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Outdoor Block Party at University Hills
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
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French Open 2017: The potential end of an era
May 22, 2017 by Max Nelson
For the second year in a row, Roger Federer will miss the French Open. His absence from the tournament in 2016 marked the first Grand Slam without him since 1999, before he was ranked highly enough to receive an automatic bid to the main draw. The announcement drew concern from tennis fans both serious and casual, as people feared that such a decision signified the beginning of the end for Fed.
One year later that conversation has mostly subsided, after the Swiss tore through the Australian, BNP Paribas, and Miami Opens and reestablished himself as a force to be reckoned with. But such dominance comes with consequences; with Federer gone, the field of favorites in this year’s French has considerably narrowed. Djokovic has fired his coaching staff. Murray has struggled. Wawrinka has slumped. Nadal has… still been Nadal, winning three out of four tournaments on clay thus far this year.
This set of circumstances could create the opportunity for either the most or least predictable Grand Slam in a while. Nadal could easily coast through a slew of young hopefuls on the way to seven wins in twenty one sets, earning his tenth (!!) title in Paris. At the same time, one or two of those hopefuls could foreseeably come out of the woodwork and set himself up for a semifinals, finals, or even championship run. The 2017 French Open could end up as another notch on the belt of the current tennis pantheon, or it could mark the start of the changing of the guard. Out with the old, in with the new.
With that in mind, here are a few players to watch out for in following this year’s edition of Roland Garros:
Thiem, a 23-year-old from Austria and the seventh-ranked player in the world, first broke out of his shell in last year’s French, when he quietly outmaneuvered a series of clay-court specialists before falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. He’s won five titles in the past eighteen months, and just last week beat Rafael Nadal in straight sets on clay in Rome. Thiem clearly thrives in the spring, reaching two finals in the past month, so the time seems ripe for him to make the leap to greatness. Look for him to match or even outdo his 2016 performance.
Alexander Zverev of Germany reacts after missing a shot in a men’s singles quarter-final during the 2017 Miami Open. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
After dismantling Novak Djokovic in the finals in Rome on Sunday, Zverev became the first player in a long time to reach the top ten before his 21st birthday. The hard-hitting German has won three tourneys on the year so far, beating everyone from Raonic to Wawrinka to the Djoker along the way, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. In 2017 he’s won an incredible 86% of his service games, and converted 46% of his break points, exuding a sort of control over the court uncharacteristic of such a new face. Though he’s never made it past the third round of a Slam, expect him to do so here.
Though not as frequently discussed as the previous two upstarts, expectations are just as high for Frenchman Lucas Pouille, if not higher. Roland Garros has suffered a conspicuous lack of French success on the men’s side in the past thirty years, and many are now looking to Pouille as a potential savior. The 23-year-old has won a clay-court title in Hungary this year, and reached the finals of another home-court tournament in Marseille before falling to countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He’s failed to reach the third round of the French thus far in his career, but his game has improved plenty in the past twelve months. Hopefully he can re-energize a faithless Parisian crowd.
Roland Garros begins on Sunday, May 21st in Paris, France.
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