Tournament 2018: 10 to watch (very) closely!

 - Amandine Reymond

These are the ones who will be talked about the most on the road to Paris. And here’s why…

After what Roger Federer himself described as a “very exciting“ start to the season, it is time to take a look at who has been grabbing the headlines over the past few months, and whom it is worth keeping a very close eye on in the run-up to Roland-Garros. Here are ten pretenders to the crown and at least as many reasons why this could be their year.

Rafael Nadal – the master

Who else to begin this very early pre-preview with than the 10-time winner of the Paris Grand Slam? While he is currently out of action due to a recurrence of the hip injury that forced him to withdraw from his Australian Open quarter-final with Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal hopes (and so do we) that he will be fully fit by the time that the European clay season comes around. In other words, at Monte Carlo on 16 April. A return to his favourite surface could certainly be just what the doctor ordered for the Majorcan, who has four titles to defend on clay (Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland-Garros).

Roger Federer – yet another epic comeback?

At 36 (and a half), the Swiss wrote another page in tennis history in Melbourne, winning his 20th Grand Slam title before going on to return to the top of the ATP rankings in February, 14 years after he had managed the feat for the first time, back on 2 February 2004. The "Maestro" has not played on the clay in Paris since falling in the quarter-finals to his fellow countryman Stan Wawrinka in 2015 but what a dream come true it would be to see him back at the Porte d’Auteuil. He has 11 titles on this, the slowest surface, including one at Roland-Garros (2009), where he has also made the final four times (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011). He, too, has legitimate claims to the trophy here this year.

Roger Federer – Novak Djokovic, semi-final 2011: highlights

Juan Martin del Potro, back (yet) again

With his wrist injuries finally behind him, Juan Martin del Potro finally has everything he needs to shine on the clay, a surface on which he has won four of his 21 titles. He was a semi-finalist at Roland-Garros in 2009 and a quarter-finalist in 2012, where both times he fell to Federer in five sets. But now that he is back to his best, can the “Tower of Tandil” follow in the footsteps of the last Argentinean to win here in Paris back in 2004, Gaston Gaudio?

Dominic Thiem – the next wave?

A potential winner of Roland-Garros in many people eyes in the (near) future, Dominic Thiem, is currently No.6 in the world and is among the players to keep an eye on this season, particularly when the clay comes around. The "Dominator" is very much at ease on this surface, having won seven of his nine titles on the red dirt, including at Buenos Aires this year. Having reached the semi-finals in Paris the past two years, the Austrian could be the first member of the #NextGen to take home a Grand Slam.

Alexander Zverev – the next step

At the tender age of 20, Alexander Zverev has already shaken up the tennis hierarchy. Last year, the German picked up no fewer than five titles, two of them on clay, in Munich and Rome, the latter being his maiden ATP Masters 1000 win. He currently sits at No.5 in the world, having been in the top three at the end of 2017. "Sasha" now needs to take the next step when it comes to the Grand Slams, where he has never gone beyond the Round of 16. But everyone knows that the potential is there.

Gaël Monfils – it’s all about the clay

Having made the semi-finals at the Porte d’Auteuil in 2008, the quarters in 2009, 2011 and 2014 and the second week in his last two appearances, Gaël Monfils has little left to prove on the Paris clay. This year, he is prioritising the red dirt, heading off to South America earlier in the season, and although his best result was a semi-final in Buenos Aires, the four tournaments he played down there will have given him significant momentum when the European swing comes around, with Roland-Garros as its culmination.

Serena Williams – the impossible made possible yet again?

Back on the circuit six months on from giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia, Serena Williams is more determined than ever. After a year away from the courts the former world No.1 has made the Grand Slam tournaments her main objective, as she looks to set a new record by making it to 25 titles (she currently sits on 23). While it might take her a little while to get back to her very best, coach Patrick Mouratoglou assures us that she will be ready for Paris in the spring, saying: “She is making progress physically every day and the matches that she will play between now and May will certainly help her."

Garbiñe Muguruza – born for clay

Spaniards tend to feel at home at the Porte d’Auteuil and even a multi-surface player like Garbiñe Muguruza is no exception. She already has a title to her name here (in 2016) as well as two quarter-finals in just five appearances at the Paris Slam. The Sam Sumyk-trained world No.3 will be among the leading contenders at Roland-Garros this year as she looks to add to her tally of majors.

Garbiñe Muguruza – Serena Williams, final 2016: highlights

Simona Halep – putting an end to the wait

Having been oh so close for a long while, Simona Halep finally took over the No.1 spot in the world briefly at the end of last season before regaining it a few weeks ago. Alas, the same cannot yet be said of a maiden Grand Slam title for the Romanian. Having twice fallen in the final on the Paris clay (2014, 2017), she would like nothing more than to raise the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen aloft, and the surface will certainly cause her no problems, having already won seven titles on the red dirt.

Caroline Wozniacki – free at last of the weight of expectation

Unlike Halep, Caroline Wozniacki was very young when she became No.1 in the world (aged 20, on 10 November 2010). Her wait for a Grand Slam was far longer however, and lasted until January of this year, when she won the Australian Open, defeating the unfortunate Halep in a thrilling final. The Dane has now got the proverbial monkey off her back, and this could be a liberating experience ahead of the Roland-Garros clay, where she has never fared any better than the quarter-finals (2010, 2017) in 11 attempts. The 2018 version of "Caro" should be more than capable of going much further.