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to be drawn in the same half of the draw, which is what transpired.

There is an element of farce about Medvedev being seeded above 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal, because the Russian has gone out in the first round in each of his previous visits to the clay-court slam.

However, on Monday, the world number two made a breakthrough, winning well in a match where he was expected to run into trouble as he earned a 6-3 6-3 7-5 victory over Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik.

"It doesn't feel different than the Australian Open for me coming into this tournament. Now when I'm coming to these big tournaments feeling like this, I know I'm capable of doing big things," Medvedev said.

"If I lose here in Roland Garros it's probably going to be because my opponent will play really good."

NEXTGEN MAKE EARLY IMPACT

David Goffin, the Belgian 13th seed, lost 6-0 7-5 7-6 (7-3) to 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, and it was a day when the sight of 39-year-old Federer turning on the style was balanced by the inspiring sight of the next generation showing their potential.

Musetti's fellow Italian Jannik Sinner is also 19 and is the 18th seed, showing on Monday he has the fight to come through tough battles, rallying from two sets to one down to beat experienced French player Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-1 4-6 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-4.

It was the first time Sinner had won a deciding set in a best-of-five match.

Sinner, Musetti and Spain's Carlos Alcaraz could all be major factors at Roland Garros in future years.

Alcaraz, who turned 18 in early May, followed up his run through qualifying and to the second round of the Australian Open by doing the same in the French capital.

He dropped only 11 games in winning three best-of-three-set qualifiers last week and was too strong for his 24-year-old compatriot Bernabe Zapata Miralles, snatching a 6-3 2-6 6-1 7-6 (7-4) win for a first senior win at Roland Garros.

"I think the mental game is really, really important in this kind of matches," Alcaraz said. "You have to be focused and calm all the match, like three hours and 10 minutes.

"It's really important and not easy to do. In the match I trusted a lot in my physical side. I could play really, really good game during the whole match."

Roger Federer returned to grand slam tennis with a rout typical of the Swiss great as he breezed past Denis Istomin in the French Open first round.

Even at the age of 39, and with his 40th birthday coming up in August, Federer is capable of brutally dismantling inferior opponents on the big stage, and a 6-2 6-4 6-3 win took just an hour and 33 minutes.

It was every bit the masterclass that such a scoreline suggests, although far more strenuous tests await Federer in Paris. The outcome means he has not dropped a set in round one at Roland Garros since 2003, when he was beaten by Peruvian Luis Horna.

Expectations are different of him this year after knee surgery, with Federer drawn in the same half of the draw as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic but widely regarded as being a major outsider, having not featured at any grand slam since losing to Djokovic in the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals. He has barely played since then, winning just one match until this demolition.

A French Open champion in 2009 and four times a runner-up, Federer has not made clay a priority in his schedule over recent years and has been absent for four of the last five editions of this tournament.

That did not mean there was a lukewarm reception for him on Court Philippe-Chatrier, however, with the 20-time major winner instead greeted enthusiastically.

This was an eighth career clash between Federer and his Uzbek opponent, and a third in the first round of a slam. The aggregate set score in those three clashes is now 9-0 to Federer, Istomin unable to find a way into such matches, with this loss following Australian Open pastings in 2006 and 2019 – their one-sided rivalry going back a long way.

He has never lost to 34-year-old Istomin, who served two double faults in his opening service game here and was broken immediately, Federer striking again in game seven before serving out to take the first set against the qualifier in 22 minutes, having served six aces and landed 95 per cent of his first serves.

Rusty? Far from it, so it seemed.

Istomin, in glasses and a headband, was helped by that first-serve percentage coming down to 57 in the second set, but Federer's overall play stayed at a high level. Victory was his when Istomin paddled an attempted drop shot into the net.

DATA SLAM: Federer in fine fettle

Federer won five of 13 break-point opportunities across the contest, while Istomin did not have a single chance against the world number eight's serve. Federer's winners-to-unforced-errors ratio of 48:20 also spoke volumes of his performance, a fortnight on from losing to Pablo Andujar in his opening match in Geneva.

The surprise Andujar defeat was given some context on Sunday when the Spaniard sank the Roland Garros hopes of fourth seed Dominic Thiem.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Federer – 48/20
Istomin – 18/14

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Federer – 8/0
Istomin – 3/4

BREAK POINTS WON
Federer - 5/13
Istomin - 0/0

Sebastian Korda won the first ATP Tour title of his career with a straight-sets defeat of Marco Cecchinato in the Emilia-Romagna Open final on Saturday.

