The countdown to this year’s French Open started with the unveiling of Rafael Nadal’s statue. It is the second such honour, after the aviation trailblazer, Roland Garros. The event generated a controversy about the timing, as Nadal is still active. Fred Perry’s statue at Wimbledon and the symbolic representation of Arthur Ashe in New York were erected after their playing days. This year, the dominant question is: “will Nadal clinch his 14th Coupe des Mousquetaires?” The Cup honours the four French players who dominated tennis in their time: Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste.
In the women’s game, Iga Swiatek’s 6/0; 6/0 defeat of veteran Karolina Pliskova in Rome sent a powerful message to those seeking to displace the 2020 champion in Paris. There are other players who will make things difficult for Serena and the older generation. Although Naomi Osaka is not comfortable on clay, there are title prospects for Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, Latvian Jelena Ostapenko and Aryana Sabalenka of Belarus.
The world number one Ashleigh Barty of Australia is a co-defending champion with Swiatek. Nadal considered the main issue in Paris although he is in the same bracket with Djokovic and Federer. The coach of Serena Williams, Patrick Mourataglou, said: “Every year, the only thing we don’t know at the French Open is who Nadal will beat in the finals.” While the first hurdle for the Spaniard is a first-round match against 21-year old Australian Alexei Popyrin, his statue on the stadium grounds portends an encore or a swan song.