French Open 2018: Who’s won, who’s back, who’s in form: the champions, the schedules – and some key numbers

Marianne Bevis looks ahead to the 2018 French Open, where Rafael Nadal and Jelena Ostapenko are the defending champions

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko won the 2017 women's singles title Photo: FFT

This year’s French Open, the climax of the European sweep across the red clay of three Masters, two big Premiers and two unbroken months, always delivers thrills and spills, questions and surprises and, along the way, a few predictable answers.

One question that invariably brings an entirely predictable answer concerns the likely men’s champion on the hallowed Philippe Chatrier court come the final day at Roland Garros.

For once again, Rafael Nadal, back to No1 in the world after his remarkable run to the titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome, arrives in Paris as the favourite to defend his title. With 11 titles at each of the former two tournaments and eight in Rome, he will pursue an unprecedented 11th at the clay Major.

Yet since he rode to the title last year, a few things have changed.

The man who has alternated the No1 ranking with Nadal throughout this season, Roger Federer, has nevertheless been absent through the entire clay swing. One of Nadal’s biggest rivals in recent years, Novak Djokovic, is beginning to find his feet and confidence again after withdrawing from the tour for six months post-Wimbledon—but returns to Paris ranked an uncharacteristic 22.

Last year’s finalist Stan Wawrinka has been similarly side-lined, and is ranked 25—and in rather more uncertain form than Djokovic, who made the semis in Rome last week. Andy Murray too has played no part in the tour since last Wimbledon, and will not even make the Paris draw after being the top seed and a semi-finalist last year,

Conversely, Juan Martin del Potro, seeded a lowly 29 last year after his own injury problems, is up to No6 after a fine start to 2018: titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells—his first Masters title—and the semis in Miami contributed to a 23-6 season. But he is not the only man to break the Masters glass ceiling since this time last year: Grigor Dimitrov, Jack Sock and John Isner all won, but the most impressive has been world No3 Alexander Zverev.

Only just turned 21, the tall German announced his presence with the Rome title last year, and went on to claim Montreal and, just last week, Madrid—plus reaching the Rome and Miami finals. He has won more matches this year than anyone else and tops the Race to London.

There are other names who have made an impact since last June: Kevin Anderson and Pablo Carreno Busta into the top 10, Diego Schwartzman and Kyle Edmund into the top 20, Denis Shapovalov, Filip Krajinovic and Andrey Rublev into the top 30.

David Goffin has begun to bounce back from on-court accidents—including in the third round of Roland Garros last year—to show his clay credentials, while Dominic Thiem again beat Nadal on Europe’s clay.

But back to the beginning and Nadal. He is more rested ahead of the French Open than he has been in years of clay success—for he did not play between the Australian Open and Monte-Carlo. If others run out of steam, he will not. But… he has to keep winning until he lifts the trophy to stay at No1. Few expect him to do anything else.

On the women’s side, though, it will take a brave person to predict the champion

Last year, the then defending champion Serena Williams could not play: she would have her first child fewer than four months later. Another former champion, Maria Sharapova, was not granted a wild card when her seeding remained rock bottom following her year-long ban for a doping offence. Victoria Azarenka was yet to make her return from ‘maternity leave’, and Petra Kvitova, after the attack to her playing hand the previous Christmas, would play her very first match back in Paris. She managed to win an emotional opener but lost in the second round.

All these women are now back in the mix this year. However, a lot of water has gone under the bridge in the interim.

There have been five changes at No1 featuring four brand-new names. And it is not just in the rankings that new names made an appearance. The fresh-faced Jelena Ostapenko, just 20 years and two days old, stormed unseeded to last year’s French title, Garbine Muguruza won her first Wimbledon title, and Sloane Stephens surged to the US title with a protected ranking of 83.

And this year in Australia, Caroline Wozniacki finally won her first Major—and continues to knock at the door of the No1 ranking again.

