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Nadal's likely sendoff among French Open storylines


There are a number of compelling storylines heading into this year's French Open, but no player will be under the microscope more than Rafael Nadal.

All eyes are on the Spanish legend as he seeks one final magical run on the courts of Roland Garros.

Here are five storylines to watch when the action begins in Paris.

Rafa's last dance

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Nadal's potential last season on the circuit has been disastrous. A combination of hip and abdominal injuries have sidelined the all-time great for the better part of the last two years. Even when Nadal's managed to play, the 22-time Grand Slam champ just doesn't have the speed to cover the court like he once did.

Nadal's 6-1, 6-3 second-round defeat to Hubert Hurkacz in Rome two weeks ago was his worst loss on clay since 2003 when he also took just four games off Gaston Gaudio at the Hamburg Open. The 37-year-old also failed to convert any of his seven break-point opportunities and committed 20 unforced errors, missing multiple drop-shot attempts.

Nobody knows how long Nadal will continue to play. But whatever transpires in the coming days won't tarnish his legacy. Nadal won 14 titles on the red clay in Paris and owns an astonishing 112-3 career record at Roland Garros. He didn't drop a single set in four of his championship runs. While it may not be the ending Nadal envisioned, perhaps it's fitting he goes out on the court he's become synonymous with.

Swiatek's bid for 3-peat

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Iga Swiatek would enter rarefied air with another Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. The Polish superstar would join Monica Seles and Justine Henin as the only women in the Open era to capture three straight French Open crowns. She'd also become the 10th woman overall to win at least four championships at Roland Garros.

It's hard to bet against Swiatek given her strong history at the event and recent form. The World No. 1 enters the fortnight in Paris off back-to-back WTA 1000 titles in Madrid and Rome, becoming the first woman to complete the "dirt double" since Serena Williams in 2013.

Swiatek dropped just two sets during those tournament runs, which featured a pair of wins over Aryna Sabalenka and a straight-sets victory over Coco Gauff. Her superb movement is amplified even more on clay as she's mastered the ability to slide on the surface, quickly turning defense into offense.

Slumping Djokovic


Nobody will be surprised if Novak Djokovic wins his fourth French Open and a record-extending 25th major singles title overall. But genuine questions surround the World No. 1 heading into the season's second Grand Slam.

Nearly halfway through the campaign, Djokovic has yet to reach a tournament final. The Serbian superstar fell to then-123rd-ranked Luca Nardi in March at Indian Wells and was thoroughly outplayed in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Alejandro Tabilo at the Italian Open that lasted just over an hour. Djokovic even split with Goran Ivanisevic following a five-year coaching partnership that produced nine majors.

Djokovic's decision to take a last-minute wild card for an ATP 250 event in Geneva is more evidence he's searching for answers and needs match play to build confidence. While the 37-year-old tends to take the week before a Grand Slam off, he won a French Open tuneup in 2021 and rode that momentum to his second Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Coco's serving woes

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Gauff's serve can be a lethal weapon, but it may also lead to her downfall at times. Lately, it's been more detrimental to her game despite some respectable results during the clay-court swing. Gauff leads the WTA Tour with 213 double faults, nearly 35 more than the closest player. She's tallied at least 10 double faults in four of her last 10 matches, including 15 during her third-round win over Jaqueline Cristian at the Italian Open.

Gauff says she's been trying to implement some technical changes and attributed the uptick in double faults to an increased emphasis on velocity over accuracy.

"I'm going big on the first serve, so I know I'm probably going to miss more," Gauff told reporters in Rome, including David Kane of "I think it's just finding the balance of going big but also knowing when to slow down the pace just to get the serve in."

If Gauff can sort out her serving woes, she'll be one of the top threats to end Swiatek's reign in Paris. Gauff was the 2018 junior French Open champ and finished runner-up to Swiatek two years ago in her maiden Grand Slam final as a pro. The 20-year-old gave Swiatek one of her toughest recent challenges, using a mix of aggression and finesse in a competitive 6-4, 6-3 defeat in Italy.

Men's title up for grabs

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It's been quite some time since the men's draw at Roland Garros has felt this open. Barring anything miraculous, Nadal's dominance in the French capital is over. Djokovic is nowhere near the level we've become accustomed to seeing. Carlos Alcaraz has played just four matches since the Miami Open due a forearm injury. Meanwhile, a hip ailment forced newly minted major champ Jannik Sinner to pull out of his home tournament.

The opportunity has never been better for those seeking their first Grand Slam trophy. Casper Ruud has made the last two French Open finals only to be defeated by Nadal and Djokovic. Stefanos Tsitsipas, the runner-up in Paris three years ago, has won five of his 11 career ATP titles on clay, including a straight-sets win over Ruud at Monte-Carlo last month.

Alexander Zverev has made three consecutive French Open semis and is in top form having recently taken the Italian Open crown. Andrey Rublev has reached the quarterfinals in six of his last seven major appearances and defeated Alcaraz en route to the title in Madrid. Don't be surprised to see a new face hoisting the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

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