Stars arrive confident at Roland Garros


As players continue to prepare for Roland Garros, one striking theme emerged when several of the world’s best chatted to the media on Friday – self-belief.

And it was particularly notable among the women’s favourites for the title.

Ash Barty, Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff – clay-court tournament champions in the lead-up to Roland Garros – all described how positive they felt ahead of their French campaigns.

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World No.1 Barty, the Stuttgart champion, returns to the scene of her 2019 triumph after a quiet, peaceful and refreshing week of preparation at a small club in the south of France. 

“I'm feeling good. I'm feeling ready to play. I think it was an important decision for us to (withdraw from Rome and) make sure that we arrived at this tournament being 100 per cent physically. I feel like we have been able to practice well, control what we have needed to do over the last kind of 10 days or so. It's a clean slate, a fresh start. It's hard to take too much from that tournament back in 2019, but we are very excited to be back and have another opportunity to play here at Roland Garros. It's a special place. It holds a very special place in my heart and we are very excited to start again.”

Iga Swiatek, who won the French title a year after Barty, arrives in Paris as the recent Rome champion and thrilled she has managed to maintain her form following her Roland Garros breakthrough.

“Coming back to the same shape I had during Roland Garros and winning two titles, that was amazing for me, because I'm still not sure if I'm gonna be consistent for the rest of my career. This shows that I can actually perform well not only once but I can repeat it. We are just focusing on treating this tournament the same as any other. So I'm just trying to lower my expectations and remember that from the experience of other players it's not easy to be a defending champion, so I'm giving myself time.”

Another young player with time up her sleeve is Coco Gauff, and the 17-year-old American is brimming with confidence following her victory at the WTA clay-court event in Parma, Italy.

“I feel great going into it. After Parma, we went to Nice … just to train a little bit, relax, get away from the bubble life. I had two practices (at Roland Garros) so far since I have been here and they have both been great. I'm feeling really good going into it and feeling really confident. I feel like winning a title just gives you more confidence and it gives you more experience of playing in the finals. That's the goal here is to make it to the finals and win it.”

Aryna Sabalenka, the third seed in Paris, was the champion in Madrid after falling to Barty in the Stuttgart final, marking her best ever clay-court season.

“I'm really happy with the result on the clay courts so far. I would say I improved a lot. Of course it's give me a lot of confidence, but tomorrow is a new day and you never know what to expect. So I expect a great level for myself and a good fight. I feel ready for French Open, and, like, for sure I will do everything I can to go as far as I can.”

Sabalenka, who is attempting to reach a major quarterfinal for the first time in her career, discussed the mental shift she has made when approaching Grand Slam events. 

“I'm not really thinking about the Grand Slam. This is just another tournament. As always, I just have to show my level and be there 100 per cent and wins will come. Before I was really thinking a lot about Grand Slam, that I really want to win it, and all these things, which is not really help you to win. You just put a lot of pressure on yourself. It's not really helping. So the biggest improvement was to stop thinking about the winning of Grand Slam. Just to start working. And that's it.”

Another player enjoying a recent psychological shift is Daniil Medvedev, whose struggles on clay – which include a 0-4 career record at Roland Garros – have been well documented. 

The Russian won just one of his three clay-court matches leading into Paris.

“I didn't feel good coming here to Roland Garros, and I played maybe four hours on the court. I feel amazing. I feel happy about life. I feel happy about tennis. First time in two months. So that's just great feeling. I didn't feel that it was clay. I was playing like on hard courts, and hopefully, I mean, have some expectations. I really like the conditions here so far, and looking forward to make a great tournament, to be honest.”

More cautiously optimistic, in typical style, is 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, who begins his title defence against big-hitting Australian Alexei Popyrin.

“It I know every round is tough, I respect every opponent always. I respected everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one, no? So I need to play well and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen.”

While another Nadal victory in Paris would be no shock, Stefanos Tsitsipas revealed that, despite his excellent lead-up form, that his own victory at Roland Garros would be surprising.

“If our Spanish friend wouldn't want to make new customers this year for the French. That would be, first of all, one surprise. And the second one would be anything (I achieve) better than semifinals I guess that would be a surprise, I think. Whenever I play, I want to be the surprise of the tournament. That's what I like most about it.”

One of the few players not expressing a healthy dose of self-belief was Dominic Thiem, with the reigning US Open champion and two-time Roland Garros finalist producing a lukewarm 4-3 record on clay in 2021.

Thiem opens against Pablo Andujar, and was not prepared to celebrate the fact Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer had all landed in the opposing half of the draw.

“I think the way I'm coming into that tournament, the way I also played the last weeks, the only thing I can focus on is the first rounds. I shouldn't focus at all on who is in my quarter or even who is in my half.”

Roland Garros action begins on Sunday 30 May in Paris.