PARIS, France, May 24 – Roland Garros organisers are confident that the absence from the 2017 French Open of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will just be a footnote when the story of the second major of the season is told.
“The absence of these three stars does not weaken the tournament because Roland Garros remains an institution and the Holy Grail for a player,” French tennis historian Jean-Christophe Piffau told AFP.
“The Grand Slam tournaments are anchored in the history of tennis, which is what makes them both special and prized.”
With that in mind, AFP Sports looks at the storylines likely to dominate the French Open which starts on Sunday:
Perfect 10 for Nadal?
— This year Nadal has captured a 10th Monte Carlo Masters and 10th title in Barcelona; now the great Spaniard targets what many in the sport thought was impossible — a 10th Roland Garros.
The champion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Nadal, now 30, was written off when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals, ending a 39-match win streak in Paris since his shock defeat to Robin Soderling in 2009.
Last year, he played two rounds before a wrist injury forced an early withdrawal.
But he has been rejuvenated in 2017, reaching the Australian Open and Miami finals and winning in Madrid for a record-equalling 30th Masters title.
Djokovic and Agassi, starstruck double act
— When Djokovic completed the career Grand Slam by winning his first Roland Garros title in 2016, the Serb held all four majors at the same time.
But the former world number one has — by his standards — struggled since, admitting motivation has been a problem.
There were signs of life when he reached the Rome Masters final last weekend where his defeat was soon relegated in significance by his appointment of US legend Andre Agassi as his new coach.
The annoucement came in the wake of Djokovic parting with long-time coach Marian Vajda earlier this month, having also ended a three-year relationship with Boris Becker at the end of last season.
Eight-time major winner Agassi, who has only committed to the French Open so far, has never coached at such a level before and has been away from the sport for more than a decade since retiring in 2006.
The open French Open
— Who will be the 2017 women’s champion? Who knows? The champions from 2010 to 2015 — Serena Williams (2013 and 2015), Maria Sharapova (2012 and 2014), Li Na (2011) and Francesca Schiavone (2010) — are absent.
Defending champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain picked up a neck injury in Rome and has won just two matches on clay all season.
World number one Angelique Kerber’s best run was a 2012 quarter-final spot. This claycourt season, the German lost first time out at Rome having retired with a back injury after two matches in Madrid.
Simona Halep, the 2014 runner-up in Paris and winner in Madrid this year before being a losing finalist in Rome, looks the most likely champion-in-waiting — just.
Kvitova, Del Potro — high on emotion
— Out of action since injuring her left hand fighting off a knife-wielding burglar at her home in December, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova may yet still be a late-entry into Roland Garros where she was a semi-finalist in 2012.
She’d be a popular champion as would be Juan Martin del Potro, the giant Argentine whose huge potential, illustrated by his 2009 US Open victory, should have been the first chapter in a Grand Slam success story.
However, an agonising series of wrist injuries pushed him to the brink of retirement before a comeback last year saw him reach the Olympics final.
Practically unplayable on his day, Del Potro was a semi-finalist in Paris in 2009 but last played the tournament in 2012, losing a two sets lead to go down to Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.
Del Potro is ranked 30 this week; 12 months ago, he was down at 233.