Korda became the first American man to be crowned a champion on clay in Europe for 11 years, beating the Italian wildcard 6-2 6-4 in Parma.

The unseeded 20-year-old son of former world number two Petr Korda did not drop a set this week and will head to the French Open with his confidence sky-high.

Korda won 82 per cent of points behind his first serve and broke three times to get the better of Cecchinato at the President Tennis Club.

The Florida native took just an hour and 15 minutes to become the first American man since Sam Querrey in Belgrade back in 2010 to win a title in Europe on this surface.

His victory ensured the Kordas are the third father-son duo to win ATP Tour-level singles titles in the Open Era, emulating Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, and Phil Dent and Taylor Dent.

World number 63 Korda will face Spaniard Pedro Martinez in the first round at Roland Garros next week.

Novak Djokovic will head to the French Open on the back of claiming the singles title at the Belgrade Open after battling past Alex Molcan in the final.

The world number one did not have it all his own way against the world number 255, with the first set featuring just three service holds.

But Djokovic claimed four breaks to Molcan's three to take the opener and did not let his advantage slip in front of his home crowd.

He negotiated a similarly tricky second set to prevail 6-4 6-3, with attention now turning to the second grand slam of the year after Djokovic won the Australian Open back in January.

After a resilient performance in the first set as he twice came back from a break down, Djokovic was able to enjoy a slightly less frenetic path to victory in the second.

He broke down a more obdurate Molcan for a 4-2 lead, only for the Slovak to hit straight back.

But Djokovic was not to be denied and immediately claimed another break, which he consolidated to delight his adoring public.

Victory in what was Djokovic's first final on home soil since 2011 means he now has 83 ATP singles titles to his name, with three of them coming at this event.

It also caps a positive period of preparation for a tilt at a second French Open title, with Djokovic having reached the final in Rome this month only to lose to Roland Garros favourite Rafael Nadal.

Nadal and Djokovic could meet in the semi-finals this year in Paris, where the Serbian was thrashed by the King of Clay in three sets in the 2020 final.

Djokovic will start his campaign to add to his 2016 French Open success when he faces Tennys Sandgren in the first round.

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes – a statement largely true until Rafael Nadal emerged on the scene and made the French Open his own.

Since breaking through for his first Roland Garros triumph in 2005, only three other men – Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic – have managed to interrupt Nadal's dominance in Paris.

Nadal has won 13 French Open men's singles titles, seven more than any other player in the Open era (Bjorn Borg, six) heading into this year's edition.

Despite being seeded third, it would take a brave person to bet against defending champion Nadal adding to his mammoth and unprecedented haul in the French capital, where the second grand slam of the year gets underway on Sunday.

On the women's side, defending champion Iga Swiatek is looking to follow in the footsteps of Belgian great Justine Henin.

As all eyes shift to Court Philippe Chatrier and its surroundings, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this year's slam, using Opta data.

 

The 'King of Clay'

Nadal will open his title defence against Australian Alexei Popyrin. Since 2000, only Nadal (13) and Gustavo Kuerten (two) have won the French Open more than once.

The 34-year-old swept aside world number one Djokovic in straight sets last year for his fourth consecutive French Open crown and 20th slam trophy, equalling Roger Federer's all-time record. Nadal maintained his stranglehold on the major, having not dropped a set throughout the fortnight. Only three players have previously won the French Open without losing a single set: Ilie Nastase in 1973, Bjorn Borg in 1978 and 1980 and Nadal in 2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020.

Nadal is the only player to have won the same slam more than 10 times. He has lost just two of the 102 matches played in Paris (excluding walkovers), losing to Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round and Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals, while has won each of the last 30.

The record for most slam titles on the men's circuit will also be up for grabs, with Nadal and the returning Federer seeking to snap their tie.

In the last 25 years, the number one seed has won the French Open on only five occasions – Nadal (2018, 2014 and 2011), Djokovic (2016) and Kuerten (2001). It does not bode well for top seed and 18-time major champion Djokovic, who is looking to close the gap on foes Nadal and Federer.

Australian Open champion Djokovic, who will face Tennys Sandgren in the first round, has reached the final in seven of the last 10 slams he contested, claiming six titles. However, the Serbian star has only featured in five French Open deciders (W1 L4) – fewer than in any of the other three major tournaments.

