French Open, starting here at Roland Garros on Sunday, will wear a unique look this year with Rafal Nadal, not in the draw for the first time since 2004.
The Spaniard has dominated the only clay court Grand Slam event like no one else, winning a record 14 men's singles titles among a record 22 Grand Slam titles that he shares with Novak Djokovic. The 14 titles that the
Nadal's withdrawal from the French Open due to an injury has created a sense of unpredictability in the men's singles event, which has never been experienced in nearly two decades.
However, a host of top players are seeking to capitalise on this opportunity as they seek a fast start to their 2023 Roland Garros campaign Sunday as main draw play begins at the clay-court major.
Among those trying to make the most of Nadal's absence will be World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, former champion Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Taking the first step in this direction will be top 10 stars Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, who will be in first-round action on Sunday while fast-rising American Ben Shelton makes his debut at the second Grand Slam of the season.
The war to claim the crown claimed by Nadal on a record occasion also involves a four-way battle for World No.1 ranking at Roland Garros. Alcaraz, Medvedev, Djokovic and Tsitsipas enter the French Open with a chance to leave the clay-court major as the No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings. The battle for World No. 1 has been raging all season, and it does not appear that will change in Paris.
World No. 1 Alcaraz, No. 2 Medvedev and No. 3 Djokovic control their own destiny on the French clay. If any of them lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires, the top spot will come with it on June 12. But a bad day could see those dreams quickly go up in flames.
Alcaraz, Djokovic and Tsitsipas are all in the same half of the draw, which could add even more pressure to blockbuster showdowns. Alcaraz could meet Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and Djokovic in the semifinals.
If Alcaraz claws through his half to reach the final, Medvedev must beat him with the trophy on the line to return to World No.1 for the first time since September of last year. If the 20-year-old Spaniard reaches the final and faces anyone but Medvedev, he will remain No.1.
If Alcaraz, Djokovic and Tsitsipas all fail to make the final, Medvedev just needs to advance to the championship match to return to the top spot, according to information provided by ATP Tour.
Since Djokovic is in the same half as Alcaraz, the No.1 battle could come down to an epic clash between the two in the semifinals. If Djokovic beats Alcaraz in the last four and Medvedev does not reach the final, the Serbian would not need to win the title to return to No.1.
Of the quartet competing for the top spot, Tsitsipas is the one who does not control his own destiny. The Greek must claim his first Grand Slam crown to have a chance of climbing to No. 1 for the first time. Tsitsipas would need to win the title, with Alcaraz falling by the third round and Medvedev losing in the quarterfinals or earlier.
World No. 4 Casper Ruud cannot climb higher than World No. 3 after Roland Garros. The Norwegian will enter the tournament with 4,960 points and drop 1,200 after reaching the final last year. Therefore, his maximum points total is 5,760 by lifting the trophy.
The World No.5 Tsitsipas has a strong pedigree at Roland Garros. He has reached at least the fourth round every year since 2019 and led Djokovic by two sets to love in the 2021 final before falling in a thrilling five-setter on Court Philippe Chatrier. Having reached his second major championship match in January at the Australian Open, the Greek will enter Sunday's clash against Jiri Vesely full of confidence about his ability to compete across five sets.
The pair's maiden ATP head-to-head meeting will be Vesely's first tour-level match since the US Open last September. The Czech has proven himself capable of upsetting top players before - he defeated then-World No. 1 Djokovic in the Dubai quarter-finals in 2022.
Rublov will open his campaign against Laslo Djere of Serbia while Ben Shelton will start against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.
Also in action will be Karen Khachanov, who has reached the semifinals at the past two majors and the 11th seed begins his bid for another deep run against Frenchman Constant Lestienne. Thirteenth seed Hubert Hurkacz takes on David Goffin for the second year in a row at Roland Garros: The Pole prevailed in straight sets against the Belgian in last year's third round in Paris.
Seventeenth seed Lorenzo Musetti plays Mikael Ymer, while an intriguing clash of game styles pitches the guile of 20th seed Daniel Evans against the free-hitting power of Thanasi Kokkinakis. Sebastian Korda, seeded 24th, is the other seeded player in action. The American will face countryman Mackenzie McDonald.
A pair of all-French affairs will be sure to draw the attention of local fans in Paris. French No. 1 Ugo Humbert plays Adrian Mannarino, while Corentin Moutet meets upcoming talent Arthur Cazaux.