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Five storylines to watch at the French Open

By primenewsghana
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All eyes will be on Rafael Nadal as the French Open's finest champion makes his return - and potential farewell - at this year's tournament.

A record-extending 15th men's singles title for the Spaniard looks unlikely, even though the draw seems open as Novak Djokovic tries to defend his crown.

The women's singles feels easier to predict as three-time champion Iga Swiatek looks to continue her recent dominance.

BBC Sport picks out five of the key storylines before the clay-court major starts on Sunday.

Nadal and Murray set for 'au revoir'?

While nothing in sport is ever certain, Nadal lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires has come close.

The King of Clay has dominated in Paris, losing just three of his 115 matches here.

The 37-year-old Spaniard missed last year's tournament through injury and, with retirement a possibility later this year, is fit enough to return for what he says remains a "good chance" will be the final time.

Nadal received a hero's welcome when he practised on Court Philippe Chatrier this week, with thousands of fans turning out to watch.

How Nadal will fare when the tournament starts has been the centre of debate, and he faces an unbelievably tough task first up against title contender Alexander Zverev.

Another much-loved player set to say goodbye is Andy Murray.

Like Nadal, the 37-year-old Briton plans to retire this season and earmarked a return to Paris, where he was runner-up in 2016, before stopping.

Murray's plans were nearly dashed when he ruptured ankle ligaments in March but he returned to court last week after deciding against surgery.

Will Djokovic bounce back after turbulent season?

Before this year's Australian Open, it was felt Djokovic was likely to carry his dominant 2023 into the new season.

The 37-year-old Serb reached the semi-finals in Melbourne but was nowhere near his lofty levels throughout.

Since losing to eventual champion Jannik Sinner, it has been a turbulent few months in the 24-time Grand Slam champion's career.

Coach Goran Ivanisevic and fitness trainer Marco Panichi, long-standing members of Djokovic's team, left after the world number one's early exit at Indian Wells.

Djokovic reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo at the start of the clay-court swing, losing to last year's beaten Roland Garros finalist Casper Ruud, but the uncertainty surrounding him came to the fore again at the Italian Open.

Djokovic was accidentally hit on the head by a metallic water bottle after his opening win and felt hampered by the after-effects in a shock loss to Alejandro Tabilo two days later.

Doctors in Serbia later said Djokovic showed signs of concussion and, after a semi-final defeat in Geneva on Friday, it will be intriguing to see what form the top seed is in.

"Of course I'm worried. I haven't been playing good at all this year," said Djokovic.

"I don't consider myself a favourite at Roland Garros."

Djokovic is not the only top men's player with questions about his form. Neither Italy's Sinner nor Spain's Carlos Alcaraz have played recently because of injuries.

But Germany's Zverev won the Rome title, while two-time finalist Ruud is likely to be a contender. He warmed up for the tournament with victory over Tomas Machac in the final of the Geneva Open on Saturday.
Novak Djokovic is the top seed, followed by Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz

Can anybody stop Swiatek doing a three-peat?

Top seed Swiatek has talked about how Nadal is her idol and the 22-year-old Pole is fast becoming as dominant on clay as he was in his early career.

Swiatek is bidding for a fourth French Open title in five years, having won 28 of her 30 matches there.

Her four titles this season have included back-to-back triumphs on the Madrid and Rome clay. Continuing that streak in Paris would make her the second woman after Serena Williams in 2013 to win all three tournaments.

So who could stop her?

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka reached the semi-finals last year, but the Belarusian's defeats in the Madrid and Rome finals show she has not yet mastered challenging Swiatek on her favoured surface.

American third seed Coco Gauff is also figuring out how to break down Swiatek's game, losing their Rome semi-final for a 10th defeat in 11 meetings.

Soon-to-be-retiring Danielle Collins is producing the best run of her career and will be dangerous - she reached the final of the Strasbourg Open on Saturday though lost out to Madison Keys.

Last year's runner-up Karolina Muchova is out with a wrist injury.

Iga Swiatek leads the women's seeds at the 2024 French Open, followed by Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova, Maria Sakkari, Zheng Qinwen and Ons JabeurIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES

Boulter leads the British challenge

Katie Boulter celebratesIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

Katie Boulter is seeded 26th and faces former world number two Paula Badosa in the first round



British success at the French Open has been scarce, with only one singles champion - Sue Barker in 1976 - since the Open era began in 1968.

Katie Boulter is Britain's highest-ranked player at 28th in the world, but has little pedigree on clay and plays in the French Open draw for the first time.

Emma Raducanu's decision to not try to qualify leaves Harriet Dart as the only other British woman in the main draw.

On the men's side, Murray is joined by Cameron Norrie, Jack Draper and Dan Evans.

Given their tough draws, injuries and recent form, any of the six Britons reaching the second week would be considered a decent showing.

Zverev court case to start during tournament

With the men's singles looking unpredictable, it could be Zverev's time to land the Grand Slam title his talent has long promised.

However, the 27-year-old German's performances at Roland Garros will play out alongside a trial over domestic violence charges.

In November, Zverev was given a penalty order and fined after being accused of physically abusing his ex-girlfriend.

Zverev denies the charges and has lodged an objection against the order, meaning he remains legally innocent and is not convicted until a final ruling.

The hearing, which starts on 31 May, is expected to be an eight-day public trial in front of a single judge. Zverev does not have to appear in person.

Asked in his pre-tournament news conference if the case has affected his preparation, Zverev said: "Not at all. At the end of the day, I do believe in the German system.

"That's why I can play calmly, and I think my results have been showing it."