Form guide: Players to watch at Roland Garros

  • Matt Trollope

Unlike 2020, when Roland Garros was rescheduled and preceded by a truncated lead-up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 has featured a fairly traditional clay-court season.

Players have spent almost two months honing their games on clay and, as a result, we have a fairly large sample size from which to judge form and make predictions as to how this might impact the action in Paris.

As part of our experts' panel, former world No.8 Alicia Molik said that "anyone who’s won a tournament recently is thinking second week, minimum."

The majority of players listed alphabetically below have indeed won clay-court lead-up titles and will be brimming with confidence as they begin their campaigns at Roland Garros over the next few days. 

The AO Show podcast: Roland Garros preview

BADOSA, Paula

Clay win-loss in 2021: 13-2 (86.67%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Belgrade; SF Madrid, Charleston 500
RG best performance: 4R 2020

The Spaniard’s clay-court prowess became apparent last year when she beat Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko en route to the last 16 in Paris. And she has gone up a level in 2021, winning 13 of her 15 matches on the surface – including an upset of world No.1 Ash Barty in the Charleston quarters – and capturing her first career WTA title in Belgrade. With Alison Riske’s French Open withdrawal, Badosa has been elevated to the 33rd seeding and is projected to meet an underdone Naomi Osaka in round three.

BARTY, Ash

Clay win-loss in 2021: 13-3 (81.25%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Stuttgart; F Madrid
RG best performance: W 2019

After skipping the clay-court season in 2020, Barty picked up where she left off from her 2019 Roland Garros triumph, playing four clay-court events, reaching at least the quarterfinal stage at all of them, and winning 13 of her 16 matches. After triumphing in Stuttgart and riding a nine-match winning streak into the Madrid final, Barty withdrew from her Rome quarterfinal against Coco Gauff due to an arm injury. However, she assures us that after a 10-day break and gentle preparation in the south of France, she’s good to go in Paris.

BERRETTINI, Matteo

Clay win-loss in 2021: 10-3 (76.92%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Belgrade #1; F Madrid
RG best performance: 3R 2020, 2018

The big-hitting Italian came within a set of capturing the Madrid Masters title before Alexander Zverev snapped his eight-match clay-court winning streak, preventing Berrettini from notching back-to-back titles after his Belgrade success. The 25-year-old has the power to hit through the clay courts of Roland Garros, and, according to Wally Masur, could be especially dangerous if the weather heats up in Paris and the surface becomes livelier. 

DELBONIS, Federico

Clay win-loss in 2021: 22-9 (70.97%)
Best clay results in 2021: SF Belgrade #2, Santiago; QF Rome
RG best performance: 2R 2019, 2018, 2013

The 30-year-old Argentine, ranked No.52, has won a tour-leading 22 matches on clay in 2021. Most notably, he qualified for all three ATP Masters events in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome – advancing to the quarters at the latter – and in the past month has notched top-20 wins over Carreno Busta, Goffin and Auger-Aliassime. After a semifinal run in Belgrade this week, the lefty opens against Radu Albot and looms as a potential threat to No.4 seed Dominic Thiem in round two. 

DJOKOVIC, Novak

Clay win-loss in 2021: 11-3 (78.57%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Belgrade #2; F Rome
RG best performance: W 2016

After a patchy start to the clay-court season, Djokovic has won eight of his past nine matches on the surface, advancing to the final in Rome then enjoying a title run on home soil in Belgrade. Todd Woodbridge was surprised to see the world No.1 playing this week, and felt it was a sign Djokovic was searching for form. “We don't normally see him do that (the week) before a Grand Slam. But maybe he does find that extra form leading in? Maybe that's the difference for him.” A tournament trophy, and subsequent confidence boost, certainly won’t harm Djokovic’s chances in Paris.

GAUFF, Coco

Clay win-loss in 2021: 12-3 (80%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Parma; SF Rome
RG best performance: 2R 2020

Gauff began strongly on clay in 2021 with a quarterfinal run at the WTA 500 event in Charleston. And she carried that form across the Atlantic to Italy, where she reached the Rome semifinals before capturing her second career WTA title in Parma. Those results helped boost her into the top 25 and will see her seeded at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “I feel like winning a title gives you more confidence and more experience of playing in the finals,” said Gauff, who has won nine of her past 10 matches on clay. “That's the goal here (at Roland Garros), is to make it to the finals and win it.”

