Serena Williams & Rafael Nadal out to make French Open history

Springtime in Paris. The River Seine glistens, the Eiffel Tower tickles resplendent skies and the sweet pinging of ra...

Posted: May 25, 2018 12:12 PM
Updated: May 25, 2018 12:12 PM

Springtime in Paris. The River Seine glistens, the Eiffel Tower tickles resplendent skies and the sweet pinging of racquet hitting ball can be heard as the French Open bursts into life like a gently popping Champagne cork.

There are few finer sights in tennis than the world's best lunging and scrambling on the Parisian clay in an attempt to win one of their sport's most prestigious prizes

French Open takes place May 27-June 10

Serena Williams to play in first slam since giving birth

Rafael Nadal bids for 11th Roland Garros title

From May 27 to June 10, greats such as Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova will descend on Roland Garros, a stadium named after the French aviator, for the second grand slam of the year.

La Coupe des Mousquetaires awaits the men's champion, while the women's victor will hold La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen aloft.

Reputations will be enhanced, and bank balances bolstered with both winners pocketing a cool -1.93 million ($2.58m) each.

But who are the favorites and what can we expect from the only grand slam on red dirt? Will Williams return from maternity leave to claim a record-equaling 24th grand slam and can Rafael Nadal win an unprecedented 11th French Open crown?

READ: Who can stop the 'King of Clay' in Paris?

'Serena can achieve anything'

Serena Williams is the most successful female player of the open era, but with a ranking of 453 in the world, she will not be seeded on her return to grand slam tennis.

Set to play at a major for the first time since giving birth to her daughter in September, three-time French Open champion Williams will face some top-ranked players in the early rounds in Paris.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) -- the governing body of the women's tour -- is considering a rule change which will add protected seedings, as well as protected rankings, for players returning from maternity leave but that won't come into effect until at least next year.

In the meantime, the unseeded 36-year-old will face Czech Kristyna Pliskova, the world No. 70, in the first round and could come up against Sharapova in the fourth round.

Though she has only played in two WTA tournaments since her return -- winning two matches and losing two -- and has not played competitively on clay since losing in the French Open final in 2016, Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou is still confident the American can clinch a fourth French Open title.

"Serena will play the French Open to win it," Mouratoglou told WTAtennis.com this month.

"Can she do it? Serena can achieve anything - after being her coach for six years, I'm even more sure of that statement."

Who do you think will win the French Open? Have your say on our Facebook page.

Who will be Serena's main challengers?

Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko, 20, was the 100-1 outsider who shocked third seed Simona Halep in last year's women's final.

The pressure of retaining her crown could weigh heavily, and she has yet to win a title this year, while two-time finalist Halep will be eager to make amends for last year's surprise defeat.

The world No.1 is the bookmakers' favorite, tops the WTA Insider Clay Court Power Rankings and has a 9-3 win-loss record on the surface in 2018.

Charleston champion Kiki Bertens, world No.4 Elina Svitolina -- yet to progress beyond the quarterfinals of a grand slam - and Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, are also leading contenders.

READ: Hungry for the French Open? Top 10 places to eat in Paris

The incredible 'King of Clay'

Nadal won a record 10th title at Roland Garros last year -- no player in history has won as many grand slam titles at a single tournament -- so it is of little surprise that the Spaniard is the red-hot favorite.

His present form, as well as his past successes, justifies his status as the man to beat on the red dirt.

On his way to triumphs in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome on his beloved clay, the 31-year-old recently set the men's record for most consecutive tennis sets won.

At Roland Garros, Nadal has only lost to Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015), giving him an incredible 79-2 win-loss record on the Parisian clay.

"He's by far the favorite," six-time grand slam champion Boris Becker told CNN Sport.

"There are a couple of others coming around the block, but I wouldn't even name them because, in my eyes, if Rafa stays healthy, injury free, I don't see anybody taking it but him."

The Spaniard will begin his title defence against Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov.

READ: Why spring is the best time to visit Paris

Nadal's likely rivals

Even if trying to beat Nadal on clay may be akin to climbing Everest in flip-flops, it is still not impossible to beat the greatest clay court player in history.

Alexander Zverev is mentored by his fellow German Becker and has already won two titles this year.

The 6-foot-6-inch 21-year-old managed to take a set off Nadal on clay this year and his aggressive, serve-based game offers a contrast to Nadal's brutal baseline play.

There's also Dominic Thiem, many people's dark horse. He is the Austrian who ended Nadal's 21-match winning streak on clay at the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open -- Nadal's first loss on clay since defeat by Thiem at the Italian Open last year.

READ: Could French Open signal rebirth of Novak Djokovic?

Will Djokovic be a threat?

In the absence of Federer (skipping the tournament for a third year) and Andy Murray (recovering from hip surgery), Djokovic is the only representative of the traditional "Big Four" to offer up a challenge.

After two years of toil the Serb does seem to have found some form, reaching the semifinals of the Italian Open where he lost to Nadal in two sets.

But a second French Open title for the 31-year-old would be a major surprise, especially as the 20th seed has received a tough draw.

The former world No.1 could face ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov in the last 16, while Zverev is a potential semifinal opponent.

The man who spent 223 weeks as world No.1 is now ranked 22 in the world and is a long way from recapturing the form which brought him 12 grand slam titles.

Djokovic, however, told reporters in Rome: "I believe that one match, one tournament can turn things around... Looking back two or three months, this is the best that I've felt on the court, by far."

Curse of the home stars?

France has six players in the top 50 of the men's world rankings and three in the women's top 50, but it seems unlikely that this year will produce a first home men's champion since 1983.

Yannick Noah remains the first, and so far, only Frenchman to win a singles title at Roland Garros.

It can be a difficult place for a home favorite to please his or her compatriots. After all, Henri Leconte was booed when he finished runner-up in 1988.

The 2000 champion Mary Pierce -- the only Frenchwoman to win the women's title in the open era -- was the last French Roland Garros finalist, in 2005, and no Frenchman has made it to a final since Leconte in 1988.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will certainly make no impact after withdrawing because of a left knee injury.

Visit CNN.com/tennis for more news, features and videos

"We haven't had someone really prepared and determined to do something at Roland Garros - to say it is one thing, to actually do it is another," Leconte told AFP this year.

Paris in springtime. Red clay. Roland Garros. The French Open is here.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Mostly Cloudy
71° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 71°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 69°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
68° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 68°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for the end of the weekend. We will see our area filled with plenty of sunshine but clouds will be on the increase into the evening hours. There will be some changes for the start work week in our weather forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather