French Open 2020 will be daunting given little preparation, colder conditions and quick turnaround from US Open

An unusual season's final Grand Slam gets underway today at Roland Garros. There is little similar to previous French Open events with little preparation, quick turnaround, colder conditions, roof and floodlights on Parisian red dirt.

Tanuj Lakhina September 27, 2020 10:51:43 IST
French Open 2020 will be daunting given little preparation, colder conditions and quick turnaround from US Open

Rafael Nadal comes into French Open with little match practice under his belt and tougher conditions. AP

Two weeks after the US Open, we're on to French Open with little time to recover for most and get ready for clay courts and colder conditions. It is akin to the tennis tour moving from clay to grass in a normal world with few tune-up events in between.

Dominic Thiem, who won his first Grand Slam title in New York, decided to rest at home before moving to Paris. Winner on the women's side, Naomi Osaka, has decided to sit out the French Open due to injury.

Alexander Zverev, the finalist at US Open, too, decided to recharge his batteries after that physically and mentally draining final. Victoria Azarenka quickly moved from her final loss to Rome and reached the quarters beating Venus Williams and Sofia Kenin (6-0, 6-0!) along the way.

French Open top-seed Simona Halep and ever-favourite Rafael Nadal had skipped the US Open having expressed apprehension over making the long journey amid a growing pandemic.

Halep has played two tournaments since tennis resumed, both on clay, winning in Prague and Rome, for a 14-0 record.

Nadal, meanwhile, has played just three matches since coming back and looked lacklustre in the defeat to Diego Schwartzman. Moving to Paris, the 12-time French Open winner admitted that he's facing his "most difficult Roland Garros ever" with colder conditions and newer balls.

Serena Williams, looking for her 24th Grand Slam (still), opted not to play any clay court tuneup tournaments as well and comes in fresh since US Open.

World No 1 Novak Djokovic comes into it on the back of some soul searching instigated by his default at the US Open before moving on win in Rome.

“Well, it is unusual to be in these kind of circumstances, but at the same time, we are — I am, and I know most of the players are — thankful that we have a chance and opportunity to play and compete and be on the tour,” said Djokovic, who is the No. 1 seed.

His chances of winning the tournament, bar any surprises once again, were boosted at the draw with Thiem and Nadal in the same half of the draw.

Bidding for a second French Open title and 18th overall, Djokovic would be eager to move two Slams away from Roger Federer's record 20 and within one of Nadal.

“It’s just very close after an exhausting month of tennis in (the) States on a different surface (to) come back and play ... on a different surface, different continent,” Djokovic said. “It’s very challenging.”

When the revised schedule was made clear, the challenge was either to decide between playing US Open and French Open or play both but reduce chances of doing well.

For those who played both, the challenge is in the transition. From hard courts to clay courts, the difference is in footwork, shot making, adapting to the height of the ball, acclimatising to the conditions and overall match strategy owing to the dirt playing slower.

“It doesn’t matter how good you are,” said Svetlana Kuznetsova, who didn't play the US Open but is in the draw for French Open, which she won in 2009. “Nothing replaces match preparation.”

There are some who won't be playing either tournament. Federer, out with a knee injury, defending French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and Belinda Bencic are some of them.

For Halep, it was a hard choice in opting not to play the US Open. But she's content with that call.

“I have no regrets with my decision. Of course I’m sad that I didn’t play (in the US Open). It’s normal. But I feel like my decision was great for the health issue and to feel, like, relaxed inside,” said 2018 French Open champion Halep. “I always take these decisions just related to myself, how I feel mentally and stuff like this. So it’s all good.”

When asked if playing on just clay recently put her at an advantage she said, "Yes and no. Yes, because I had the chance to practice on clay only, and no, because I didn’t have official matches,” she said. “So both sides, I think, have an advantage, if we know how to (use) it."

On the women's side, the absence of Osaka, Barty and Andreescu, three top-10 players, doesn't make it less appealing. There are multiple names which make the draw appealing: such as the round 1 contest between Johanna Konta and Coco Gauff.

Serena could experience deja vu quite a few times. She starts by facing Kristie Ahn, in a US Open re-match. She could play Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round, also a re-match from New York. If she continues, she could face Azarenka in the fourth round, again, a repeat from US Open.

Having turned 39 on Saturday, the American has focused on her recovery from US Open while training at her coach's academy. “I didn't play any tune-ups, which is really rare,” she said. “But this whole year has been really rare. After New York I flew to France and I've just been training at Patrick (Mouratoglou)'s academy, mostly rehabbing, trying to be ready. So that was basically what it was, rehab and training.”

"I'm not at 100 percent physically. But I don't know any athlete that ever plays physically when they're feeling perfect. That's just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”

And, thus, the chase continues in Paris. Nadal going for 13 and 20. Djokovic for 18. World No 1 for Halep. 2-in-2 for Thiem. And the first for so many others.

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