The 2019 French Open starts Sunday at 5 a.m. Eastern time and is set to conclude on Sunday, June 9. Here’s the answer to a few big questions about the year’s second Grand Slam.
Q: Where is the French Open? How do I watch?
A: It’s in Paris at Roland Garros Stadium. “Roland Garros” is actually the name the tournament itself uses, and what most non-English speakers call the event. The site is undergoing massive renovations and expansion (from 850 acres to 1,250 acres), which will include the debut of a new, 5,000-seat arena called Court Simonne-Mathieu, named for the former French Open singles champion, that will be housed beside botanical gardens.
The site’s primary show court, Philippe Chatrier, underwent almost total demolition and reconstruction in the past year to prepare for the installation of a retractable roof in time for the 2020 tournament, which will finally catch up the French Open with the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all of which feature retractable roofs over their main courts. All this sprucing up should make Roland Garros the logical host for the tennis tournament at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
The French Open will be broadcast on NBC and the Tennis Channel.
Q: Is Serena Williams playing? Can she win?
A: Yes and maybe. Williams is a favorite in any tournament she enters, but there’s a lot of uncertainty this time around. Her withdrawal from the Italian Open last week due to pain in her left knee was the third consecutive tournament she pulled out of after completing just one match, and the second one she pulled out of due to the knee injury.
Ranked No. 10 in the world, the 37-year-old has played just nine matches this season — and just one on clay since last year’s French Open. Williams hasn’t won a tournament since her triumph at the 2017 Australian Open, after which she took off more than a year for maternity leave. In France, she’ll be playing for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Q: What about Roger Federer?
A: The 20-time Grand Slam champion is making his return to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015. He skipped the previous two clay-court seasons to help preserve his body and missed the 2016 tournament with a back injury, and despite the time off, it appears Federer is in fine clay-court form. The 37-year-old reached the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open this month in his first clay-court tournament in three years.
Q: Who are the favorites?
A: The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, is looking for a record-extending 12th French Open title after finding his form at the Italian Open last week, where he beat Novak Djokovic in the final, to collect his first title since August. Djokovic could become the first man since 1968 at the start of the Open Era — when majors started allowing professionals to compete with amateurs — to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once for a second time (he previously did spanning 2015 and ’16).
Federer is a favorite, as always, and there are a few youngsters in the mix on the men’s side as well. Greece’s Stefanos Tistsipas could make a splash, as could Austria’s Dominic Thiem, the heir apparent to Nadal’s clay-court throne.
Aside from Williams, a perennial favorite, the reigning U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka will enter a Grand Slam as the top seed for the first time Sunday, with a slew of possible champions lining up behind her. Simona Halep will try to defend her first career major title, which she won last year in Paris, and past U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, whom Halep beat in that final, could be dangerous. Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands has had a successful clay-court season, as has Karolina Pliskova, who won the Italian Open last week.
Q: Why is the French Open played on clay?
A: As it is with so many things in tennis, the answer is that it’s tradition. Roland Garros’ website says the surface began as a practical consideration, as crushed terra cotta clay was used to cover grass courts that were wilting in the heat. Clay courts are also much more common in Mediterranean countries, Latin America and certain European countries such as Germany, Austria and Belgium than they are in North America, and the French Open remains the only Grand Slam to be played on clay. It’s a notoriously demanding surface because clay slows the ball and favors those with nuanced games, which is why traditional power players with big serves tend to struggle in Paris.
Q: Will we see any catsuits this year?
A: There probably won’t be a repeat of Serena Williams’ infamous catsuit outfit of 2018, which in addition to flouting the more traditional style of a tennis skirt provided medical benefits for the new mother. After Williams wore the Nike-designed, Wakanda-influenced black suit at Roland Garros, French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli told Tennis Magazine that the tournament would be introducing a dress code.
"It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place,” Giudicelli said. Williams later downplayed Giudicelli’s comments at a news conference at the U.S. Open.
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