Speaking recently on The AO Show podcast, Australian great Todd Woodbridge was excited as he looked ahead to Roland Garros.
"I do think this is going to be a great (French) Open, coming up. Because I just think there are so many different people that are, for the first time, believing they have a chance to win a major,” he said.
"There was (previously) a lot of hoping going on, but now you can see in the players there's some belief."
The clay-court season has played out differently from previous years, with relatively new faces scooping the biggest titles.
Andrey Rublev triumphed in Monte Carlo – his first ATP Masters 1000 title – while Carlos Alcaraz, who just turned 20, defended his titles in Barcelona and Madrid. Daniil Medvedev won his first-ever clay-court title at the Rome Masters, and 20-year-old Holger Rune finished runner-up both there and in Monte Carlo, rising to the cusp of the top five as a result.
Elsewhere, Stefanos Tsitsipas has been consistently strong on clay – reaching at least the quarterfinal stage of all four events he played – while Casper Ruud, last year’s Roland Garros finalist, rebounded with a semifinal finish in Rome, after earlier winning in Estoril.
BEST-PERFORMED MEN DURING SPRING CLAY SEASON*
|Win %||Win-loss record|
|Roberto Carballes Baena||72.7||8-3|
(*does not include this week's ATP events in Lyon and Geneva)
The playing group’s belief has undoubtedly been boosted by the news that, for the first time in 19 years, clay-court titan Rafael Nadal will not compete in Paris.
Nadal has won a staggering 14 titles at Roland Garros and this year would have been the defending champion, yet ongoing injury has prevented his participation.
Adding to the “openness” is the fact Nadal’s fellow 22-time major winner Novak Djokovic – also battling injury – enters the tournament without winning a clay-court tune-up for the first time since 2018.
Nadal and Djokovic have combined to win the past seven Roland Garros titles; you have to go back to Stan Wawrinka’s victory in 2015 to find a different name engraved on the trophy.
Former world No.15 Wally Masur feels this is the most wide-open edition of the tournament in recent history.
"We're going to miss (Nadal), because he was the storyline at Roland Garros every year,” Masur told ausopen.com.
"I just looked at the top 10, and I thought, I don't know, there's 10 players that can win it.
“Rublev's done well. Rune is really starting to do damage at the very highest level. You can never discount Medvedev. Jannik Sinner is getting better all the time. Casper Ruud: don't discount him. Maybe he's recharged and ready to make a run?
“Yes, there are a few favourites in my mind, but I think it's very wide open.”
Masur said he could not ignore the threat the legendary Djokovic posed, but it has been a less-than-ideal lead-up for the world No.3, who recently turned 36.
Since winning a 10th Australian Open crown is supreme fashion, Djokovic has not won another title. He suffered clay-court losses to Lorenzo Musetti (Monte Carlo), Dusan Lajovic (Banja Luka) and Rune (Rome), and skipped Madrid with an elbow injury.
Rome is traditionally where Djokovic discovers form ahead of his annual Roland Garros campaign; he is a six-time champion at the Foro Italico.
But this year, he looked uncomfortable in the heavy, slow and rainy conditions of the Italian capital.
His results have led Masur to believe that Woodbridge was onto something when previewing Roland Garros.
"Those two words – hope and belief – are really important,” Masur said.
“When you have players so dominant, as say Rafa's been on clay, and Novak, Rafa and Roger have been throughout the course of the tour, a lot of guys are beaten before they go on. Also too, if you have a losing record (against them), if you're like 0-11, it's just hard to find a way.
“(Previously) I think players would enter the French with hope; probably hoping they weren't in Rafa's section of the draw, or Novak or Roger's section of the draw.
“But when players see Novak being beaten... it reverberates around the locker room. Everybody all of a sudden thinks: well if he can beat him, I have a chance. You'll hang in there just that little bit longer when you know they've had a series of losses coming in. Maybe there is some vulnerability there?
"He's not right... he's had some very uncharacteristic losses. But you sort of think with Novak, with a few matches under his belt in Rome – I know not as many as he would have liked – then a week's training, get into the French, find his way into a Slam, then you just cannot discount him.”
Medvedev’s Rome triumph saw him leapfrog Djokovic into the position of second seed in Paris, meaning Djokovic could potentially face world No.1 Alcaraz in the semifinals.
But form and physical health and ranking aside, Djokovic’s Grand Slam experience and pedigree is unmatched in the 128-player field.
Plus, there’s the residual confidence he must carry having won the most recent major tournament in Australia.
And, as a player openly motivated by tennis history and records, we must not forget: he’ll be playing for the all-time men’s record of 23 major singles titles when Roland Garros begins on Sunday 28 May.