As the clay swing has unfolded, a clutch of other names has risen into contention: Elina Svitolina, champion in Rome; Elise Mertens, with two clay titles; Kiki Bertens, Charleston champ; Karolina Pliskova, winner in Stuttgart; Kvitova won Prague and Madrid back to back; and Anett Kontaveit downed several big names through Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

Of course, Sharapova will also be high on the list of hopefuls, having clinched a seeding at the last minute with a semi run in Rome, as will Caroline Garcia, backed by a home crowd and with some big progress in the last year from No29 to No7

Or can Halep, twice the ‘bridesmaid’ at Roland Garros, add a first Major title to her No1 status after coming so close in last year’s final?

In short, though, there are worse places to look for possible champions in both the men’s and women’s draws than in the respective Races.

Top contenders in the Race to London are Zverev, Nadal and del Potro, while Zverev and Shapovalov head the Race to Milan.

In the women’s Race to Singapore, Halep, Wozniacki, Kvitova and Svitolina lead the field, with Mertens, Naomi Osaka, Garcia, Muguruza and Bertens close behind.

The draws will impact on all of them, of course, particularly with the likes of Djokovic, Williams, Sharapova, Azarenka, and Wawrinka well below their usual rankings.

Those draws take place at Roland Garros on Thursday evening. Until then, here is resume of who has featured strongly in the past—plus some facts and figures about the tournament.

Former French Open champions and finalists in 2018 draws

Women:

Jelena Ostapenko (defending champion)

Garbine Muguruza (2016 champion)

Serena Williams (2015, 2013, 2002 champion, 2016 finalist)

Maria Sharapova (2014 and 2012 champion, 2013 finalist)

Francesca Schiavone (2010 champion, 2011 finalist) NB currently in qualifying

Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009 champion, 2006 finalist)

Simona Halep (2014 and 2017 finalist)

Lucie Safarova (2015 finalist)

Sara Errani (2012 finalist)

Sam Stosur (2010 finalist)

Venus Williams (2002 finalist)

Men:

Rafael Nadal (10-time and defending champion)

Novak Djokovic (2016 champion, 2012, 2014, 2015 finalist)

Stan Wawrinka (2015 champion, 2017 finalist)

David Ferrer (2013 finalist)

Champions on clay this season

Women’s draw:

Svitolina, Mertens, Kvitova, Bertens, Anna Karolína Schmiedlová, Pliskova, Pauline Parmentier, Irina Khromacheva [plus Strasbourg and Nurnberg this week]

Men’s draw:

Nadal, Zverev, Thiem, Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini, Pablo Andujar [plus Geneva and Lyon this week]

2018 schedule of play

21 May: men’s qualifying begins

22 May: women’s qualifying begins

24 May: singles draws made

26 May: Kids’ Day

27 May: singles main draws begin; doubles draws made

28 May: mixed doubles draw made

29 May: men’s doubles begin

30 May: women’s doubles and mixed doubles begin

3 June: start of junior tournaments

5/6 June: men’s and women’s singles quarter-finals

7 June: 12 midday mixed doubles final; 3pm women’s singles semi-finals; start of wheelchair tournaments

8 June: 12.45pm men’s singles semi-finals

9 June: 3pm women’s singles final; men’s doubles finals; from 11am wheelchair finals; junior finals

10 June: 12 midday women’s doubles final; 3pm men’s singles final

Facts and figures

· 1.5 tonnes: Amount of red brick dust to cover Philippe Chatrier court.

· 7: Chris Evert’s record number of French Open women’s singles titles.

· 10: Nadal’s record number of French Open men’s singles titles.

· 100: anniversary of death of engineer Roland Garros

· 176: Court maintenance staff during tournament.

· 250: Number of ball-kids, age 12-16.

· 305: Number of umpires—270 line umpires and 35 chair umpires.

· 66,096: Number of balls used during tournament

· 215,000: Number of cold drinks sold last year

· €2.2 million: Prize money for singles champions. Runners-up will each receive €1.12 million, and first-round losers €40,000. Total purse €39,197,000

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