The French Open kicks off with its Qualifying Rounds at Roland Garros this week, signalling a return of fans for the first time to an event in Paris since the pandemic began.
It's kind of funny because I won a Grand Slam and I'm competing every week on tour, but you know, I'm a teenager and [the trophy] it's in my room in my dad's house because I still haven't moved out. Iga Swiatek
The clay-court Grand Slam was postponed for a week to ensure that as many fans as possible could attend.
The start of the main draw for the second major of the year begins on Sunday, 30 May.
Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek are the defending champions, having won their respective titles at Roland Garros last October when the tournament was postponed from May because of COVID.
While Nadal has won a record 13 singles in Paris, Swiatek secured her first major at the age of 18, becoming Poland’s first Grand Slam singles champion by beating Sofia Kenin 6-4 6-1 to win the 2020 French Open
According to the BBC Sport, there is a picture of Rafa hanging on the wall along with one of his signed shirts in the teenager’ bedroom, alongside the trophy.
“It’s kind of funny because I won a Grand Slam and I’m competing every week on tour, but you know, I’m a teenager and it’s in my room in my dad’s house because I still haven’t moved out,” the Polish 19-year-old told BBC Sport.
“It’s a contrast but it shows that we’re human. My trophy stays there and it probably still will when I move out because that’s the right place, and it shows how much my parents have done since I was a kid.”
Swiatek was the World No 54 when she became the lowest-ranked woman to win the French Open title, but goes into the tournament ranked 9th, with two more titles to her name, including the Italian Open this month.
There have been 12 different names on the past 16 women’s Grand Slam singles trophies, and the last female player to successfully defend a major singles title was Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2016.
Ash Barty, the World No 1, was not in Paris when Swiatek won because she did not defend her 2019 title due to the strict travel restrictions in her homeland of Australia, and she will be looking to prove a point on the clay.
The 25-year old Aussie has won a Tour-leading 27 matches in 2021, and is among the favourites but she was forced to retire because of injury in Rome, allowing 17-year-old Coco Gauff to reach her first clay-court semi-final where she lost to Swiatek.
“”I hate the most is not being able to finish a tennis match,” said Barty of the right arm injury. “The pain was becoming too severe.
“It was really important that I listen to my body knowing we have a Grand Slam in two weeks’ time.
“It’s something I’ve had to manage over my career. It pops up every now and again. The conditions today didn’t help,” she added of the rainy conditions in the Italian capital.
“I’m confident in my team. We know how to manage this injury to know that in a couple of weeks it’ll be fine.”
Barty’s chronic arm ailment has been a nuisance to her much of her career as she acquired it in her mid teens, but it hasn’t stopped the top women player from earning 11 singles and 11 doubles titles.
Following a calf tear in Rome, Simona Halep officially withdrew from the French Open last week.
The 2018 French champion hurt her left calf during her opening round match against Angelique Kerber and posted on social media: “It’s with a heavy heart that I announce my withdrawal from @rolandgarros this year.
“Unfortunately the tear in my left calf needs more time to recover and the timeline is just too short.
“Withdrawing from a Grand Slam goes against all my instincts and aspirations as an athlete, but it is the right and only decision to make.
“The thought of not being in Paris fills me with sadness, but I will focus my energy on recovery, staying positive and getting back on court as soon as it is safe to do so. Roland Garros 2022, I’m coming for you! A bientot ❤️??”
Halep has never missed the French, having played the event for 11 straight years, winning the 2018 title by beating Sloane Stephens for her first Grand Slam title, but she fell the quarter-finals to Swiatek last year.
World No 2 Naomi Osaka makes no secret of her discomfort on the clay, having never gone beyond the 3rd round at Roland Garros and with all her 10 singles titles, including two US Open and two Australian Open titles, coming on hard courts.
Before any of these can test their skills on the red dirt, qualifying gets under way and amongst the women, the 128 player field is led by Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, Julie Belgraver and Lois Boisson, all from France, who will be competing for the chance to face off with the likes of Swiatek and Barty.
There is an exciting mix of young talents and seasoned veterans fighting for the16 main-draw spots, with Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva headlining the strong draw as the top seed, and former Roland-Garros finalist Sara Errani and last year’s US Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova also in the running order.
Zvonareva, has had a strong build-up to Roland-Garros thanks to her march to the last 16 in Rome, as a qualifier, earlier this month.
At the Foro Italico, the 36-year old former World No 2 upset Petra Kvitova in the second round to claim her first top-10 win on clay in over 11 years.
A runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, Zvonareva is searching for a second Roland-Garros main draw appearance in 3 years and begins her qualifying campaign against 20-year-old Brit Francesca Jones.
Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, the Colombian teenager has enjoyed an excellent clay-court swing in 2021, which has carried her into the top 100 for the first time in her young career this week.
Osorio Serrano, 19, triumphed on home soil to lift the Bogota trophy last month before reaching the semi-finals of the WTA 250 event in Charleston and making it to to the semi-finals, as a qualifier, in Belgrade.
The former junior world No 1 and 2019 US Open junior champion kicks off her Roland-Garros qualifying journey against Serbia’s Olga Danilovic.
Clay may not be Ana Konjuh’s favourite surface but her run to the final on the red dirt in Belgrade this past week, as a qualifier, suggests the talented Croatian will be a force in qualifying these next few days in Paris.
The 23-year-old, who spent nearly 3 years out of action and underwent 4 elbow surgeries, made it to a first WTA final since January 2017 and is looking to recapture the form that saw her reach the US Open quarter-finals as a teenager back in 2016.
Konjuh had to retire during the Belgrade final on Saturday due to a right hip problem but is hopeful she will be ready for her opening qualifying round at Roland-Garros on Tuesday, targeting a first Grand Slam main-draw appearance since 2018.
“To be in the finals again, it’s been a while for me, and it means a lot after everything I’ve been through. And just to see that I can play at this level again, it’s great,” Konjuh said.
“I’m going to give my best [in Paris], those qualies are everything I’ve been working for these past few months, I really wanted to be in the Slams and now I’m back and I just hope I’m going to enjoy it.”
Konjuh faces American Robin Anderson in her first round of Roland-Garros qualifying.
Mayar Sherif is a Cairo native, who made history at Roland-Garros last autumn when she became the first Egyptian woman to feature in a Grand Slam main draw, thanks to a near-flawless qualifying run in Paris that saw her drop just 14 games through 3 matches.
She has recently recovered from a bout of Covid-19, but has successfully qualified for the main draw in her past 2 Grand Slams and will look to make it 3 in a row in the French capital this week.
Sherif is seeded 13th in Roland-Garros qualifying and opens against 19-year-old Pole Maja Chwalinska.
Claire Liu, the 20-year-old American arrives in Paris on the heels of claiming back-to-back titles on clay in the United States earlier this month.
Liu has won 12 of her past 13 matches on the surface, a stretch that saw her lift trophies at the $100k ITF tournament in Charleston and the $60k ITF event in Charlottesville.
She starts her Roland-Garros qualifying campaign at a career-high ranking of No 129 and is chasing a debut main-draw appearance in Paris.
The California-born youngster was a highly-successful junior, who clinched the Wimbledon girls’ singles title in 2017, a few weeks after making the Roland-Garros junior final.
Liu is seeded 20th in the Roland-Garros qualifying draw and takes on Canada’s Rebecca Marino in round one.
Two other Britons are in the draw, Harriet Dart, seeded No 31, who plays Barbara Haas from Austria, while Samantha Murray Sharan takes on Richel Hogenkamp from the Netherlands.
Play begins in Paris on Monday at 10.30 Paris time and can be followed live in the UK on Eurosport, eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app.