Djokovic eyes record as Swiatek launches title defence at French Open
The winner of the women's singles is expected to be one of the trio of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka or Elena Rybakina.
Serbian star Novak Djokovic is targeting a record Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. Picture: Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic will bid for a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title at a French Open without his old rival Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, while Iga Swiatek attempts to become the first woman to defend the title in 16 years when the Grand Slam tournament starts on Sunday.
Serbian veteran Djokovic will not be the favourite for the title, though, after struggling with an elbow injury and failing to get past the quarter-finals in any of his three clay-court events so far this season.
Carlos Alcaraz won the Barcelona and Madrid Opens en route to taking over from Djokovic as world number one, while Daniil Medvedev is seeded second for Roland Garros after his maiden clay triumph in Rome.
But Djokovic will know this is a massive opportunity to break out of his tie with 14-time French Open winner Nadal at the top of the all-time list of most men’s Slam singles titles.
The two-time champion has lost eight of his 10 French Open meetings with Nadal who is missing this year’s edition due to a hip injury he suffered at the Australian Open.
“I know I can always play better,” Djokovic said after losing to Holger Rune in the Italian Open last eight.
“Definitely am looking forward to working on various aspects of my game, of my body, hopefully getting myself in 100 percent shape. That’s the goal.”
Djokovic and Alcaraz are seeded to meet in the semi-finals after being placed in the same half of the draw.
The 36-year-old may also have to get past Monte Carlo Masters champion Andrey Rublev in the quarters.
Challenge on clay
The other side of the draw appears wide open, with in-form Medvedev the highest seed despite never having previously got past the quarter-finals on the Paris clay.
The Russian lost in the first round on each of his first four visits before making the quarters in 2021.
“I would never (have) thought I would be able to make this (win a clay-court title),” Medvedev said after beating Rune in the Rome final.
“But I have to be honest — a Grand Slam is always bigger.”
In-form youngster Rune, who made a surprise run to last year’s quarter-finals, could face Casper Ruud in the last eight in a rematch of a bad-tempered meeting 12 months ago.
Ruud went on to be thrashed in the final by Nadal and also lost the US Open showpiece match to Alcaraz.
But the Norwegian world number four has struggled for form this year, only reaching the quarters in two of the 10 tournaments he has played.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost the 2021 final to Djokovic after being two sets up, will be among the likely contenders but has not won a title yet this term — the longest he has had to wait for a trophy in a season since 2018.
New ‘big three’?
The winner of the women’s singles is expected to be one of the trio of reigning champion Swiatek, Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.
They have won the last four Grand Slam titles between them and at least one of them has featured in every WTA 1000 final this season.
Swiatek, who turns 22 during the tournament, will be the favourite as she chases a third Roland Garros triumph and a first successful women’s title defence since Justine Henin won her third French Open in a row in 2007.
The Polish star retired from her Italian Open quarter-final against Rybakina with a thigh injury but trained at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
Wimbledon champion Rybakina, ranked fourth, has already won the Rome and Indian Wells titles in 2023 and could face Swiatek in the Roland Garros semis.
“Hopefully I can go far at the French Open,” she said. “I have good memories playing there.
“Now that I’ve got more matches on clay, it’s a bit easier and (gives me) a bit more confidence.”
Other title hopefuls include last year’s runner-up Coco Gauff, Tunisian Ons Jabeur and world number three Jessica Pegula.