THE French Open starts this weekend and we're on hand with our top tips for the second Slam of 2021.
The event was moved back by a week due to the lockdown measures in Paris but the big names have all made safe and soundly to Roland Garros.
Rafa Nadal is aiming to defend his singles crown and win a 14th title there – and if he does that he will finally eclipse Roger Federer with a 21st Slam.
SunSport's tennis correspondent Rob Maul gives his best selections for the fortnight.
TIPS FOR THE FRENCH OPEN – MEN
Hot shot: Rafa Nadal (5-6)
Lump all your money on Rafa Nadal.
Whatever the odds might be, there are few certainties in sport. But Nadal winning on Parisian clay is one of them.
The Spaniard has lost just three times at the French Open in 16 consecutive visits.
As he showed by beating world Nol1 Novak Djokovic in the recent Italian Open final, fitness is not an issue and he is ready to take his shot at history.
Long shot: Andrey Rublev (40-1)
Clay might not be his best surface but the Russian is one of the most improved players in recent years, winning five titles in 2020.
The biggest disadvantage to his chances is that he placed in the top half of the men’s draw, which is staked with Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer.
But if he can find some form on the red stuff over the next two weeks, then he has the knowledge he can cause havoc.
The memories of beating Nadal on Monte Carlo last month will be forefront of his mind.
TIPS FOR THE FRENCH OPEN – WOMEN
Hot shot: Ash Barty (5-1)
This is her first major outside of Australia in almost two years, since before the Covid pandemic started.
The world No.1 rested up during 2020 and stayed in OZ where she trained and maintained fitness — while also enjoying a few other sporting events from the stands.
Ash Barty has pedigree on this surface, having won the title in June 2019, and has a favourable draw. S
he will play Croatian Bernarda Pera in the first round on Tuesday.
Mid price: Naomi Osaka (12-1)
Naomi Osaka holds the US and Australian Open titles and is going for the clean sweep over the next six weeks.
Her record on clay in Paris is pitiful when you consider her talent and big-match temperament.
She is refusing to speak to the media post-match, citing mental health issues, and while some view this as petulant, it might help her recovery from matches. Worth a punt despite her clay record.
Long shot: Coco Gauff (33-1)
The American shook up the sport when she beat veteran Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019.
The 17-year-old won her second title, and first on clay, at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Italy this month.
Many consider her the future of this sport but she has proven she is one for the present.
And though she may have to face Barty in the fourth round, she has the power and mentality to trouble the world’s best.
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