 

Declining Federer, Nadal challengers?

The French Open will be a welcome sight for tennis fans as Swiss great Federer, who has not played a slam since the 2020 Australian Open due to his troublesome knee and the coronavirus pandemic, makes his comeback.

Seeded eighth ahead of his opener against Denis Istomin, 2009 French Open champion Federer has only contested nine slam finals over the last 10 years (W4 L5) after reaching that stage in 22 major events in the previous decade (W16 L6). Since the beginning of 2016, the 39-year-old has only taken part in one French Open, in 2019, where he reached the semi-finals.

Daniil Medvedev has been flirting with a breakthrough slam triumph. The second seed is a finalist at the Australian Open (2021) and US Open (2019). Medvedev has reached the semi-finals in two of his most recent three appearances at a grand slam after going further than the fourth round in only one of his previous 13 major tournaments. However, the Russian has lost in the first round in each of his four Roland Garros appearances.

US Open champion and fourth seed Dominic Thiem has played two finals at Roland Garros (2018 and 2019) – more than in any other slam – but lost both of them against Nadal. He has won 80 per cent of his games at the French Open, his best win rate in any of the four majors.

Andrey Rublev is the only player to have taken part in the quarter-finals during each of the past three grand slams, including the 2020 French Open. But the seventh seed – who fired down 53 aces at Roland Garros last year, at least 14 more than any other player – is yet to progress further than that round.

Aslan Karatsev enjoyed a fairy-tale run at Melbourne Park in February, the Russian qualifier making it all the way to the semi-finals. Only one qualifier has reached the semi-final stage at the French Open: Filip Dewulf in 1997.

 

Iga in 14-year first?

Having never progressed beyond the fourth round of a major, Polish teenager Swiatek broke through for her maiden slam title via the French Open last year, upstaging Sofia Kenin.

The 19-year-old Swiatek – who will return as the eighth seed in her defence, starting against Kaja Juvan – could become the first woman to win consecutive titles at Roland Garros since Henin in 2005-2007 (three in a row). Only three players have won multiple titles in the women's tournament at the French Open in the 21st century: Henin (four), Serena Williams (three) and Maria Sharapova (two).

Swiatek could claim the French Open and Rome's Internazionali d'Italia in the same campaign. Only Serena Williams (2002 and 2013), Sharapova (2012), Monica Seles (1990), Steffi Graf (1987) and Chris Evert (1974, 1975 and 1980) have achieved the feat previously.

Swiatek celebrated slam glory in the absence of world number one and defending champion Ash Barty in 2020. No player has won more games on clay this season than Australian top seed Barty and Veronika Kudermetova (both 13).

Only Barty (three) has won more titles than third seed Aryna Sabalenka (two) in 2021 – the Belarusian is one of two players currently ranked in the top 20 in the WTA yet to reach a major quarter-final, alongside Maria Sakkari.

In a field also including four-time slam champion and reigning Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka – the second seed – Sabalenka could become only the third woman to win the Madrid Open and French Open in the same season after Serena Williams in 2013 and Sharapova in 2014.

As for fourth seed Kenin, she could be just the fourth American player to reach back-to-back Roland Garros finals, after Serena Williams (2015-16), Martina Navratilova (1984-1987) and Evert (1973-1975, 1979-80 and 1983-1986).

 

All eyes on Serena

The queen of WTA tennis for so long, Serena Williams is one slam success away from matching Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles championships. But the 39-year-old has been stuck on 23 since reigning supreme at the Australian Open in 2017.

While the French clay is not one of her favourite surfaces, it could be the scene of a remarkable achievement following a lengthy wait.

Roland Garros is where Williams has the lowest winning percentage (84 per cent) and where she won the fewest titles (three, at least half as many as the other slams).

Williams won her maiden French Open in 2002 and could hoist the trophy aloft 19 years after her first success in Paris. The longest span between two majors wins for a single player in the Open era is already held by Williams (15 years between 1999 and 2014 at the US Open).

Irina-Camelia Begu awaits the seventh seed in the first round.

Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympic Games, Indian Wells: this year's tennis calendar is not lacking in red-ringed dates.

But August 8 and September 26 are majorly notable in that they will mark the 40th birthdays of Roger Federer and Serena Williams, respectively.

Federer's birthday falls on the final day of the Tokyo Olympics, while Williams reaches the same landmark a fortnight after the US Open women's singles final.

