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French Open Takeaways: Djokovic, Alcaraz pushing through, Swiatek dominanting

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The thick, red clay of Roland Garros has now endured seven long days of heavy kick serves, booming ground strokes, crafty drop shots, athletic slides, and sensational sprints.

A week of action has now passed on the beautiful Parisian courts as we reach the latter stages of the second major of the tennis season.

Will Novak Djokovic break a new record? Can Iga Swiatek repeat?

Here are five takeaways from the first week of play in Paris:

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Alcaraz and Djokovic on collision course

They are the only two players still in the men’s field to have won a major title.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is on a determined hunt for his second career major and first-ever triumph at Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic, 16 years the Spaniard’s senior, has his eyes set on history as he chases a record 23rd singles slam, which would surpass his great rival, Rafael Nadal.

So far, the two players have advanced to the second week of Paris unscathed.

Djokovic, who meandered through a difficult clay court campaign without a title, has won four matches in straight sets to book his place in the quarterfinals.

His performance under pressure in his third-round encounter with Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was a stark reminder to the field that he is one of the toughest competitors in the sport.

After winning the opening set 7-6, Djokovic fended off a set point at 5-6, 30-40 by going into lockdown mode, hitting relentlessly from the baseline with depth and precision.

Novak’s vast experience in crunch time and ability to elevate his level in the tensest moments of a match remains his superpower.

Meanwhile, Alcaraz has looked rock solid across four match wins, producing his best tennis in the round of 16 where he dismantled Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Watching him glide like a graceful gazelle is already irresistible for any tennis fan:

Alcaraz will challenge 2021 French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas next in the quarterfinals.

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Carlitos and Novak could potentially meet in the semis.

Iga untouchable so far

She’s a two-time Roland Garros champion for a reason.

Iga Swiatek is right at home in Paris on the red dirt of Roland Garros, where she’s been heads and shoulders above the competition so far.

Forget even trying to win the match, heck most players are hard-pressed to even win games against Iga on her favourite surface.

The world number one has been downright dominant through her first three matches, going a perfect 6-0 in sets and winning four of them by what’s known as a bagel score line (aka 6-0).

Swiatek though, has been too humble to acknowledge her dominance of the opposition:

If Swiatek can prevail again at the French Open, she’ll become the eighth woman in the Open Era to achieve three or more titles at Roland Garros.

She’d also become the first woman to repeat as champion since Belgium’s Justine Henin did so in 2007.

Gauff leads youth movement, Svitolina has resurgence

She’s one of the most talented and breathtaking young athletes on the WTA circuit, yet for many tennis fans, a true breakthrough victory for Coco Gauff has yet to happen.

Perhaps Roland Garros is the site where she feels comfortable and at ease to play her best.

The American is into the second week of the event, punctuated by a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 third-round victory over 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, who is the latest young prodigy to take the tennis world by storm.

For Gauff, she’s carried pressure through most of her formative teenage years, since reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon four seasons ago.

Last year, Gauff delivered her best major result, finishing runner-up to Swiatek at the French Open, but 2023 has been a bag of mixed results.

Gauff won a title in Auckland to open the season but has at times looked vulnerable against tougher opposition, going just 2-6 against top 30 players.

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With the American’s immense potential, she seems overdue for something great.

Meanwhile, veteran Ukrainian Elina Svitolina has made a triumphant return to sport.

The former world no. 3 stepped away from competition for much of 2022 and had a baby with her spouse and fellow tennis player Gael Monfils.

Since returning, the 28-year-old won her 17th career WTA title on clay in Strasbourg and has now reached her fifth career Roland Garros quarterfinal.

Svitolina was one of the tour’s most consistent grand slam competitors from 2015-2021, reaching the second week of a major 13 times.

With zero pressure on her shoulders in this tournament, perhaps an even deeper run is in store.

Canadians Shapovalov and Andreescu produce third-round runs

While the Canadian contingency in Paris could not reach the second week of the tournament, Denis Shapovalov and Bianca Andreescu did show some positive signs of form to hopefully carry through the remainder of 2023.

Shapovalov, who had never advanced past the second round of the French Open, did one better this time, recording wins over American Brandon Nakashima and Matteo Arnaldi of Italy.

Shapovalov would succumb to Carlos Alcaraz in straight sets but the newfound results in Paris could be a strong platform to build on with the grass court season just around the corner.

Wimbledon 2021 was the site of his best slam result, reaching the semi-finals.

Mississauga’s Bianca Andreescu also impressed early on in Paris, securing a high octane first round victory over two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

She carried that form through in a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 win over American Emma Navarro, before a timid exit to veteran Lesia Tsurenko in round three.

Andreescu has of course had a taste of grand slam success, becoming the first Canadian to win a singles major at the US Open back in 2019.

Since then, she’s battled physical and mental hurdles on and off the court.

A healthy Bibi has shown some her tenacity and shot making at various times this season. One big run at a tournament could be right around the corner.

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Meantime, both Felix Auger-Aliassime and Rebecca Marino suffered first round defeats in singles.

Leylah Annie Fernandez defeated Magda Linette in her opening round match before falling in three sets to Clara Tauson of Denmark.


Medvedev, Rybakina, Rublev exit early

It wouldn’t be a truly riveting grand slam event without notable upsets to break open the field in week one.

The biggest victim of all in the men’s draw was world number two Daniil Medvedev, who was sent packing in the opening round, falling 7-6, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil.

Medvedev has been open about his clay struggles in the past, lamenting the quality and substance of the surface. Still, this one was a shock to the tennis world as Medvedev had just won his first ever clay court title in Rome the previous week.

Fellow Russian countryman Andrey Rublev also suffered an early defeat, losing in the third round to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.

Rublev’s been ranked as high as fifth in the world but has never advanced past the quarterfinals at a major.

On the women’s side, last year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina came into this year’s edition of Roland Garros as a strong contender, winning a WTA1000 title in Rome.

Unfortunately, she was struck by a brutal fever prior to her third round match and couldn’t take the court, gifting a walkover to Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo.

“If I cannot breathe, there is no chance I can even run and try to compete”, said the world No. 4.

The 23-year-old will look to defend her title at the All-England Club later in July.

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