KUDERMETOVA, Veronika

Clay win-loss in 2021: 13-3 (81.25%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Charleston 500; SF Istanbul
RG best performance: 3R 2019

Kudermetova has won more matches than almost any female player in 2021, and the Russian continued her victorious ways when the tour switched to clay in April, sweeping to the Charleston title without the loss of a set. She built a nine-match winning streak which was eventually halted in the Istanbul semis, and it took Petra Kvitova and Ash Barty to stop her in Madrid and Rome respectively. The powerful 24-year-old opens against Amanda Anisimova in one of the best first-round offerings in Paris.

NADAL, Rafael

Clay win-loss in 2021: 14-2 (87.5%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Rome, Barcelona 
RG best performance: Champion x 13

As is customary, the King of Clay accumulated plenty of matches on the surface (16) as well as wins (14) and titles (two, in Rome and Barcelona) in the build-up to Paris. No man has produced a better winning percentage on the surface this season and it is hard to see anyone stopping him from notching an incredible 14th trophy – and a men's record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title – at Roland Garros.

NORRIE, Cameron

Clay win-loss in 2021: 14-4 (77.78%)
Best clay results in 2021: F Lyon, Estoril
RG best performance: 2R 2018

The British lefty has been one of the stories of the clay-court season in 2021, reaching two ATP finals and trimming his ranking from 58th to 45th in the past month. Norrie, who has scored impressive wins on clay over Khachanov (twice), Goffin, Garin, Cilic and Thiem this season, could face Nadal in the last 32 at Roland Garros after falling to the Spaniard recently in the Barcelona quarters.

OSORIO SERRANO, Maria Camila

Clay win-loss in 2021: 16-2 (88.89%) 
Best clay results in 2021: W Bogota; SF Belgrade, Charleston 250
RG best performance: making main-draw debut in 2021

The likeable Colombian sent home fans into a frenzy with her first WTA title in Bogota, and has since soared inside the top 100 after beginning April ranked No.180. Forced to qualify for the French Open, the three wins Osorio Serrano posted there boosted her 2021 win-loss record on clay to a tour-leading 16-2. A US Open girls’ singles champion and junior world No.1 in 2019, the 19-year-old is projected to meet sixth seed Bianca Andreescu in the second round in Paris.

RUUD, Casper

Clay win-loss in 2021: 15-4 (78.95%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Geneva; SF Madrid, Monte Carlo, Munich
RG best performance: 3R 2020, 2019

The Norwegian was rewarded for his consistency on clay with a title in Geneva after three straight semifinals earlier in the clay-court season. Ruud has recently made his top-20 debut and, after posting a succession of wins over quality opponents – including Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid – he will be looking to carry his stellar from to Paris, where he is aiming to reach the second week for the first time.

SABALENKA, Aryna

Clay win-loss in 2021: 11-2 (84.62%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Madrid; F Stuttgart
RG best performance: 3R 2020

Better known for her success on fast hard courts, Sabalenka has transitioned beautifully to clay this year, pushing Barty to three sets in the Stuttgart final before gaining revenge on the Aussie in a high-quality Madrid final. Now in the top five and seeded No.3 in Paris, Sabalenka is looking to reach her first ever major quarterfinal and revealed on Friday she was feeling confident, and calm, ahead of the tournament.

SWIATEK, Iga

Clay win-loss in 2021: 8-1 (88.89%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Rome
RG best performance: W 2020

Although Swiatek has played sparingly on clay this season, she has made an impact whenever she has. The newest member of the world's top 10 pushed Barty in an entertaining third-round clash in Madrid before storming to the title in Rome, punishing Karolina Pliskova in an extraordinary 6-0 6-0 final. While it is unclear how Swiatek will handle the unfamiliar pressure of defending a major title, she said on Friday that while that “puts a little bit more pressure on me, for sure, I just feel that I can win more matches here.”

TSITSIPAS, Stefanos

Clay win-loss in 2021: 16-3 (84.21%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Monte Carlo, Lyon; F Barcelona 
RG best performance: SF 2020

Tsitsipas, incredibly, was a point away from winning three clay-court titles ahead of Roland Garros; he arrived at match point in the Barcelona final before Nadal escaped to win an epic contest. Nevertheless, the Greek star has hit a sweet spot of form on his favourite surface and will be looking to build on his 2020 French Open run where he came a set away from reaching his first Slam final.

ZVEREV, Alexander

Clay win-loss in 2021: 9-3 (75%)
Best clay results in 2021: W Madrid
RG best performance: QF 2019, 2018

Continuing his consistent season, Zverev won his second title in Madrid – a week that featured a straight-sets upset of Nadal in the quarterfinals – before advancing to the Rome quarters, where Nadal avenged that Madrid defeat. Only Nadal and Tsitsipas have earned more points on clay in 2021 than the 24-year-old German.