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As we edge towards the end of 2023 and the blazing hot Aussie summer approaches, our attention can’t help but naturally turn toward the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. But for those expecting a favourite to stroll their way to glory better think again. 

Expect an Upset

Last year, it was reigning champion Rafael Nadal. Despite lifting the famous trophy for just the second time in his career in 2022, the victory was somewhat tarnished considering the fact that Serbian maestro Novak Djokovic wasn’t allowed to compete due to a visa discrepancy. As such, the King of Clay still had plenty to prove in the Land Down Under, but unfortunately for him, he was dumped out in the second round by unheralded American Michael McDonald. 

While Nadal was licking his wounds, Djokovic would romp to glory. He defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final to claim a record-extending tenth crown on the hallowed hard courts and a fourth in a row in Aussie Opens that he has entered. His victory gave him a record-equalling 22nd Slam overall and he has since extended that further with victories at the French Open and the US Open. 

But Nole is no stranger to falling victim to an upset himself. Back in 2017, he himself was eliminated early by Denis Istomin after a gruelling five-hour five-set contest. The same year, world number one and top seed Andy Murray was also sent packing early doors by Germany’s Mischa Zverev. What upsets will we see this year, if any?

The Contenders 

As players from around the globe gather at the iconic Rod Laver Arena, we can’t help but wonder who will come out on top. Will it be a young up-and-comer who nabs the title or will a seasoned veteran defy the odds and come out on top? The bookies are seemingly undecided. 

Having won ten times in Melbourne, it will come as no surprise to hear that reigning champion Djokovic is the favourite for glory once more. However, what may well be a surprise is the narrow margin he holds over his nearest rival Carlos Alcaraz in the betting odds list.

The 20-year-old Spaniard proved that the future is now in the Wimbledon final last year, outlasting Djokovic in a five-set thriller to claim victory at the All-England club for the first time in his career and just his second Slam overall.

Perennial contender Daniil Medvedev is also in the running. He eliminated Alcaraz from the US Open earlier this year to seal his spot in the New York City finale, where Djokovic would ultimately have too much for him to handle. 23-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner is also in the hunt for his first-ever Slam victory however, he has only made it past Grand Slam quarterfinals once.

If you’re fully onboard team Nadal in the GOAT race, then you will be disappointed to see him way down in fifth in the odds list. However, the iconic Spaniard has plenty to prove following last year’s humiliation, and he always performs at his best when his back is up against the wall.

Nick Kyrgios and the Australian Contingent

The Australian Open always delivers nail-biting matches, outrageous comebacks and even a few tantrums. Yes Nick Kyrgios, we’re looking at you. But to be fair to the maverick Aussie, he has changed many people’s opinions on him in recent years. For years he may well have been the most hated man in tennis, however, a run to the Wimbledon final last year as well as a burning desire to be as entertaining as possible has turned even his most fervent of haters into fans.

One thing that is certain is that the home faithful will be cheering on their local hero. In 2022 he teamed up with teammate and friend Thanasi Kokkinakis in the men’s doubles and the duo managed to garner some raucous support from the Melbourne crowd, where they would come to be known as the Double Ks. That support powered them all the way to the title, becoming the first all-Australian pair to win the trophy in 25 years.

Unfortunately for both home stars, they came crashing back down to earth in 2023. Kyrgios would have to withdraw from the tournament with an injury, while Kokkinakis succumbed to a resurgent Andy Murray, with the Scotsman proving once and for all that he is superhuman. The pair will be aiming to bounce back in style this year, but will it lead one of them all the way to the trophy?

A lifelong Liverpool supporter with a passion for storytelling and an unhealthy obsession with Anime, NFTs, and Web3. When not cheering on the Reds or diving into the latest crypto trends, I'm busy crafting engaging content that'll keep you up-to-date on all things sports.

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Tennis

Tennis Glory in Paris: The Story of the 2024 French Open Winners

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French Open Winners

Men’s single

Carlos Alcaraz made history as the youngest man ever to claim Grand Slam titles on all three court surfaces by defeating Alexander Zverev in a gripping five-set match to clinch the French Open crown on Sunday.

The intense battle lasted 4 hours and 19 minutes, with Alcaraz emerging victorious with a score of 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2. This victory adds to his previous triumphs at the 2022 US Open and last year’s Wimbledon.

What This Win Means

Reflecting on his achievement, Alcaraz expressed the significance of winning his first title at Roland Garros, especially considering the rich history of Spanish players at the tournament. He described it as a dream come true, cherished since his early years in tennis.

Alcaraz now joins the elite company of players who have won Grand Slam events on all surfaces, including legends like Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Notably, he accomplishes this milestone at the age of 21, surpassing Nadal’s previous record.

The French Open victory holds particular meaning for Alcaraz, considering the challenges he faced with injuries leading up to the tournament. He expressed pride in overcoming obstacles and preparing diligently with his team.

Acknowledging the significance of his achievement, Alcaraz received congratulations from Nadal, who himself has dominated Roland Garros with 14 singles titles.

On the other side, Zverev, despite putting up a fierce fight, suffered his second Grand Slam final defeat in five sets. Nonetheless, he recognized Alcaraz’s exceptional performance and accepted the outcome gracefully.

Alcaraz’s journey to the title was marked by resilience and determination, particularly as he battled through five-set matches in both the semifinal and final rounds, a rare feat in the modern era of tennis.

Despite his limited clay court preparation due to injury concerns, Alcaraz showcased remarkable form throughout the tournament, defeating formidable opponents on his path to victory.

As he basks in the glory of his third Grand Slam triumph, Alcaraz looks ahead with determination, aiming to etch more dates on his journey of success and possibly aiming for a career total of 24 Grand Slam titles.

What’s Next for Carlos?

Alcaraz now shifts his focus to Wimbledon, where he aims to defend his title won in a thrilling match against Novak Djokovic last year. Following Wimbledon, he will compete in the Olympics in Paris, marking a return to Roland Garros.

At the Olympics, Alcaraz hopes to play doubles with Nadal—potentially one of the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s final tournaments—and will also strive for a gold medal in the singles competition.

“I’ve won Roland Garros and now I’m going for the Olympics,” Alcaraz said. “I’m going to try to get both.”

Men’s Doubles

Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Mate Pavic of Croatia triumphed in the French Open men’s doubles final on Saturday, defeating Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori with a score of 7-5, 6-3.

Pavic, having now won all four Grand Slam titles in men’s doubles, celebrated with his team on Court Philippe Chatrier. “First (title) for me here, so I’m very happy,” Pavic said. “It feels special. I lost here twice in the final.”

Emotional Winners

Arevalo, holding a scarf with his country’s name, raised it and chanted “Salvador, Salvador.” This victory marked his second men’s doubles title, following his 2022 win at Roland Garros with Jean-Julien Rojer. “I want to thank Mate for trusting me and believing in me, to fight together. We did it together, man,” an emotional Arevalo said. “My second title here also feels special.”

In a tense moment with Arevalo serving for the match at 40-30, Pavic missed a seemingly straightforward volley, the ball clipping the net and falling on the wrong side. Pavic covered his mouth in disbelief. However, he redeemed himself moments later by saving a break point with a challenging smash down the middle. The pair secured victory on their second match point when Vavassori hit a forehand wide, and the ninth-seeded champions fell to the red clay in celebration.

The 38-year-old Bolelli, a former singles player who peaked at a ranking of No. 36 but did not win a singles title, previously won the Australian Open men’s doubles in 2015 with Fabio Fognini and has reached the semifinals in doubles at every Grand Slam. Vavassori, who has lost both major finals he has contested in men’s doubles, was seeded 11th with Bolelli.

Women’s Doubles

Coco Gauff claimed the French Open women’s doubles title with partner Katerina Siniakova on Sunday, defeating the Italian duo Jasmine Paolini and Sara Errani 7-6(5), 6-3.

Gauff and Siniakova defeated Italy’s Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in just under two hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier, earning Gauff her first Grand Slam doubles trophy. 

Multiple Titles

Siniakova, who now boasts eight major doubles titles—three of which are from the French Open—teamed up with Gauff at the start of the tournament following the withdrawal of Gauff’s usual partner, Jessica Pegula, due to injury.

Throughout the match, Gauff and Siniakova consistently targeted Errani’s serve, while the Italians reciprocated by attacking Siniakova’s serve, resulting in multiple breaks and leading to a tiebreak. Gauff and Siniakova narrowly won the tiebreak and then secured a crucial, extended game on Gauff’s serve at the start of the second set, which deflated the Italian team and allowed the Czech-American pair to maintain their lead until the end.

“Thank you, Katerina, for playing with me. We decided to do it two days before the tournament started,” said Gauff, who had previously lost two major doubles finals.

Read more: Will We See Another Showdown Between the Two Legends at Roland-Garros?

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Tennis

American Woes at the French Open Continue

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American Men’s French Open

The last time an American won the men’s French Open singles title was all the way back in 1999, when Andre Agassi emerged victorious at Roland-Garros. Since 1955, only three American men have won the French Open – Michael Chang, Jim Courier, and Andre Agassi. 

Going into the 2024 French Open, there was optimism surrounding Ben Shelton and Taylor Fritz. Both were long shots to lift the trophy. However, the two young Americans were in form and, on their day, capable of beating anyone in the world. 

Ben Shelton Falls to Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime

Ben Shelton is far from a clay court specialist and, thanks to his booming first serve, is far more at home on hard courts. However, prior to the French Open, the 21-year-old picked up his first title on clay at the ATP Houston, beating fellow American Francis Tiafoe in a back-and-forth battle.

Even though he struggled to make an impact at the Madrid Open and Italian Open, some fans thought he’d be a dark horse at Roland-Garros. At 21, he shows so much potential. He’s an incredible athlete, and his first serve, which clocks in at 149 mph, wins him lots of easy points.

In the early rounds of the French Open, Shelton looked on track to make a deep run. He beat the local clay court maestro Hugo Gaston in four sets before dominating Kei Nishikori in the second round.

In the third round, Shelton found himself face to face with another wunderkind, Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian already has five singles titles and over $12 million in prize money compared to Shelton’s $3.5 million.

Despite the match being fairly even on paper, Auger-Aliassime breezed past Shelton, winning in straight sets. Despite landing 69% of his first serves, Shelton was only able to win 54% of first serve points, while Auger-Aliassime won an incredible 86% of his first serve points. It just goes to show you how the clay surface can really neutralize a fast serve.

Taylor Fritz Is Outclassed by Casper Ruud

With Shelton out of the French Open, the hopes and dreams of America rested on the shoulders of Taylor Fritz. At 26 years old, Fritz is in his prime, however, despite showing so much promise when he first burst onto the tour, he’s failed to take that next step, never making it past the quarterfinals at a Major.

Fritz, while not particularly comfortable on clay, he did show some improvement in 2024. In the lead-up to the French Open, he made it to the final of the Bavarian International.

Fritz came into the French Open as the 12th seed and defeated Federico Coria and Dušan Lajović in the first and second rounds. Things started to unravel for the American in the 3rd round when he found himself in an epic slugfest with Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Fritz won the first two steps, only for the Aussie to come roaring back and take the next two. The American kept his composure, taking the decisive fifth set 6-3. 

After such a taxing performance, it’s no surprise that he struggled against Casper Ruud in the fourth round. The Norwegian was too strong. Fritz struggled with the depth and spin Ruud was able to generate. The Norwegian is definitely one to watch as the French Open unfolds.

Why Do Americans Underperform on Clay?

For years, pundits and coaches have been trying to diagnose Americans’ issues on clay courts. It seems to boil down to the fact that clay courts are still uncommon in America, with most players spending 90%+ of their training on hard courts.

Americans’ strategy is all about a big serve and ending the point quickly by hitting a forehand winner. These tactics are far less successful on the much slower clay surface where aces are rare and slicing and drop shots become much more important.

Interestingly, it’s only American men who struggle on clay. American female players have adapted to the surface. Serena Williams won the French Open, while Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff have both made the final. 

Unfortunately, it looks like it’ll be a long time until an American male player wins the French Open. American men haven’t won any Grand Slam since 2003. If they aren’t winning the US and Australian Open, designed for their game, they definitely aren’t winning the French Open!

Read more: Is That the Last Time We’ll See Nadal at the French Open?

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Is That the Last Time We’ll See Nadal at the French Open?

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Rafael Nadal playing tennis

Nadal always faced an uphill battle coming into the 2024 French Open. His preparation was short, even for a healthy player in his prime. However, at 38 years old and battling numerous injuries, it was clear that Nadal would need a miracle to be a match-fit in time for Roland-Garros. 

It Was Over Before It Started

Every tennis fan was dreaming of Nadal making one more deep run at the French Open. Unfortunately for the living legend, he came up against Alexander Zverev in the very first round.

The German has already made it to the French Open semi-finals on three occasions and was in strong form coming into the tournament. Prior to arriving in Paris, the fourth seed won the Italian Open. 

Zverev ended up beating Nadal in straight sets. The Spaniard had more than his fair share of opportunities. He narrowly lost the second set via tie-break and had 11 breakpoints. Who knows what would’ve happened if Nadal had been healthier and had more time to prepare for the event? He definitely pushed one of the tournament favorites, and if a few big points had gone his way, he could’ve won the match.

Nadal Will Definitely Play at the Olympics

From July 26 to August 11, 2024, the best tennis players in the world will battle for gold at the Olympic Games. The tournament will be held on the same courts as the French Open. Nadal has been guaranteed a spot in the tournament and will likely link up with Carlos Alcaraz to play doubles.

With extra time to prepare and the tournament taking place on his favorite source, Nadal has a real chance of winning a medal. The 38-year-old already has two gold medals hanging in his trophy cabinet from Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016. 

It won’t be easy for Nadal, whose movements look labored compared to his prime, and his shots lack their typical pace, particularly his backhand. However, don’t count out the greatest clay court player to ever live. If anyone can roll back the clock, it’s Rafa.

Rafa Hasn’t Decided When He’ll Retire

Apart from confirming he’ll play at the Olympics, Nadal’s future is still up in the air. Fans were shocked that the Spaniard left the French Open without any official farewell. 

Tournament director Amélie Mauresmo clarified that Nadal told the French Open staff not to conduct any farewell ceremony. He didn’t want to close the door to competing in the tournament in the future. Despite battling injuries over the years, Nadal still loves the game and competing. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he plays a reduced schedule next year, tries to get as healthy as possible, and then retires at the 2025 French Open.

Nadal has said he only wants to keep playing if he feels like he can win tournaments. The 38-year-old isn’t interested in just making up the numbers. So if he suffers any more injuries or simply can’t get fit, he may pull the plug on his career suddenly. 

It must be incredibly frustrating for the 14-time French Open winner to not only have to compete against his opponent but also his own body. We’ll have to wait and see when the Spaniard finally decides to hang his racquet up. It’d be great to witness one more French Open campaign. Unfortunately, as time ticks away, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Nadal will lift another trophy.

Nadal’s Clay Court Achievements Will Remain Unmatched

Despite Novak Djokovic surpassing Nadal in terms of Grand Slams with 24 vs the Spaniard’s 22, there’s no doubt who the king of clay is. Nadal has won the French Open 14 times, in second place is Björn Borg with six, while Djokovic only has three titles.

Nadal’s record at the French Open is an astonishing 112-4. The 38-year-old has proved virtually unbeatable on clay. His huge topspin forehand bounced so high, and his ability to retrieve almost every ball was a vicious combination that gave players serious headaches.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a player as dominant on clay as Nadal. Let’s hope he’ll be in fighting shape at the Olympics and give fans one more incredible moment in a career that has spanned over 20 years!

Read more: Will We See Another Showdown Between the Two Legends at Roland-Garros?

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