FRENCH OPEN ‘19: Federer, Nadal, Djokovic still rule tennis


By HOWARD FENDRICH and ANDREW DAMPF - AP Sports Writers



FILE - In this June 10, 2018, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts while holding the trophy after defeating Austria's Dominic Thiem in the men's finals of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris. Nadal, a French Open champion yet again a week past his 32nd birthday seems to stay forever young. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

FILE - In this June 10, 2018, file photo, Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts while holding the trophy after defeating Austria's Dominic Thiem in the men's finals of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris. Nadal, a French Open champion yet again a week past his 32nd birthday seems to stay forever young. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)


FILE - In this June 5, 2016, file photo, Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after defeating Britain's Andy Murray in four sets 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in the finals of the French Open tennis tournament the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)


FILE -In this June 7, 2009, file photo, Switzerland's Roger Federer kisses the trophy after defeating Sweden's Robin Soderling in their men's singles finals of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)


French Open at-a-glance

PARIS (AP) — A glance at the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam tennis tournament:

SURFACE

Red clay courts

SITE

Roland Garros in Paris

SCHEDULE

The 15-day tournament begins Sunday. The women’s singles final is Saturday, June 8; the men’s singles final is Sunday, June 9. Like at Wimbledon, there are no night sessions.

2018 MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Rafael Nadal of Spain

2018 WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Simona Halep of Romania

LAST YEAR

Nadal became the first man to win 11 championships at one Grand Slam tournament, beating first-time major finalist Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. That raised Nadal’s major trophy haul to 17, second only to Federer’s 20 among men. Halep won her first Grand Slam title following three losses in major finals, coming back from a set and a break down to defeat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

LOOK WHO’S BACK

Roger Federer returns to the French Open for the first time since 2015. He missed the 2016 tournament because of back issues, ending his record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at major tournaments. He also sat out Paris in 2017 and 2018, when he skipped the entire European clay-court circuit, instead opting to prepare for Wimbledon.

STREAKS

Novak Djokovic is seeking his fourth Grand Slam title in a row; Naomi Osaka is bidding for her third straight. Djokovic already held all four major trophies simultaneously in 2016, becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to do so.

NEW COURT

The tournament has added an arena that will be its third largest, with a seating capacity of 5,000: Court Simonne Mathieu. It is semi-sunken and surrounded by four greenhouses with tropical plants.

FINAL SETS

The French Open is now the only Grand Slam tournament that will continue to eschew final-set tiebreakers — fifth sets for men; third sets for women — and let singles matches continue until someone wins by two games. The Australian Open and Wimbledon are eliminating the possibility of never-ending final sets this year; until 2019, the U.S. Open was the only major with a last-set tiebreaker.

KEY STATISTIC

24 — Margaret Court’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles; that’s one more than Serena Williams’ mark for the professional era, which began in 1968.

PRIZE MONEY

Total: About 42.5 million euros (about $48 million).

Men’s and women’s singles champions: 2.3 million euros each (about $2.6 million).

Men’s and women’s doubles champions: 580,000 euros each pair (about $650,000).

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The Big 3 are still very much around. They’re still leading the rankings, still collecting the biggest trophies. And they’re still the dominant figures in men’s tennis, responsible for the main story lines when the French Open starts Sunday.

Roger Federer returns to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015 — and a decade after he completed the career Grand Slam by winning his only trophy there. Rafael Nadal seeks a record-extending — and hard-to-fathom — 12th title in Paris. Novak Djokovic bids to win his fourth major championship in a row for the second time in his career, something neither of his two great rivals ever did even once.

They occupy the top three spots in the rankings, with Djokovic followed by Nadal, then Federer. They occupy the top three slots on the list of most men’s Grand Slam titles, with Federer’s 20 followed by Nadal’s 17 and Djokovic’s 15. And they have combined to win the past nine major tournaments, with three apiece.

“Nadal’s reign is never over. Just like Federer’s reign isn’t ending,” said Riccardo Piatti, who coached Djokovic when the Serb was a teen and has worked with other top-10 players. “As long as they play, they’re always very dangerous. But let’s not forget that Djokovic is No. 1.”

Might seem silly now, but there was a stretch when some wondered whether this group might be done with all of that winning.

Federer, who’s now 37, went 4½ years without adding to his Slam count. He dealt with knee surgery and recurring back problems. He sat out the 2016 French Open, ending a streak of 65 straight major appearances, then missed the U.S. Open and Rio Olympics that year, too. He skipped the entire clay-court circuit each of the last two years, before finally coming back this season and reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome, where he withdrew, citing an injured right leg.

“In practice in Switzerland, I felt good right away,” Federer said about what it initially was like for him on the slow surface, which requires extra footwork and lengthy, grind-it-out exchanges. “Very happy where I’m at, to be quite honest. I was a bit surprised that it went as easy as it did.”

Nadal, who turns 33 during the French Open, did not win a title all season until last week at the Italian Open, which is mainly surprising because it means he kept faltering on his beloved clay.

He’s been sidelined by hand and knee injuries in 2019, and his play hasn’t always been up to his usual standards.

“Been some low moments for me,” he said.

But Nadal looked a lot more like himself in Rome, where he handed opponents a total of four 6-0 sets, including one against Djokovic in the final.

