Which player has the best chance in the wide-open men's draw? Is Daniil Medvedev now a genuine clay-court threat? Does Iga Swiatek remain the favourite, or will Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina continue to overshadow her in 2023?
And who will win the men's and women's titles?
LISTEN: The AO Show's Roland Garros preview
We discussed all this with our panel of experts as the countdown to Roland Garros continues.
Alicia Molik: former world No.8 and now Australian Billie Jean King Cup captain
Wally Masur: former world No.15 and previous Australian Davis Cup captain
Casey Dellacqua: former top-30 singles player and top-five doubles player
Nicole Pratt: former world No.35 and now Australia's Billie Jean King Cup coach
Simon Rea: former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur
Rafael Nadal is missing for the first time since 2004 and Novak Djokovic enters after a less-than-ideal preparation. Is this the most open Roland Garros men’s tournament you can remember?
MOLIK: "It is. There's probably five or six guys who can win it, I reckon. I think Novak's still firmly a favourite. You've gotta put in Medvedev, Sinner, Rune, Alcaraz, and Ruud. I think it was pretty perfect timing that Alcaraz had that bad loss (to Fabian Marozsan in Rome), because he was winning, winning, winning, and it would have been a re-focus point. It's no indication of his form; he played a bad match, it's no big deal. He's been playing so well for such a long time. So I feel like it would have narrowed his focus for this period of time before the French.”
MASUR: "I just looked at the top 10, and I thought, there's 10 players that can win it. Andrey Rublev's done well. Holger Rune is really starting to do damage at the very highest level. You can never discount Daniil Medvedev. Jannik Sinner is getting better all the time. Yes there's a few favourites in my mind, but I think it's very wide open.”
DELLACQUA: “Yes. Yes in terms of (the absence) of a clear frontrunner in Nadal, but I still think there's probably a mix of players that are the standouts for the title. We obviously don't know the form that Djokovic is gonna bring in. We've got Alcaraz, Medvedev coming off a great win. So there's a mix of players. For someone obviously new to win the tournament, which we haven't seen over many, many years at Roland Garros with Nadal being so dominant, I would say that, yeah, it's certainly a Roland Garros tournament that's up for grabs.”
PRATT: "It's the most open for one reason; Rafa's not there. (Names to look for are) Alcaraz, Medvedev, Djokovic, Rublev. I'm gonna make a call and say I don't believe Rune has the five-set experience yet. I was thinking back to the Australian Open; he was cramping. Imagine here (in Paris) and how physical it is. And he's a physical player. I don't want to take anything away from what he's achieved on the clay at these Masters events, he's really upped the ante. Sinner as well; he's 100 per cent a player of the future, I just think again is lacking a bit of experience in navigating through a two-week event. Zverev, who made semis last year, just hasn't had enough matches. Casper Ruud was better in Rome, but he just hasn't accumulated the matches this year.”
REA: "It certainly feels that way... I think it does present an opportunity. Some of the names that pop to mind are Rune, and the work he's been doing and taking it to the likes of Novak, etc. Medvedev. Obviously Djokovic still lurks ominously in the shadows. Alcaraz. Perhaps we're starting to look outside of Alcaraz and Djokovic, but I suspect the road to the title is still going to have to run through one, if not both, of those men. And then the likes of a Tsitsipas or a Sinner, who again I think are lurking just beneath the surface.”
What have you made of Daniil Medvedev continuing his form onto clay and winning in Rome? And is he now a legitimate threat for the title in Paris?
MOLIK: "I think clay frustrates him because it's harder work for him, but he knows how to play on it... Yeah I think so (that he's a legitimate contender at RG). He's broken down that barrier of questioning that success. I think he's going to go in (to Paris) with the mindset that it's all a bonus now, because he's won that Masters event. I think he'll be in there because he'll be so relaxed.”
MASUR: "Yeah, I think he is. (Nowadays) everybody plays the same way on every surface. So it's really just mastering the movement. And he's a good mover. I find it a little bit disingenuous that he thinks he couldn't win a Masters on clay; maybe he was just looking at Rafa at his prime thinking, wow, could I do that on clay? I don't know. But it doesn't surprise me he wins Rome, and he's right up there in my opinion to do well at the French. He's a great competitor, doesn't have a lot of weaknesses, he's got a big enough first serve to get cheap points. And what a year he's had. All of those matches; that's money in the bank, regardless of surface.”
DELLACQUA: “He's kind of built this narrative around the fact that he can't play on clay, which I don't think is necessarily the case. So he's just won his 20th title over in Rome and played some great tennis. And when you listen to some of his press conferences… what he's saying is all around this kind of real positivity, this great mental attitude around how he wants to play really well on clay and it's shown in his tennis. He got to Rome, he was feeling good, and then he goes and wins a title. I'm not quite sure that Roland Garros is up for grabs for a player like Medvedev, but … it wouldn't surprise me if he goes very, very deep into the tournament. In Rome (it was) really refreshing, I think because we all love Medvedev, it was just great to see him in a really great headspace.”
PRATT: "I think he's certainly got a newfound belief on clay. Can you just flick a switch, and it stays on? I'm not sure, because when push comes to shove, and he's out there, is he going to talk himself out of it that he actually can do it? (Rome was a) great result, and a surprise to him maybe... but is he talking himself down to take the pressure off? Maybe. Players do that. I can't see him winning (Roland Garros), however, you never know. But the fact that Rafa's not playing; the psyche of one of the best players in the world is like, right, I'm never gonna win because Rafa's there. But now, is he thinking: well, maybe I can actually do this? His psychology in and around the tournament would be much different.”
