PARIS (AP) — Much of this French Open can best be viewed through the prism of Rafael Nadal’s absence.
For so many years, the goings on at Roland Garros were defined by Nadal and his unprecedented success at the place: 14 championships, a 112-3 record. And this year, what happens in Paris is significantly altered because he is not in the field — something that last happened in 2004.
Nadal has not competed anywhere since injuring his left hip flexor at the Australian Open in January, and he had arthroscopic surgery on Friday night in Barcelona. Saturday, as it happens, is his 37th birthday.
Nadal announced on May 18 he wouldn’t be able to return to competition at the French Open because his body wouldn’t let him. He said he needed to stop practicing and wasn’t sure when he could be back in action; he figures 2024 will be the final season of his superlative career.
WHAT HAPPENED ON COURT FRIDAY?
No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Novak Djokovic picked up straight-set victories that weren’t always that straightforward to reach the fourth round and stay on course for a showdown in the semifinals. Alcaraz is the reigning U.S. Open champion; Djokovic owns 22 Grand Slam titles, tied with Nadal for the most by a man. Yet another highly seeded woman, No. 3 Jessica Pegula, bowed out, as did the No. 7 man, Andrey Rublev.
WHAT HAPPENED AWAY FROM THE COURT?
No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, was allowed to avoid the traditional postmatch news conference open to all accredited journalists and instead speak with what was described as a “pool” of selected questioners. After each of her previous two wins this week, Sabalenka was asked about her stance on the war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022, when Russia invaded that country with help from Belarus. Sabalenka said she “did not feel safe” at her news conference Wednesday and wanted to protect her “mental health and well-being” on Friday.
WHO PLAYS SATURDAY?
The most intriguing third-round match involves two teenagers who have practiced with each other: American Coco Gauff, who is 19, and Russian Mirra Andreeva, who is 16. There’s no doubt Gauff has a significant advantage in experience: She’s been participating in majors since 2019, was the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2022 and is seeded No. 6 this time. Andreeva is ranked 143rd and is making her debut at a Grand Slam tournament. They’ll play in Court Suzanne Lenglen. Across the way, Court Philippe Chatrier will host matches featuring two of the top women: No. 1 Iga Swiatek, the defending champion, and No. 4 Elena Rybakina, last year’s winner at Wimbledon. Both face unseeded opponents. Men in action include No. 6 Holger Rune, No. 9 Taylor Fritz and No. 12 Frances Tiafoe.
WHEN ARE SATURDAY’S MATCHES?
Play begins at 11 a.m. local time in Paris, which is 5 a.m. EDT, everywhere except the main stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier, where the first match — No. 4 Elena Rybakina vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo — is scheduled to start at 11:45 a.m. local time, which is 5:45 a.m. EDT. Coco Gauff vs. Mirra Andreeva is second on Court Suzanne Lenglen so it might begin at around 3 p.m. local time, which is 9 a.m. EDT. Frances Tiafoe goes up against 2021 U.S. Open finalist Alexander Zverev in the night session, which starts at 8:15 p.m. local time, 2:15 p.m. EDT.
GET CAUGHT UP
What you need to know about the year’s second Grand Slam tennis tournament:
– Rafael Nadal is not here
– Can AI help prevent cyberbullying of tennis players?
– French players bid a quick adieu to French Open
– Novak Djokovic can break a tie with Nadal by winning Slam No. 23
– Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina split past four major titles
– Facts and figures about the French Open, including a look back at 2022
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
Try your hand at the AP’s latest tennis quiz here.
Gauff is listed at minus-126 to beat Andreeva, who is at plus-106, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Just as she has been since before the tournament began, Swiatek is an overwhelming pick for the women’s title at minus-120. Alcaraz remains the favorite to win the men’s championship at plus-130, followed by Djokovic at plus-175. They could meet in the semifinals.
THE NUMBER TO KNOW
3 hours, 36 minutes — The time it took for Novak Djokovic’s 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, the longest three-set Grand Slam match of Djokovic’s career.
THE QUOTE TO KNOW
“The results are not good.” — Nicolas Escudé, the French Tennis Federation’s technical director, after all 29 singles players from the host country were eliminated by the end of the second round.
HOW TO WATCH
-In the U.S.: Tennis Channel, NBC, Peacock.
-In France: France TV, Amazon Prime.
-Other countries listed here.
UPCOMING SINGLES SCHEDULE
-Friday-Saturday: Third Round (Women and Men)
-Sunday-Monday: Fourth Round (Women and Men)
-June 6-7: Quarterfinals (Women and Men)
-June 8: Women’s Semifinals
-June 9: Men’s Semifinals
-June 10: Women’s Final
-June 11: Men’s Final
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