Life without Rafa

Last week clay court dictator, Rafael Nadal, pulled out of his beloved tournament, citing a hip injury (from too many heavy trophy lifts!). Watching the French Open without Rafa's obsessive-compulsive line avoidance, bottom pinching and opponent destruction will be a new and confronting experience for viewers. The only positive is that, for the first time in 18 years, the men's tournament might actually be interesting.

Who wins the men's draw?

Novak Djokovic will be hungry (not from being a vegan!) for grand slam number 23, and will be more popular among Euro fans than in Oz...which he will hate. (Tempera)mental Dane, Holger Rune, has had a meteoric rise up the rankings in the past 12 months and is now a genuine contender. Daniil Medvedev has learnt to play chess on dirt and after his heroics in the Eternal City of Rome, will be quietly confident. But the main drawcard is world number one, Carlos Alcaraz, who has enjoyed a stunning European clay court season. He has all the tricks, and comes into the tournament on the back of victories in Madrid and Barcelona. As Jose Mourinho would say, Alcaraz is 'the special one'. Finally, Italian giraffe, Jannik Sinner has taken on Australian Darren Cahill as coach in an attempt to win the close matches that eluded him in 2022. Physically lifting the trophy may prove a greater challenge for Sinner than winning seven consecutive five-set matches.

(Runner-up last year, Casper Ruud, may also be a challenger, but if we're being honest with ourselves, he's just a little dull to watch)

Can anyone beat Iga Swiatek?

In short, yes. There are 127 other players in the female draw. Surely, as a collective, they will chip away at lovely Iga behind the scenes, hiding her skipping rope in the locker room, hissing at her on the change of ends and defacing photos of her beloved Rafael Nadal in the corridors of the precinct. Sonic warfare at her hotel room may be another viable option. Such has been Swiatek's dominance since Ash Barty retired, that these are clearly the only ways that she can be beaten. Lanky Kazak, Elena Rybakina, appears to be Swiatek's main challenger, having beaten her three times this season. Her (greater than 99.9% of the population, but) slightly lethargic court coverage may prove a challenge on clay, given her height. An outside chance might be 2017 champion, Jelena Ostapenko, who has been bludgeoning balls (and electronic contraptions) in the lead up tournaments. Crucially for Ostapenko, there is no automated line-calling system in Paris, so unlike at the Australian Open, she may have to take personal responsibility should she be defeated.

(Danila from instagram, who plays with an orthodox two-handed volley, is also tipped to enjoy a deep run)

Will an Australian have a deep run?

In the words of deplorable tennis player, Kanye West: 'Aww, hell no!'

Is clay court tennis ugly?

Yes, if you ask Nick Kyrgios. But no, if you're a tennis purist. Clay court tennis is beautiful. More court craft is required of players than on any other surface. The skills of the game are most on display when points can't easily be won by a T-bone ace, or a hard court power baseline slugfest. Play at the French capital is often wind-affected, rain-affected, boo-affected (if you ask Martina Hingis!) and throws up unlikely results when the dirt rats crawl out of their fromage-infested kitchens to extract revenge on Silicon Valley-raised American prodigies. Clay is life's great leveller!

Will Benoit Paire destroy a racquet in a fit of rage?

You can bet your Monte Carlo villa on a Benoit explosion! The 34-year-old (alleged) French axe murderer has just been granted a wildcard into the tournament and knows only one way of playing the game: hitting sublime backhands and destroying Babolat racquets! Other players whose racquet frames should be quivering include: Alexander Zverev, Karolina Pliskova, Andrey Rublev (although, upon reflection, Rublev favours assaulting his string bed with clenched knuckles and his forehead) and, of course, Novak 'I-destroy-my-racquet-then-I-destroy-you-too' Djokovic. As always, Stefanos Tsitsipas' father, Apostolos, is best advised to wear a full-bodied, fully-padded Gore-tex suit to every single one of his son's matches.

Do you think French President, Emmanuel Macron, will make an appearance in Paris?

'I don't think, I know.'

*As always, if you need any tennis equipment, or just fancy a chat about the game, please drop by KK Tennis, 475 Malvern Road, South Yarra. We're looking forward to a great month of Grand Slam tennis!

May 23, 2023 — Murray Middleton

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