(AP) 10 things to know for the French Open
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
A look at 10 of the top topics at the French Open, the clay-court Grand Slam tennis tournament that begins Sunday and ends June 9:
1. WHY STOP AT SEVEN?
Rafael Nadal already owns a record seven French Open titles–he broke a tie with Bjorn Borg by winning last year–and is widely considered the favorite to add No. 8. He is 36-2 this season, reaching the finals of all eight tournaments he’s entered, winning six. And he’s as good as it gets on red clay.
2. IF HE’S SO GOOD, WHY WASN’T NADAL SEEDED NO. 1?
After a surprising second-round loss at Wimbledon last year, Nadal was off the tour for a little more than seven months, missing the last two Grand Slam tournaments and every other event _ and missing out on the ranking points they offer. So he slid down to a current spot of No. 4, and while the French Open would have been allowed to bump him higher, it chose instead to stick to its policy of strictly adhering to the rankings when seeding players.
3. WHO COULD STOP NADAL?
The man who is ranked and seeded No. 1, Novak Djokovic, is one of the two players to beat Nadal this season, and he did it on clay, no less. Djokovic also has won eight of their 11 meetings since the start of 2011. A six-time major champion, Djokovic is trying to complete a career Grand Slam (at least one title at each of tennis’ four most important tournaments) in Paris after losing to Nadal in the final last year.
4. WHAT ABOUT ROGER FEDERER?
Almost always overmatched against Nadal, particularly on clay, Federer still can show up with the serve and forehand to beat anyone else on any surface; he just hasn’t been doing it as often as usual lately. The owner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles took a few months off to rest and recharge, so that affects the numbers, but this is the first season since 2000 that Federer has failed to win at least one title before the French Open.
5. IS THERE ANYONE ELSE?
The French Open often has produced unpredictable results and champions _ Gaston Gaudio, anyone? _ but this has been quite a run by the Big 3 of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic: Dating to the 2005 French Open, that trio has won 30 of the last 32 Grand Slam tournaments. And the guys who claimed the other two _ Andy Murray at last year’s U.S. Open, and Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open _ both pulled out of the French Open.
6. CAN SERENA WILLIAMS LOSE?
She sure did a year ago at Roland Garros, and quickly, too: It is her only first-round exit in 50 Grand Slam appearances. Since then? She is 67-3 with Wimbledon, U.S. Open and London Olympics titles, and a return to the No. 1 ranking at age 31. She comes to Paris on a 24-match winning streak, the longest of her distinguished career.
7. COW ON ICE?
That’s how Maria Sharapova famously described her awkward movement on the red clay years ago, but just look at her now. She won the 2012 French Open to complete her career Grand Slam and five of her last six titles came on the slippery surface. “The most difficult aspect is the footing,” John McEnroe said about playing on clay, “the inability to make that quick first step that you’re able to do on a surface where you can stop and start on a dime.”
8. SHOW THEM THE MONEY?
Top tennis players have been lobbying for a bigger cut of the revenues at Grand Slam tournaments, and they’re getting it. The French Open boosted overall prize money by nearly 18 percent this year, to about 22 million euros (about $28.4 million). And the singles champions? They each get 1.5 million euros (about $1.9 million), a 20 percent bump. The U.S. Open recently promised to hike its total purse to $50 million by 2017.
9. FRENCH CHAMPION?
It’s been quite some time since the French fans had a French champion to cheer for at their Grand Slam tournament _ or any Grand Slam tournament, for that matter. Yannick Noah was the last man from France to win a major championship in tennis, and he did it all the way back in 1983 at Roland Garros. (If his last name looks familiar, it might be because his son, Joakim Noah, plays for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.) Only Spain has as many men (three) currently ranked in the top 20 as France does: No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 9 Richard Gasquet, No. 17 Gilles Simon.
10. LOVE AND LOVE?
There are some familiar faces spending time with top tennis players, whether it’s golf star Rory McIlroy with former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki or music act RedFoo with two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka or two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin with 12th-ranked Maria Kirilenko. Sharapova, formerly engaged to basketball player Sasha Vujacic, is now linked to 28th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov (who beat Djokovic this month in Madrid).