In the tennis world, there are four major tournaments, affectionately referred to as the Grand Slam tournaments. The Australian Open is in January; the French Open starts in late May; Wimbledon is in June; and the U.S. Open closes out the season from late August into September. 

As we move through April, the French Open is quickly approaching. The French Open is held at Roland-Garros in Paris and is the only Grand Slam tournament played on a clay surface. This is an important component of the tournament to note, as the courts tend to cause longer rallies because the ball is weighed down by clay when it hits the ground. 

While the tournament is more than a month away with a start date of May 26 for the main draw, players have already started training and playing matches on clay. 

Based on the lead-up tournaments and players’ past records, specialists have already begun to make predictions. However, as someone who has watched Grand Slam tournaments for the majority of their life, I have some opinions of my own. While it’s early for predictions, there is an abundance of information to rely on to make educated guesses. 

Starting with the men’s side, Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, having won the tournament in 2023 after defeating Casper Ruud in straight sets. Djokovic is one of The Big Three, joined by other tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. These three men have dominated the men’s tennis tour for nearly two decades. Djokovic himself has won a total of 24 major titles. With his history, combined with his win in 2023, Djokovic is always in the running to win a major. 

Djokovic is often one of the favorites leading up to any major tournament, but clay has not been his favorite surface in the past. He has won only three French Open titles, which is a small proportion of his overall grand slam wins. Additionally, Djokovic failed to clinch a victory in the last grand slam tournament of the year — the Australian Open — against Jannik Sinner, indicating that he perhaps has not been at his best as of late. 

However, Djokovic seemed to be in relatively good shape at Monte-Carlo, a prestigious Association of Tennis Professional Masters 1000 tournament. Djokovic made it to the semi-finals, defeating Alex de Minaur in straight sets. However, he fell to Casper Ruud in three sets. While he didn’t make it to the finals, Djokovic made a strong showing on the clay and gained valuable match play. 

Another member of the big three Rafael Nadal has dominated on clay for years. The Spaniard has won a total of 22 majors with 14 of them being at the French Open. Nadal won his first French Open in 2005 and has continued to have great success on the surface. He has been called the “greatest clay-court player of all time.” However, Nadal has been out of the game for around a year due to hip flexor injury, and he plans to retire following the 2024 season. He continues to pull out of tournaments but hopes to participate in the Barcelona Open in mid-April. Nadal’s showing at this tournament will hopefully give more insight into his potential at the French. 

Another Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz must be included in the discussion on possible French Open winners. Although he is only 20 years old and does not have the astounding record that Djokovic and Nadal have, Alcaraz has begun to make a name for himself in the tennis world. In fact, he is projected to win this year’s French Open based on data from several sports betting apps. While he has not won the French Open in the past, Alcaraz has been called a “clay specialist,” which makes him someone to watch in the upcoming tournament. 

Another young, up-and-coming player, Jannik Sinner, also has the potential to do well at this year’s French Open. At 22, he’s coming off a major win over Djokovic at the Australian Open. Like Djokovic, he has also made it to the semi-finals at Monte-Carlo, indicating that he is on level playing ground with the all-time great. 

If the men’s draw is up in the air, then the women’s draw is even more so. While the men’s tennis world has had consistent winners for many years — namely the Big Three — the women’s side has been lacking these long term standouts in the past few years. Of the last 15 French Opens, 14 were won by one of the Big Three. However, on the women’s side, there has been more variation with the winners. Yet Iga Świątek has won the last two French Open titles, making her a favorite to repeat her victory. 

At the age of 22, Świątek has won four grand slam titles, three of which have been at the French Open. She first won a grand slam title in 2020 at the French Open, despite her low ranking of 54th in the world. Through this win, Świątek became the lowest-ranked player to win the French Open. She’s won the French the last two years, so she is certainly a favorite moving into the tournament. 

However, there are plenty of women who could take the title. While the hard court is not her best surface, Świątek has won one U.S. Open title. However, in the 2024 Australian Open, she went out in the third round after losing to Linda Nosková in three sets, showing that she could be beaten. 

Aryna Sabalenka could easily outplay Świątek and take the title. Sabalenka won the previous two Australian Open titles and was runner-up in the 2023 U.S. Open. She has a lot of momentum and confidence as she moves into the French Open. While clay may not be her favorite surface in comparison to the hard courts, Sabalenka defeated Świątek on clay last year at the Madrid Open to win the tournament, proving that her skills can transfer well onto the clay surface. 

Another player to watch is Cori “CoCo” Guaff. Similar to Alcaraz, Gauff is 20 years old and making a name for herself on the women’s tour. In the 2023 U.S. Open, Gauff defeated Sabalenka in the Finals, thus winning her first Grand Slam title. While she has not won a French Open title, she did make it to the finals in 2022. Although still developing her skills as a young player, Gauff has proven herself to be in the running to win this year’s French Open. 

There is still about a month before the first match is played at Roland-Garros, but the players are hard at work matching and preparing for the next Grand Slam. There’s no telling what the outcome will be — all we can do is wait and see.