Thursday, June 20, 2024

Gigi Salmon column: French Open recap on Iga Swiatek, Carlos Alcaraz, British disappointment

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Having spent years having a very good idea who was going to be crowned the men’s champion in Paris at Roland Garros, this year it was a role reversal with the women’s competition seemingly a closed shop and the men’s wide open.

World No 1 Iga Swiatek came in as a heavy favourite as the two-time defending champion and winning both the lead-up events in Madrid and Rome, so you might wonder why when we were asked for predictions I looked elsewhere. Firstly, I am notoriously terrible at predictions, and secondly, I like to look away from the obvious and really felt that Elena Rybakina, if 100 per cent healthy, could cause Swiatek problems, being one of the few people to be able to hit through her on the clay.

It was to be Naomi Osaka who would come closest to toppling the defending champion as early as the second round, holding match point. It would be the rest of the field who would pay for that near defeat. 17 games conceded to Osaka in Round 2, 17 games including a double bagel conceded in the five rounds that followed.

Five Grand Slam titles for Iga Swiatek, who turned 23 during the French Open and has opened up an almost 4,000 point lead on new world No 2 Coco Gauff.

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Poland’s Swiatek continued her utter dominance on clay in the women’s game

On the men’s side, we had question marks over a number of the top 10: Novak Djokovic was questioning his own form having not reached a final in the first part of the year, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner were coming back from injuries, Danill Medvedev still doesn’t really like clay, Andrey Rublev had only a few weeks back having been in hospital, and 14-time champion Rafa Nadal used his protected ranking of number nine but wasn’t sure until the last minute whether he would play or not.

A video of a 12-year-old Alcaraz was doing the rounds on social media during the tournament, watching the French Open on a big screen in front of Eiffel Tower. Nine years later, he created history by becoming the youngest man to win Grand Slams on all three surfaces at 21.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz kisses the trophy after winning the men's final of the French Open tennis tournament against Germany's Alexander Zverev at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Spain’s Alcaraz became the youngest man ever to win Grand Slams on all three surfaces

Alcaraz arrived in Paris having missed Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome due to a right forearm injury, he wore strapping on his arm throughout and after some initial hesitation in the first round, he was back to unloading on the forehand as we have come to expect. He’s 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, closing out the final against Sascha Zverev 6-2 in the fifth to increase his five-set record to 11-1, saying: “I know when I’m playing a fifth set you have to give everything and you have to give your heart.’ So that’s the US Open, Wimbledon and now Roland Garros titles and a move back up to No 2 in the rankings.

Disappointment for the Brits, all out of the singles before Round 2, speeding up the return to grass, but British success did come in the form of Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, who won their fifth consecutive Roland Garros wheelchair doubles title and 20th as a team. Reuben Harris was also part of the team to win the wheelchair boys doubles title, in the first year of the junior wheelchair competition at Roland Garros.

Katie Boulter of Great Britain hits a forehand against Paula Badosa of Spain in the first round of the women's singles at Roland Garros on May 28, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Frey/TPN/Getty Images)
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Katie Boulter and the rest of the Brits endured a disappointing French Open in 2024

For many, the clay shoes would normally be put away for the year, but with the Olympics in Paris looming large clay is not done for some, with today the cut off to qualify for the Olympics.

It was nice to do a show with Tim Henman while out in Paris and to see a number of friends and familiar faces, with Grand Slams a great opportunity to get everyone together – although with work schedules and night sessions it’s normally a quick hello as you rush past each other.

Gigi Salmon, Tim Henman

Take aways from Roland Garros 2024: we were lucky to have two courts and two roofs as the weather in the first week was awful, Iga Swiatek will take some catching as world No 1, we could be coming closer to the end of the career of a number of players who have been at the top of the tennis landscape for a long time, the future of the game is in good hands, and French pastries in large quantities are bad for you!

A busy few weeks is coming up with the grass season already in full swing. This week in the tour events, Andy Murray and Jack Draper are in Germany for the Boss Open, while there are six Brits in the main draw for the WTA 250 event in Nottingham including Emma Raducanu and British No 1 Katie Boulter.

There are also plenty of things to watch out for: will Novak Djokovic recover in time from surgery to play Wimbledon or is it straight to the Olympics? Can Nadal find enough form to carry him through to the Paris games? Where is Andy Murray at with regards to his tennis and career and will we all be watching when he teams up with brother Jamie to play doubles at Wimbledon as revealed by Stu Fraser in The Times? With Iga Swiatek at her most vulnerable on the grass, who will step up to make their mark at Wimbledon?

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Sky Sports Tennis’ Jonathan Overend has the latest news on Novak Djokovic’s injury and his chances of playing at Wimbledon

While I’m terrible at predictions, apparently I’m quite good at predicting the lengths of matches, getting both finals near enough spot on. My prize was a pineapple that had been sat in our commentary box for 10 days, the question now is how am I going to get it through security for the flight on Monday morning, with the team requesting a photo of me and the pineapple at the airport!

Gigi Salmon

What’s coming up on Sky Sports Tennis?

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Find out all the ways to watch tennis on Sky Sports, including the US Open, ATP and WTA tours

In the run-up to the third Grand Slam of 2024 – Wimbledon – you can watch all of the biggest tennis stars in action live on Sky Sports as they compete across the grass-court season.

  • Stuttgart Open (ATP 250 with Andy Murray in action) – June 10-16
  • Rosmalen Open (ATP/WTA 250) – June 10-16
  • Berlin Open (WTA 500) – June 17-23

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