Both have kept their future plans quiet, but it would come as no major surprise if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Fellow grand slam greats Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters may also be a matter of months away from bowing out of the professional ranks.

Will life after tennis begin at 40 for Williams and Federer, or could the superstar pair return to the French Open in 2022?

Stats Perform looked at the players who may be considering their futures, what they still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.
 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer may be similarly equanimous about hitting 40. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, is coming to the end of the line in his tennis career. It will hurt the Fedfans to think so, but all the evidence points to it. We are probably witnessing a lap of honour.

Having won Roland Garros only once at his peak, we can surely forget the prospect of any heroics in Paris. Federer needs to win a few rounds though, in order to be sharp and battle-hardened for the grass season. Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open are events where you might give a fit Federer a chance, even at such a veteran age, but he has played only three matches since the 2020 Australian Open, losing two of those.

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, so he will want to be a tournament winner again, no doubt about it. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but it can be more difficult to sate.

Prospects: Slim, but not forlorn. So much of Federer's game is about feel and ease of movement, and assuming that knee surgery last year means the body is in good shape again, he should be able to call on those staples of his game. Key missing ingredients are the confidence that comes with beating rivals, and match fitness. Federer's 1,243 wins and 103 singles titles count for an awful lot still, and there could be one final hurrah before the Swiss great signs off.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It must be an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches, it would not be a surprise if Williams reached that target, but what once felt inevitable now only has the air of being a possibility. She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up.

Target: The 24th slam remains the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Williams is playing on clay primarily to get in great shape for grass, because Wimbledon, where she plays the surface with a command that others can only envy, is where that elusive 24th slam looks most likely to come.


Amid losing streak, tennis waits to learn what Venus infers

Some suspect that the Williams sisters, having arrived on tour together, might bow out at the same time too. Venus has won 49 WTA Tour-level titles but has recently slipped out of the top 100 for the first time since early 2012. Ahead of turning 41 in June, it is hard to see her being a reliable force again.

The seven-time slam winner will be needing wildcards for the grand slams unless the wins start to flow, and naturally she should have no trouble getting those backdoor tournament entries, but for a player of her stature, losing in the first round most weeks can offer little satisfaction.

It is 21 years since Venus' greatest tennis summer, when she won the Wimbledon, Stanford, San Diego, New Haven, US Open and Olympics singles titles, along with doubles glory alongside Serena at the Olympics and Wimbledon.

Nevertheless, she said at the Australian Open in February: "I'm trying to get better every day. I think that no matter what happens to you in life, you always hold your head up high, you give a hundred million percent. That's what I do every single day. That's something that I can be proud of."

Target: Venus last won a singles slam in 2008, so forget that. A run to the second week of a slam is not entirely unimaginable, or she could stun a big name early on. Venus will want to wring every last drop from her career, but you suspect more than that, she would love to be there to watch her little sister win that 24th slam.

Prospects: Since a second-round exit to Elina Svitolina at the 2019 US Open, Venus has won only four matches at WTA level, and she is presently on a run of five consecutive defeats, which began with a 6-1 6-0 trouncing by Sara Errani at the last-64 stage of the Australian Open. Her last Wimbledon appearance resulted in a first-round loss to the then 15-year-old Coco Gauff two years ago, so even hopes of a resurgence at the event she has won five times appear somewhat remote.


We wish you a Murray summer

Once a grand slam nearly man, Murray banished that reputation with his US Open triumph and twin Wimbledon titles, not to mention the two Olympic gold medals, the Davis Cup victory, and the 14 Masters 1000 tournaments he won along the way, a big-time champion on every surface.

What a career, and it deserves a fitting ending. Murray is battling one injury after another and will miss the French Open, hoping his tired frame holds up to see him through Queen's Club, Wimbledon, the Olympic hat-trick bid and the US Open.

Target: He would probably say another slam is possible, if he can get healthy and stay that way. The 'if' there is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting though.

Prospects: Should Murray manage to stay injury-free, then it will be enthralling to see what he can achieve. However, since an unexpected title in Antwerp in October 2019, he has won just four matches on the ATP Tour and one in the Davis Cup. The resurfaced hip, the troublesome groin, the pains of being Andy Murray aged 34 are proving wearing on the Scot. If he is fit enough to feature at Wimbledon, it would be a joy to see him play even just one more great singles match on Centre Court. Admirers must hope Murray follows the pattern of his career by exceeding expectations, which are logically low.


