Thursday, 22/2/2018 | 4:39 UTC+0

Roland Garros 2016: British Hopes Preview

The tennis world is right in the middle of the rigours of the clay court season and it will culminate at the end of the month in the big one – the French Open at Roland Garros. Great Britain doesn’t have the finest of track records when it comes to this iconic tournament. Sue Barker’s 1976 win remains Britain’s sole victory at the French Open in the Open Era. But the new wave of British talent, led by the World No. 2 Andy Murray, will hope to change that.

British Men’s Hopes

In the men’s event, apart from the obvious title challenge posed by Murray, certain young talents like Aljaz Bedene, and Kyle Edmund could hope to do turn a few heads on the clay. Meanwhile on the women’s side, Johanna Konta is clearly Britain’s best bet, with her amazing semifinal appearance at the Australian Open earlier this year still on the British tennis fans’ radar. Other challengers include Heather Watson and Naomi Broady, with the latter’s younger brother Liam being another future prospect for Britain who we might see at Wimbledon in a few weeks’ time.

For many years now, Andy Murray has shouldered the entire country’s hopes of Grand Slam success, and he has repaid that faith with a US Open title in 2012, followed by a historic Wimbledon win in 2013. The 28-year old has reached a total of 9 Grand Slam finals. But alas, none of them have come at the French Open. Murray has been a semi-finalist on 3 different occasions (2011, 2014, 2015), but is yet to find a way into the Final. Murray recently parted ways with coach Amelie Mauresmo and hasn’t appointed a replacement yet, with rumours of a big-name hiring going around.

While World No. 1 Novak Djokovic remains the outright favourite for the title, Murray isn’t too far behind. Fresh from a solid runners-up showing at the Madrid Masters, where he pushed the Serb hard in the Final match, followed by a subsequent victory over the Serb in Rome, Murray’s chances of a first French Open aren’t too slim. The Scot beat home favourite and clay king Rafael Nadal in the semis in Madrid, proving that on his day, he can be effective on any surface. His performances on the clay court has been improving over the years and to the surprise of many, he finally won his first titles on the dirt last year winning in both Munich and Madrid.

Britain’s Bright Young Things

Britain’s current No.2 in Men’s tennis is 26-year old Aljaz Bedene, who is 69th on the ATP world rankings. Bedene recently lost to Frenchman Stephane Robert in the Italian Open first round, making it a rather disappointing start to the clay season for the former Slovenian player. Bedene has appeared in the French Open twice before (2013, 2015), losing both times in the opening round. At the first clay Masters this year at Monte Carlo, Bedene lost in the second round to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Surprisingly, clay is said to be his preferred surface as he’s won most of his ATP Challenger titles on it, yet that hasn’t translated in recent years to higher ranking tournaments.

The British Number 3 is a bright young prospect: 21-year old Kyle Edmund, who has been climbing up the rankings ladder fast, currently at 82. Having won 2 Challenger titles this year, most recently at the clay court in Rome, Edmund is showing immense potential. In Grand Slams, the French Open has been Edmund’s favourite event. His only ever Grand Slam match victory was at Roland Garros last year when he reached the second round, but had to withdraw due to a stomach injury. Edmund has tasted title success at the event before, when he won the 2013 Junior Doubles French Open title. With a Davis Cup victory already under his belt, Edmund will be raring to go, come the end of the month.

The Women’s Draw

For sure, Johanna Konta is leading the charge for the British women. After becoming the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in 32 years at the 2016 Australian Open, she followed it up by climbing into the World’s Top 25, a feat not achieved by a British woman in 29 years. Unfortunately, she’s had a pretty difficult start to the clay court season so far, with a first round exit in Stuttgart and retiring due to illness in Madrid. Come the French Open, she will undoubtedly be pumped to better her tournament record, as she’s yet to win in the main draw and will be motivated to improve on that record.

Another young prospect for Britain is 23-year old Heather Watson. She’s been on the Tour since 2010 and she’s reached the 2nd round at the French Open on four occasions, but has never made it past that stage. Her most famous match came last year at Wimbledon when she came within 2 points of beating World No. 1 Serena Williams, but couldn’t complete the win. She’s had a mixed 2016 to date, losing in the Australian Open first round, but winning her 3rd WTA title at the Monterrey Open. Currently WTA ranked 55 and coming off beating 14th seed Sara Errani on clay at the Italian Open, she has all the potential to cause a major upset at Roland Garros this year, if she can stay fit!

Another player with an outside chance of impressing at the French Open is the enigmatic 26-year old Naomi Broady, who has finally broken into the Top 100 WTA rankings, currently at 79. Although she hasn’t gone beyond the second qualifying round in previous years, her tall figure and powerful serve can be a handful to anyone. Her biggest scalp came earlier this year when she beat Ana Ivanovic at the ASB Classic in New Zealand but form and consistency has been her biggest problem in recent years.

Furthermore, despite having fallen down the rankings due to a long term wrist injury, Laura Robson could still spring a surprise if she can find some confidence.

Although most people would hesitate to look beyond Andy Murray or Johanna Konta to get even a quarterfinal place at the Roland Garros French Open, British tennis does seem to be headed in the right direction with a younger generation just starting to blossom. With plenty of youngsters coming up and impressing, the future certainly seems bright. This year’s French Open beginning 16th May could be one to watch closely on our TV screens to see how this new British generation fares.



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