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French Open: Players to watch

Press Association logo Press Association 24-05-2017 By PA Sport Staff
Rafael Nadal is still the man to beat on clay (Jon Buckle/Empics) © Provided by The Press Association Rafael Nadal is still the man to beat on clay (Jon Buckle/Empics)

Rafael Nadal goes into the French Open as the favourite to win an unprecedented 10th title.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic appears to have found some form at just the right time and will have new coach Andre Agassi in tow while world number one Andy Murray will hope to put his struggles behind him.

With Serena Williams on maternity leave, Angelique Kerber heads a wide open women’s field while Garbine Muguruza defends her title.

Here, we pick out 10 other players to watch at Roland Garros.

Dominic Thiem

Still only 23, Thiem’s power game is perfectly suited to clay. He made his grand slam breakthrough with a run to the semi-finals in Paris 12 months ago and has been second only to Nadal this clay season. After losing to the Spaniard in finals in Barcelona and Madrid, Thiem handed Nadal his first loss in four tournaments in the quarter-finals in Rome last week.

Alexander Zverev

German Zverev might just have leapfrogged Nick Kyrgios as the leader of the next generation with his title in Rome, beating Djokovic in the final. That elevated the 20-year-old into the top 10 – a hugely impressive feat in an era when virtually half of the top 30 are in their 30s. Mentally strong with few weaknesses in his game, Zverev pushed Nadal to five sets at the Australian Open.

David Goffin

Roland Garros was the place where the baby-faced Belgian announced his promise to the world with a run to the fourth round in 2012. Last year he went one better and was also a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open in January. A player with plenty of style, Goffin has added substance and is reaping the rewards.

Fabio Fognini

Italy's Fabio Fognini beat Andy Murray in the Italian Open © Provided by The Press Association Italy's Fabio Fognini beat Andy Murray in the Italian Open

Italy’s Fabio Fognini beat Andy Murray in the Italian Open (Ettore Ferrari/AP)

If titles were won on talent, then flamboyant Italian Fognini would have collected several grand slams by now. At his best he is virtually unplayable and he brushed aside world number one Murray in the second round in Rome after pushing Nadal all the way in Madrid. He is also celebrating becoming a father after the birth of son Federico last week with wife Flavia Pennetta.

Juan Martin Del Potro

Tennis’ gentle giant has played only six tournaments this season as he attempts to ensure there is no repeat of the wrist problems that nearly wrecked his career. A semi-finalist at Roland Garros back in 2009, the 28-year-old will make his first appearance in Paris for five years. Del Potro’s sledgehammer forehand remains one of the sport’s great weapons and he is a player all the top seeds will hope to avoid.

Simona Halep

Odds have meant little in women’s tennis this year but if they are to be believed then Halep will be lifting her first grand slam trophy in a fortnight. The Romanian has had an excellent build-up, successfully defending her title in Madrid and then reaching the final in Rome. Unlike 2017 form players Karolina Pliskova, Johanna Konta and Caroline Wozniacki, Halep is perfectly at home on clay and was runner-up to Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros in 2014.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Kuznetsova won her first grand slam title at the US Open way back in 2004. She added a French Open crown five years later and, at 31, is back in the top 10 and pushing for the big trophies once more. Roland Garros has been the canny Russian’s most profitable slam, with four quarter-finals, one semi-final, one final and one title.

Elina Svitolina

It may take your average tennis fan a few guesses to name 2017’s leading female player. Ukrainian Svitolina climbed to the top of the standings courtesy of her victory over Halep in the Rome final, giving her a third title of the season. The 22-year-old has been a steady improver and reached the quarter-finals of the French Open two years ago.

Kristina Mladenovic

The feisty Frenchwoman has been one of the revelations of 2017. Mladenovic won her first WTA Tour title in St Petersburg and three more final appearances have propelled her into the top 15. The 24-year-old has reached the third round at Roland Garros for the last three years and won the doubles last summer with Caroline Garcia.

Anett Kontaveit

Those looking for a real dark horse could do a lot worse than the 21-year-old Estonian. Ranked outside the top 100 only two months ago, Kontaveit is now at 52 after reaching the final of the WTA event in Biel and the quarter-finals in both Stuttgart and Rome. Her scalps have included Muguruza and Kerber, who she overpowered 6-4 6-0 last week.

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