Dark horses ready to rock the boat

Beyond the leading names in contention in Paris a hungry group of outsiders loom

Amanda Anisimova, Roland Garros 2020, third round© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Talk of title favouritism brings a swag of familiar names to the table on the eve of Roland-Garros 2022.

Following the unseeded Barbora Krejcikova’s barnstorming charge all the way last year, however, a host of outsiders have the runs on the board to be considered genuine threats for a deep run in the coming fortnight.

Amanda Anisimova

While Iga Swiatek set about continuing her dominant stint on the red dirt ahead of Roland-Garros 2022, American Amanda Anisimova has quietly but surely confirmed her status as a serious major contender for Paris.

After opening her season with a first title in three years at the Melbourne Summer Set and an upset of defending champion Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, the former world No.21 arrives with a 10-3 record on clay since April.

Back into the top 30 after starting the season at world No.78, Anisimova made a dash to the semi-finals in Charleston before back-to-back WTA 1000 quarter-finals in Madrid and Rome.

Her confidence will be riding high after clay-court victories over world No.7 Aryna Sabalenka twice, Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins, Charleston champion Belinda Bencic and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.

In 2019, the then 17-year-old had her best finish at a major when she stunned Simona Halep to reach the semi-finals in Paris before falling to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty.

Sebastian Baez

The 21-year-old Argentine Sebastian Baez only cracked the top 100 last November following an appearance in the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, but he has made impressive inroads since.

Baez, a Roland-Garros junior runner-up in 2018, reached a maiden tour-level final in Santiago in February before a win over world No.36 Cristian Garin in Cordoba, Argentina.

The Buenos Aires native’s best was still to come when a breakthrough first tour title on clay followed in Estoril earlier this month.

Victories came against three former champions – Joao Sousa, Richard Gasquet and Albert Ramos-Vinolas – as well as former world No.3 Marin Cilic and fifth seed Frances Tiafoe in the final.

With each passing victory in Portugal, Baez wrote “Why not me?” on the camera lens before capping his post-final celebration with “Yes it’s me!”

Mayar Sherif

Roland-Garros 2020 heralded the arrival of the trailblazing Mayar Sherif, who became the first Egyptian woman to take her place in a Grand Slam main draw.

A three-set tussle with second seed Karolina Pliskova in the opening round was only a hint of her true potential and a WTA final on clay came in August last year in Cluj-Napoca before she landed the silverware a month later at a $125k Challenger in Karlsruhe.

The 26-year-old has only gone from strength to strength this season.

A productive clay-court campaign saw Sherif post an 11-2 win-loss record heading to Rabat this week.

Another WTA 125k title in Marbella and the successful defence of her Karlsruhe trophy have been the highlights.

“I'm very happy with my performance, especially because last week I didn't do as well mentally,” Sherif said after gaining revenge over Bernanda Pera in the Karlsruhe final following her loss in Saint-Malo a week before.

“I had my goals in my mind, and I just couldn't have a better result.”

On Monday, Sherif cracked the top-50 for the first time, becoming the first Egyptian woman in history to achieve that feat.

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Miomir Kecmanovic

Since adding former world No.3 David Nalbandian to the coaching fray in February last year, Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic is reaping the rewards in 2022.

After beginning the season at world No.69, the 22-year-old reached the fourth round at a major for the first time at the Australian Open and landed wins over the likes of 10th-ranked Matteo Berrettini, world No.9 Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz in reaching consecutive Masters 1000 quarter-finals in Indian Wells and Miami.

On clay he pushed his compatriot and world No.1 Novak Djokovic to three sets in the Belgrade quarter-finals and made the semi-finals in Munich a week later.

“Yeah, he's very important,” Kecmanovic said of Nalbandian following his defeat to Gael Monfils in Melbourne.

“I think he changed a lot of things, a lot of things that had to be changed and thankfully it's all starting to pay off.”

He currently stands at No.7 on the match-wins leaderboard for 2022 and is ranked inside the top 20 on the ATP Race to Turin.

Miomir Kecmanovic, Roland Garros 2021 doubles© Amélie Laurin/FFT