The Return of Roland Garros

2020 has brought us to a unique junction in the professional sports world. For the first time, football, basketball, and tennis have overwhelmingly coalesced in these opening months of fall, eliciting perhaps a spread of carpal tunnel resulting from a continuous state of channel flipping. Similarly to some of its athletic counterparts, the professional tennis world endured a wave of uncertainty during the spring and summer of 2020 due to the frenzy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically stacked with three Grand Slam tournaments (French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open), the months of May to early September suffered a palpable lull. Due to the international nature of the Grand Slams, the far-reaching, overwhelming realities of the virus made the standard proceedings of these events untenable — including their typical start dates. While the managers of the Wimbledon tournament cancelled the 2020 event entirely, the French Open, or Roland Garros, delayed its start date from May to Monday, September 21. Now, with temporal distance from the widespread spikes of this past spring and implementation of social distancing practices, the French Open commenced as the second Grand Slam tournament in this COVID era.

Playing nearly back to back with the US Open, which ended September 13th, the French Open is now underway in Paris, allowing players and fans alike to enjoy a long-awaited influx of tennis content. With the completion of the US Open and the advent of Roland Garros, tennis fans may now be finally acclimating to the drones of the automated cheer soundtrack which plays in a stadium devoid of any spectators. Despite the many strange alterations to the operation of the tournament, these opening four rounds of the French Open have reflected the usual intense competition and drama of past years.

In the Men’s Singles draw, Novak Djokovic (SRB), Rafael Nadal (ESP), and Dominic Thiem (AUT) are seeded first, second, and third, respectively. After electing not to participate in the US Open due to COVID-19 risks, the 2020 French Open presents Nadal the opportunity to secure a tied position with Roger Federer (who did not enter the tournament) in the record for most men’s singles Grand Slam titles (20). Nadal is on the same side of the draw as the 2020 US Open champion, Dominic Thiem. Djokovic is participating in this tournament in the wake of his US Open disqualification, where he inadvertently hit a line judge with a ball in a fit of frustration. The two top seeds powered through the first four rounds of the tournament, winning all of their matches in straight sets. Thiem, after playing a grueling five set match against Frenchman Hugo Gaston (6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3), also advanced to the next round. All three top players secured positions in the quarter finals, with Djokovic set to face Pablo Carreño Busta, Thiem against Diego Schwartzman, and Nadal against Jannik Sinner.

While the top seeds breezed through their preliminary matches, these first four rounds presented some difficulties for various favored players. For example, Swiss player Stan Wawrinka fell to Gaston in a five set match (6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 0-6) despite their ranking discrepancy of 16 to 239, respectively. In addition, the controversial fourth seed and US Open semi-finalist, Daniil Medvedev from Russia, lost in the second round (4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 1-6) to Márton Fucsovics from Hungary. Before the fourth round, Nadal was on the same side of the draw as the 2020 US Open finalist, Alexander Zverev. However, the German player fell to Sinner in a four-setter ( 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6) allowing Sinner to advance to play Nadal in the quarter finals. 

The women’s draw also reflects the unexpected ebbs and flows of any Grand Slam tournament with several notable players facing injury.  Serena Williams (USA) withdrew from the tournament before her second round match against Bulgarian playerTsvetana Pironkova. Williams expressed her disappointment in her withdrawal, as she is still suffering from an ongoing Achilles injury from the US Open. Like Nadal, Williams is one Grand Slam away from tying the record of holding 24 women’s singles Grand Slam titles (currently defended by retired player Margaret Court). Naomi Osaka (JPN), the winner of the 2020 US Open, was also inhibited from entering Roland Garros by a hamstring injury. 

In the mere second round of the women’s draw, revered American player Sloane Stephens, the second seeded Karolina Pliskova, and US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka lost in upsets. Stephens and Pliskova lost to Spanish player Paula Badosa and Latvian player Jelena Ostapenko, respectively, who played each other in the third round. Simona Halep, the first seed of the women’s draw, having traversed seamlessly through the first three rounds of the tournament, faced Iga Swiatek from Poland, ranked at 54, in the fourth round. The Polish player swept Halep 6-1, 6-2.

The first few rounds of the 2020 Roland Garros have indicated a promising start to the tournament. Although overdue, its tumultuous, entertaining start reflects the rare benefits of these COVID times, allowing spectators to simultaneously enjoy a back-to-back Grand Slam double feature, men’s basketball finals, and the advent of football season. 

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