Asked to look ahead to Paris after that three-set loss, Djokovic said: “Nadal, No. 1 favorite, without a doubt. Then everyone else.”

“He’s one of the greatest champions this game has ever seen,” Djokovic said. “His mentality, his approach, his resilience, ability to fight back after long absence from the tour, injuries, surgeries. He’s had it all. He keeps on showing to the world why he’s one of the biggest legends of tennis history.”

Djokovic, who turned 32 on Wednesday, missed the last half of 2017 with a bad right elbow; he eventually had surgery last year, which he began with a 6-6 record and losses in the Australian Open’s fourth round and French Open’s quarterfinals. He was so bothered by the latter, which stretched his major title drought to two years, that he left Roland Garros in a huff, declaring he might skip Wimbledon.

So much for that.

Not only did he play at the All England Club, he won the trophy. Then he did the same at the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, making him the only man in tennis history with three separate streaks of three consecutive majors. Now Djokovic has a shot at a non-calendar Grand Slam, something he already accomplished in 2015-16 — and can set his sights on a true Grand Slam, winning all four majors in the same season, which only has been done by two men: Donald Budge in 1938, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.

And Djokovic has looked good on clay lately, winning the title in Madrid before losing to Nadal in Rome.

So now, really, the question is: How much longer can this terrific trio continue to thrive and hold off talented up-and-coming players such as 25-year-old Dominic Thiem, who lost to Nadal in last year’s French Open final, or 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Federer in Australia in January before losing his first Grand Slam semifinal to Nadal?

“Time is undefeated and these guys are doing a hell of a job of fighting it off, but it has to come at some point,” said International Tennis Hall of Fame member Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion. “Once these guys are gone, there’s a serious vacuum. … Roger, Rafa and Novak — they’re arguably the three best of all time.”

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AP Sports Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

FILE – In this June 10, 2018, file photo, Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts while holding the trophy after defeating Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the men’s finals of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris. Nadal, a French Open champion yet again a week past his 32nd birthday seems to stay forever young. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/05/web1_122911462-1b9878c428f644219d6eedfba3847c58.jpgFILE – In this June 10, 2018, file photo, Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts while holding the trophy after defeating Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the men’s finals of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris. Nadal, a French Open champion yet again a week past his 32nd birthday seems to stay forever young. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

FILE – In this June 5, 2016, file photo, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after defeating Britain’s Andy Murray in four sets 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in the finals of the French Open tennis tournament the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/05/web1_122911462-8fbaff8b0b4a458ba23bb51623744073.jpgFILE – In this June 5, 2016, file photo, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after defeating Britain’s Andy Murray in four sets 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in the finals of the French Open tennis tournament the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

FILE -In this June 7, 2009, file photo, Switzerland’s Roger Federer kisses the trophy after defeating Sweden’s Robin Soderling in their men’s singles finals of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/05/web1_122911462-e71aadfabc5d4370a6cae627b20e575f.jpgFILE -In this June 7, 2009, file photo, Switzerland’s Roger Federer kisses the trophy after defeating Sweden’s Robin Soderling in their men’s singles finals of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

By HOWARD FENDRICH and ANDREW DAMPF

AP Sports Writers

French Open at-a-glance

PARIS (AP) — A glance at the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam tennis tournament:

SURFACE

Red clay courts

SITE

Roland Garros in Paris

SCHEDULE

The 15-day tournament begins Sunday. The women’s singles final is Saturday, June 8; the men’s singles final is Sunday, June 9. Like at Wimbledon, there are no night sessions.

2018 MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Rafael Nadal of Spain

2018 WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION

Simona Halep of Romania

LAST YEAR

Nadal became the first man to win 11 championships at one Grand Slam tournament, beating first-time major finalist Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. That raised Nadal’s major trophy haul to 17, second only to Federer’s 20 among men. Halep won her first Grand Slam title following three losses in major finals, coming back from a set and a break down to defeat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

LOOK WHO’S BACK

Roger Federer returns to the French Open for the first time since 2015. He missed the 2016 tournament because of back issues, ending his record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at major tournaments. He also sat out Paris in 2017 and 2018, when he skipped the entire European clay-court circuit, instead opting to prepare for Wimbledon.

STREAKS

Novak Djokovic is seeking his fourth Grand Slam title in a row; Naomi Osaka is bidding for her third straight. Djokovic already held all four major trophies simultaneously in 2016, becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to do so.

NEW COURT

The tournament has added an arena that will be its third largest, with a seating capacity of 5,000: Court Simonne Mathieu. It is semi-sunken and surrounded by four greenhouses with tropical plants.

FINAL SETS

The French Open is now the only Grand Slam tournament that will continue to eschew final-set tiebreakers — fifth sets for men; third sets for women — and let singles matches continue until someone wins by two games. The Australian Open and Wimbledon are eliminating the possibility of never-ending final sets this year; until 2019, the U.S. Open was the only major with a last-set tiebreaker.

KEY STATISTIC

24 — Margaret Court’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles; that’s one more than Serena Williams’ mark for the professional era, which began in 1968.

PRIZE MONEY

Total: About 42.5 million euros (about $48 million).

Men’s and women’s singles champions: 2.3 million euros each (about $2.6 million).

Men’s and women’s doubles champions: 580,000 euros each pair (about $650,000).

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More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports