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  • Looking for some players not named Rafa or Novak or Naomi or Serena to keep an eye on? Here are six dark horses who could make a deep run at Roland Garros.
By Vanja Lakic
May 23, 2019

Simonne Mathieu, a 5000-seat court adjoined to a botanical garden, is new at Roland Garros this year. What likely won’t be new is an expected Nadal/Djokovic final—this could be the 55th time the two legends face off in total, the most recent of which came last week in Rome, where Nadal beat Djokovic for the title. The King of Clay will begin his quest for a record-extending 12th French Open final on Sunday. On the women’s side, things are far less predictable with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens coming in as favorites, but their mediocre clay court records so far this year could open the door for the underdogs. Here are six players who might surprise us this fortnight.

Johanna Konta

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Age: 28 World ranking: 26

Konta comes off a strong week in Rome, where she beat top seeds like Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens before falling to Karolina Pliskova in the final. Roland Garros hasn’t been her best tournament in the past but she’s had a solid clay court season this year, also reaching the finals in Morocco last month. Konta’s targeted serve lets her construct points and close in on opportunity balls. She is capable of sustaining long rallies on the surface that most demands them. The British number one is also a great anticipator and always seems to be in position for the next shot. She plays a high-percentage game that lacks variety, which could hurt her against more audacious rivals. But if she can maintain her consistency while adding diverse shot selection into the mix, Konta has a promising formula for success that can take her well into week two.

Marketa Vondrousova

Age: 19 World ranking: 38

She’s a rising star with abundant disguise and variety in her arsenal. Earlier this month, the 19-year-old lefty from the Czech Republic outwitted last year’s Roland Garros champion Simona Halep in Rome. Prior to Rome, where she eventually lost in three sets to Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals, Vondrousova made the finals in Istanbul before losing to Petra Martic. She generates heavy topspin on her strokes and excels at creating angles on the court. Her drop shots are unmatched on the women’s side and we can expect her to use that weapon frequently. Vondrousova had her best Grand Slam result at the U.S. Open in 2018, reaching the fourth round, ut don’t discount her on clay. She grew up playing on it and calls it her favorite surface.

Maria Sakkari

Age: 23 World ranking: 29

Sakkari is in sublime form coming into Roland Garros after plenty of clay court preparation. She’s played a handful of clay court tournaments in the past two months, notching victories over top players like Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens, and claimed her first WTA title in Morocco this year. At 5’8”, Sakkari is exceptionally quick and agile. She uses her sinewy built to unleash pace from all angels of the court. Her serves are well placed, affording her early opportunities to take charge of points. She’s a shot maker who breaks her opponents’ rhythm with heavy topspin and complements it with nice variety: tricky angles, half volleys and drop shots. She turned pro in 2015 and has reached the third round of several Grand Slams, most recently at this year’s Australian Open. The 23-year-old Greek has the athleticism and tenacity for a big breakthrough at the French Open.

Diego Schwartzman

Age: 26 World ranking: 20

At just 5’7”, he gives up serious height to most of his counterparts. But Diego Schwartzman has other magic in the kit—speed, a strong service return, and a superhuman on-the-run forehand. The Argentine produced his best results around this time last year when he reached a career high ranking of No. 11 by winning the Rio Open, his biggest title yet. His ranking has dropped since then, but Schwartzman has recently shown signs of restored confidence. He had one of the best weeks of his career in Rome beating world No. 7 Kei Nishikori before losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Schwartzman also oves playing on clay; his best grand slam result was at last year’s Roland Garros, where he reached the quarterfinals before falling to Rafael Nadal in four sets. Short of Djokovic and Nadal, Schwartzman has a fair chance of beating anyone to reach the late rounds of the tournament.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

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Age: 18 World ranking: 28

Auger-Aliassime is among Canada’s rising crop of hopefuls who could make a breakthrough this year. Since turning pro in 2017, Auger-Aliassime has rapidly climbed the ranking board and reached a career-high No. 28 this week. At 18 years old, he is currently the youngest mane in the the world’s top 30. Auger-Aliassime has fast feet, a wide reach and great hands at the net. He likes to use his powerful serve to build points off weak returns and often reverses the momentum on his opponents’ tactical errors. The Canadian has had some impressive runs this year, reaching the finals of the Rio Open and the semifinals of the Miami Open. He’s got the electricity to be a top 10 player. The French Open will test how well he stacks up among the world’s best.

Dominic Thiem

Age: 25 World ranking: 4

If anyone can challenge the Nadal/Djokovic dynasty on clay, it’s Dominic Thiem. He’s had a prolific year so far, winning a title at Indian Wells and claiming the Barcelona Open where he ousted top players like Nadal. Earlier in May, Thiem reached the semifinals in Madrid by beating Roger Federer and Fabio Fognini before succumbing to Djokovic. An aggressive baseliner with a thundering serve and dominant single-handed backhand, Thiem is a rare find on the men’s tour who attacks and defends equally well. The Austrian made his mark in 2016 when he reached the French Open semifinals. Since then, he’s had his best results on clay, reaching the finals of last year’s French Open where he lost to Nadal. Thiem has proven he can beat any top player on clay, his favorite surface. With a bit of luck, he could disrupt what’s forecasted to be an all too familiar final.

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