Kim wildcard wonder?

If you missed the Clijsters comeback, it is hardly surprising, given she returned to the WTA tour after a near eight-year absence just weeks before the pandemic shut down tennis, and she has barely been seen since. The three-time US Open winner was dealt bum draws in her comeback year but gave Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Ekaterina Alexandrova enough to think about in the course of three first-round defeats.

Since losing behind closed doors in three sets to Alexandrova at the US Open, Clijsters has undergone knee surgery and had COVID-19, and she does not plan to play again until after Wimbledon.

Target: If Clijsters, who turns 38 in June, can build up form and fitness, then some kinder draws would be a fitting reward for persistence. She could have quietly called time on this comeback, but the former world number one is a fighter, and it would be fitting, perhaps, if her career were to end with a night session match in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Court at Flushing Meadows. The Belgian's intentions are not entirely clear, but that prospect must have crossed her mind.

Prospects: The New York wildcard would be assured if Clijsters can show she is in any sort of form, given her US Open history. Clijsters' immediate potential is entirely unclear, but she had the highest game-winning percentage (66.7 per cent) of any woman in World Team Tennis last year, and Jessica Pegula, Sofia Kenin and Jennifer Brady were all part of that competition. Bring that game to a major and we're talking.

Novak Djokovic survived a second-set fightback from Andrej Martin to seal his place in the final of the Belgrade Open on Friday.

The world number one looked well placed to cruise to victory after taking just 38 minutes to win the first set 6-1, but qualifier Martin hit back in the second to force a decider.

Djokovic swiftly regained composure, though, with a bagel settling the contest 6-1 4-6 6-0 in his favour, and he will now have the backing of his home crowd as he looks to clinch his third Belgrade Open title and warm up for the French Open in style.

"I'm super excited to play in front of a Serbian crowd. This is my home town," said Djokovic, who previously won at the event in 2009 and 2011.

"I'm always excited, but also nervous, coming out on the court and playing in front of my home crowd. It's a very unique feeling. You feel a lot of pressure and expectations. But I'm just happy to fight for a trophy.

"I thought I started and finished the match really well, so I'll try to take those positive feelings into tomorrow's final. I also had some letdowns in concentration towards the end of the second set, and I'll try to correct those mistakes for tomorrow."

Standing in the way of a second title of the season for 34-year-old Djokovic is another qualifier, Slovakian Alex Molcan, who came from behind to beat Federico Delbonis 4-6 6-4 6-4.

At the Emilia-Romagna Open, Sebastian Korda, who has yet to drop a set this week, triumphed in an all-American semi-final contest, beating Tommy Paul 6-3 6-3 to reach his second Tour-level final.

Korda's win sets up a final against Italian Marco Cecchinato, who is aiming for his fourth career singles title after overcoming Jaume Munar 7-6 (7-2) 1-6 6-1.

Rafael Nadal is not worried about being in the same half of the draw as fellow legends Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the French Open.

World number one Djokovic and Federer, eighth in the rankings, could meet at the quarter-final stage at Roland Garros, with a potential showdown with Nadal to come in the last four.

Defending champion Nadal says he is not looking beyond a first-round encounter with Alexei Popyrin in Paris, where he could move ahead of Federer by claiming a record 21st grand slam title.

The Spaniard said on Friday: "I see it as natural. One player is almost 40 [Federer], another is almost 35 [Nadal] and the other is 34 [Djokovic]. It seems logical that younger players climb in the rankings.

"Whenever that happens you have these consequences [with the seedings]. I see it as completely normal. I'm not worried about it. I have a lot of work in front of me to play a potential match versus Djokovic [in the semi-final].

"They would need to play each other and I have my own path. My path right now is Popyrin [in the first round] and that's where my mind is. My draw is hard enough to be thinking about anything else. I must continue my preparation, focus on my routines and keep advancing in the way we want."

Nadal on Thursday saw a statue of himself unveiled at Roland Garros, where has won 13 French Open titles and has a staggering record of 100 victories and two defeats.

He has won the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome and the Barcelona Open on clay this season but is braced for a tough start against 21-year-old Australian Popyrin.

Nadal said: "He's young, he has the power. He has big shots. As always, I need to be ready for it. I need to keep practising [during] the next couple of days and try to be in the best shape possible.

"I know every round is tough, I always respect every opponent. I respected everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one, so I need to play well and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen.

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