At this time of year, the tennis lanes lead to beautiful Paris. Between inaugurations and new normalities, Roland Garros regains prominence and returns to spring, seven months after a historic autumn Open. The world may be different, but some things never change: Rafael Nadal also won in the cool climate of the French capital. The man with the gleaming statue again arrives as a favorite, now focused on the 14th conquest, even when he is stalked by Novak Djokovic and the young people who are looking for a big victory in the territory where the Spanish is the biggest beast. Perhaps the latest results suggest that he does not wear the invincible aura of other times, but in more hostile conditions the Manacorí has arrived at the Bois de Boulogne and after two weeks he has won the Musketeers’ Cup. The prize is great: if he wins, he will reach the achievement of 21 Grand Slam trophies and will finally surpass the border that Roger Federer had set.
The three-meter steel mass representing Nadal is a few steps from the Philippe Chatrier Stadium, the scene of dreams for Argentine tennis players, used to brick dust being fertile ground for their illusions. Just yesterday, in October, Diego Schwartzman and Nadia Podoroska climbed to the semifinals in Parisian mecca. The return to the normal calendar quickly brings them back to Roland Garros.
But, since nothing is linear in tennis, conditions change. Rosario is no longer the player who played the Parisian qualy seven months ago as the 131st in the ranking. At the time, she astonished the planet of women’s racquets as she determinedly made her way from the qualifying stage to the semi-final, where she couldn’t beat champion Iga Swiatek. The Podoroska that previously did not appear on the radar has now been analyzed and studied in its strengths and weaknesses by potential rivals.
The huge leap from the modest ITF tournaments to the WTA ones impose more hierarchy, less margin for error, a new examination match after match. Rosario has dealt with these situations after getting into the Top 50 of the rigorous women’s circuit. She has had some first-wheel starts, she also reached three quarter-finals and there were joys, of course: Podoroska, now 42nd, has a curious 3-0 record against Top 10 rivals. To that triumph over Elina Svitolina (5th ) At the French Open, successes were added over Petra Kvitova (9th) in Melbourne, and recently, against Serena Williams (8th), no less, in Rome. The draw for the new Roland Garros left her in front of the Swiss Belinda Bencic, 11th in the ranking. It will be seen how Rosario adapts to the requirement of defending everything that she did in 2020.
Schwartzman will also seek to revalidate what he achieved last year. Of course, there are other nuances in your situation. At Roland Garros 2020 he had arrived with self-esteem through the roof after beating Nadal in Rome and fighting Novak Djokovic in the final at the Foro Italico, and in Paris he eliminated Dominic Thiem in a five-set battle before bowing in front. Rafa in the lead up to the final. All this was enough for him to qualify and play the end-of-year Masters in London.
Now, the Peque has arrived in Paris with the idea of starting from scratch and leaving behind what happened in recent weeks. Just two wins on the European slow court tour and three crashes in a row on the front wheels in Madrid, Rome and Lyon, they have raised the alarm. He even smashed a racket in the last loss, to Gasquet. “I haven’t done it for three years, but I had a lot of anger inside. The reality is that it was a tour in which I had high expectations, but it was very bad. I am playing badly and thus it is difficult to win at this level. I’ve been training and doing everything in my power to reconnect with what I did in recent years, but it’s complicated, I can’t find answers ”, acknowledged the number 10 in the world, in a self-criticism faithful to his realistic way of seeing the situation .
Confidently walking underground is not the ideal way to get to the biggest tournament of the year. But, on the other hand, Schwartzman has demonstrated on other occasions his ability to recover from hard impacts. Roland Garros opens up that opportunity, with a debut against the experienced Taiwanese Yen Hsun Lu, 37, who has not played since the Miami tournament last March. If the triumphs accompany, in third he could seek revenge against Aslan Karatsev, the Russian who surprised him early in the Australian Open, but the current panorama forces us to act with caution and walk with short steps.
There will be, of course, other Argentines with their expectations deposited in the French brick dust. Federico Delbonis He will arrive with a good campaign in tow in recent weeks, with the quarterfinals in Rome, the eighths in Madrid and the semifinals in Belgrade. Azul’s southpaw made the difficult decision to change coaches, and working with Mariano Hood has given him another boost. If it is for motivation, the hero of the Davis Cup in the Zagreb final would have to achieve a good participation at Roland Garros; historically Parisian clay has been a minefield for Delbo, with only three victories in eight participations. It will debut against the Romanian Radu Albot, 88th in the standings.
Guido Pella (59º) seeks to meet again with his best version, within a gray 2021, almost orphan of triumphs, between injuries and bad performances; the Bahian left-hander will make his debut against Colombian Daniel Galán (106th), who has just passed the classification. Federico Coria (96º), with ups and downs in his participation in the major tour, will have as an opponent the experienced Feliciano López (61º), 39 years old. Facundo Bagnis (101 °), about to return to the Top 100 and with good results so far this year, will have as an opponent the Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi (115th), while Juan Ignacio Londero (100th), without victories in ATP tournaments This year, he will face the Chilean Cristian Garín (23rd), in a duel in which the Cordovan will seek to surprise.
In the last round of the classification the brothers could not Francisco and Juan Manuel Cerúndolo (the left-hander had three match-points against the Swiss Laaksonen), in addition to Marco Trungelliti; the oldest of the Cerúndolo could enter as a lucky loser if the opportunity opens up, although it is clear that achieving a victory at Roland Garros requires effort beyond one hundred percent and a mentality of steel. The man in the statue has it clearer than anyone, who was already a champion 13 times in Paris, a standing legend and a candidate forever.
Justine Henin, in 2007, was the last champion to retain the title at the Roland Garros women’s tournament. Since then, none of its successors has been able to repeat the conquest. That will be the mission of the young Polish girl Iga Swiatek, who last October swept a fortnight of novels. Ashleigh Barty, the world’s No. 1, will again seek the crown she lifted in 2019.
And of course, there will also be Serena Williams, looking for that elusive 24th Grand Slam award that she is denied. A three-time winner in Paris (2002, 2013 and 2015), the former No. 1 has been far from her best in previous tournaments, but it would be foolish to dismiss her. And we will have to wait what happens to the Japanese star Naomi Osaka, who announced that she will not speak to the press during the tournament, for which she alleged “mental health” reasons. The great absentee is Simona Halep, 3rd in the world and winner in 2018, who did not recover in time from a tear in her left calf.