By Nick Searle-Donoso
Roland Garros 2021 began in a storm of controversy with Naomi Osaka’s decision to skip her media obligations and then her subsequent withdrawal from the tournament. On the previous Wednesday, Osaka had released a statement on Twitter that announced she would not be attending any post-match interviews during Roland Garros this year because of the impact of interactions with the media on her mental health.
This was followed by a decidedly heavy-handed statement from all four Grand Slams which threatened Osaka with further punishments if she continued to skip press, including possible expulsion from the tournament. Osaka then sent shockwaves reverberating throughout tennis, and professional sport more generally, when she decided to withdraw after her first-round win against Patricia Maria-Tig.
Osaka’s withdrawal was closely followed by the withdrawal of the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. This was for very different reasons, however, since Kvitova withdrew after a freak accident that involved her falling and hurting her ankle after a post-match interview.
Meanwhile, on the court, the rest of the top female players have dropped like flies in the opening week with the retirement of the world number one Ash Barty due to a hip injury, the losses of former Grand Slam champions Garbiñe Muguruza and Bianca Andreescu in the first round, and the loss of the third seed and Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka in the second round.
As it stands the favourites in the women’s draw are Serena Williams, who is looking to equal the all-time record of twenty-four Grand Slam titles, last year’s surprise champion Iga Świątek, and last year’s runner up Sofia Kenin.
Nevertheless, faithful to a recent trend in women’s tennis, this year’s French Open is anyone’s game.
On the men’s side, there have been considerably fewer top seed defeats, the exceptions being the loss of the out of form, two-time finalist Dominic Thiem, and the surprising loss of the in-form seventh seed Andrey Rublev.
Unfortunately, the most recent casualty has been 39-year-old Roger Federer. The Swiss legend withdrew despite winning his third-round tie against Dominik Koepfer, citing injury concerns and the need to protect his body following his length lay-off.
However, almost all the big names are still in the draw, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic breezing through their opening rounds and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the leading male player in 2021, gliding his way through to the second week.
While despite saying that he ‘hates’ playing on clay and having not won a single match at Roland Garros in his career, Daniil Medvedev has done well to beat several potential banana skin opponents in the opening few rounds.
As such, Medvedev has suggested that his relationship with the clay courts of Paris has changed (a change which he has compared to his newfound love of eating raw tuna). Apart from more of Medvedev’s vivid similes, what is there to look forward to in the second week of the men’s tournament?
Well, given that Tsitsipas is the clear favourite on his side of the draw to make his first Grand Slam final, it will be fascinating to watch how he deals with that unique pressure. And on the other side of the draw, it is clearly a Nadal and Djokovic semi-final that we are all expecting and looking forward to.
Most importantly, however, is the question of whether Nadal wins his fourteenth Roland Garros title and in doing so breaks the male record of twenty Grand Slam titles which he currently shares with Federer.
Image: John Martin via Flickr