#2 Or #23?
As expected, it looks as though this year’s French Open Men’s Draw will be won by either Carlos Alcaraz or Novak Djokovic. Both men have progressed relatively easily through the first week in Paris, breezing through any adversity that has come their way, with Alcaraz seeking his second Grand Slam, while Djokovic looks for a record-breaking 23rd major.
Most impressive was Alcaraz’s win today against an in-form Lorenzo Musetti. Musetti had not dropped a set on his way to the Fourth Round, crushing the last remaining Briton Cameron Norrie in Round 3, and playing, according to Musetti, the ‘best match of my [his] career’ in the second round. Alcaraz started slowly, losing the first two games, but dealt with the difficult situation admirably. He rattled off 8 of the next 9 games, before completing a simple straight sets victory with a scoreline of 6-3 6-2 6-2.
Djokovic has looked equally impressive, improving match by match. Marton Fuscovics pushed him in Round 2, as did Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Round 3, but the Serb has progressed to the quarter-finals without dropping a set. Djokovic had a slightly easier fourth round, easily beating Juan-Pablo Varillas, who had played 15 sets before coming up against Djokovic, and never looked up to the task of pulling off the upset.
A feature of the men’s singles this year has been the heavily unbalanced draw. Alcaraz looks likely to meet Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, while Djokovic plays Khachanov. These are all players who are, at the very least, recent Grand Slam semi-finalists and Master 1000 Champions. Yet on the other side of the draw, only two Top-10 players remain in Casper Ruud and Holger Rune, who look destined to meet in the quarter-finals. Also on that side, one of Nishioka, Etcheverry, Dimitrov or Zverev will be a semi-finalist this year. There is a huge opportunity for someone to make a maiden Grand Slam final, if Zverev and Ruud can be beaten by one of the underdogs.
The women’s draw has, unfortunately, been dominated by off-court issues. On the opening day, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus played Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, who has been extremely vocal about the ongoing conflict blighting her home country. Kostyuk, as many expected, refused to shake hands with Sabalenka upon losing, a decision which she made based on Sabalenka’s country of birth. Kostyuk was booed off the court and was heavily criticised for her actions, which many considered to be unsport(wom)anlike.
While Kostyuk, having lost, packed her bags and left Paris, things didn’t end there for Sabalenka. She was bombarded with questions about the war in her press conference and was clearly made to feel uncomfortable. As a result, Sabalenka decided not to give an open press conference after her second-round match. Regardless of your views on Sabalenka and her alleged links to the Belorussian government, her tennis has been exceptional.
Also looking strong is defending champion Iga Swiatek, who won her 3rd Round match against Wang Xinyu 6-0 6-0. Her path to the final was made simpler by the withdrawal of Elena Rybakina due to illness, and it looks as though nothing can stop Swiatek from reaching her third final at Roland Garros.
The other issue plaguing the organisers this year are allegations of unfair treatment towards the female stars of the game. Specifically, how little the women’s draw has been represented in the night session matches this year. The French Open has utilised an unusual ticketing system in 2023, where the main show court has 3 matches in the day session, followed by one night match. This is meant to be a headline match, to justify high ticket prices. However, only one of the 7 days of play so far has featured a women’s night match.
Many of the top female players have lamented this decision, claiming that the tournament is not giving them the platform to shine. However, the first time that a women’s match was selected saw hundreds of tickets put up for resale as soon as the schedule was released, with many ticket holders likely expecting to see Alcaraz vs Musetti instead. The dilemma for the organisers now, is whether to make the decision that makes the most sense business-wise, or to try and promote the women’s game.