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REA: "Yes, I think he's a legitimate contender for the title. Furthermore, it emphasises the year that Medvedev is having in 2023... for him to be starting the front half of the year in the manner in which he has, it really does make us sit up and take notice. It's been a dominant start, and perhaps we didn't see it coming after the Australian summer. You watch him in Rome, that little bit more heaviness on the forehand. It depends what type of weather we get in Paris as to whether that's going to assist him or not. We know about the mentality; he's on the crest of a wave and he feels 10-foot tall and bullet-proof. His movement as an athlete is phenomenal; on the backhand wing, there's just no way through.”
Iga Swiatek remains the Roland Garros favourite, but the gap between her and the field has noticeably narrowed. How might she fare?
MOLIK: "One other threat to Swiatek is herself. She's really mentally tough; I haven't seen anything bubble up to the surface. But might she just put that extra bit of pressure on herself, having won the last two out of three? Everyone else will be expecting it. It's just a lot different (in 2023) than the last couple, I feel, now. Swiatek hasn't won one of those big lead-in events, so in the back of her mind, does she question her level right now, unlike other years?”
MASUR: "She copped a lot of losses on the hard courts (earlier in 2023). Of course the clay buys her a bit more time, so she's right back in the frame. Hopefully (her injury) is not debilitating. To me I think Swiatek is the slight favourite, but I think there's a few players who can beat her.”
DELLACQUA: “If she's healthy, you kind of can't go against her as the favourite. From what I'm reading and hearing – I'm obviously not on the ground and that there – but it seems that the thigh injury was a little bit precautionary, so I'm not quite sure that maybe we factor that in too much.”
PRATT: "It's hard to see her losing before the semis, and then depending on who's in that other half... The names that come to mind (as her challengers) are Sabalenka, and Rybakina. The fact Rybakina won Rome is always a good indicator going into Roland Garros. Even more impressive is that Rome's conditions were heavy, and I would say Rybakina is better in the faster, bouncier (conditions); that first-strike on a sunny hot day in Paris. So Iga will be keen to look at the draw, because that's the person she probably doesn't want in her (projected) semifinal." (Editor’s note: the draw has since been revealed and Rybakina has landed in Swiatek’s half)
REA: "I probably draw a little bit of a parallel between how we might be talking about Novak coming into Roland Garros, and how we are talking about Iga. In some ways, they're victims of their own outstanding success. And you see a slight slip or change in that, or reduction in dominance, and you start to think that the door is ajar. And I think that's real. But I suspect that all roads, if you want to hold up the trophy at the end of the fortnight, go through her somewhere. I think she'll be there at the business end of the tournament, and I think you'll have to beat her if you want to win the event.”
The two biggest clay titles leading in were won by AO finalists Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina. Could they set up a rematch in the RG final?
MOLIK: "Yes, 100 per cent. The final in Australia was the biggest-hitting women's final I think I've ever seen. There were barely any unforced errors; they were beating each other with big hitting, consistently and constantly. I was commentating the final, and I think when you hit the ball so big and precise, and you can work the ball with a bit of spin, to a degree, I think it eliminates that factor of what clay gives to a lot of players... it takes away any sort of counter-puncher's ability. The only one who's got a shot, really, is Swiatek. But I could 100 per cent see that happening. If I hadn't seen the quality of the final in January between the two – it was really physical – I wouldn't be saying that. It will probably only get better on the clay, because they're going to have a fraction more time to see the ball."
MASUR: "There's talk the French could be warm and lively. That makes a big difference. Rome was wet and cold, and Rybakina still won it; I wouldn't have thought that would play into her hands, but she had the power to hit through the conditions. Sabalenka; big game, she wins Madrid, which is at altitude, it's lively. You get to the French… (often) the first week is miserable and the second week it heats up and it's 30 degrees and it's one of the quicker tournaments on tour. If the conditions are warm, then it plays into Sabalenka's and Rybakina's hands. One strike and the point's over. The conditions are going to play their part. Can those two be in the final? Absolutely.”
PRATT: "I don't think it's out of the question. They've just proven their level, which is the best in the world at the moment. And the ability to play big matches and really embrace the occasion. I think a lot of players still fear the occasion and run away from it, versus those three names (Swiatek too), they run towards it. And they love it. They'll be tested earlier in the tournament; it always happens. But their ability to get through those matches and then keep going from strength to strength is something that sets them apart from the field at the moment. As soon as they get a couple of matches into the tournament, they're gonna be pretty tough to stop.”
REA: "I don't think that's inconceivable. I think they'll both be there at the business end of the event... I just still strongly suspect that Iga will be there as well.”
Who are your picks for the men’s and women’s titles?
MOLIK: "I'm going Rybakina, and I'll go Alacraz."
MASUR: "It is wide open. I'll go with Alcaraz, with Novak just a whisker away. And it’s hard for me to go past those three – Ryabkina, Sabalenka and Swiatek – and I'll put Swiatek ahead by just a hair."
DELLACQUA: “My gut just tells me Alcaraz will win Roland Garros. I'm gonna go with Sabalenka because she's got that Madrid title under a belt. That's a big win. And I think her firepower on the Roland Garros clay courts, particularly, is going to be a real weapon for her.”
PRATT: “I'll come back to Djokovic; he just knows how to manage himself. He knows how to navigate two weeks. And I'm gonna go with Rybakina. I reckon she's gonna win.”
REA: "I still think Novak's gonna be right there... but I think this could be Jannik Sinner's maiden Grand Slam trophy. I like his emergence, I love the addition of Darren Cahill to the team. I think there's a calmness there; I think the time is almost here for Sinner to emerge. It could be Roland Garros in 2023. And on the women's side, I'm gonna come back to the obvious. I think it's staring us in the face, and rather than look at why not, I think it's an opportunity for Iga to stamp her mark again. And I think she does get it done.”