Stars hoping to shine in absence of clay king Nadal – 10 to watch at French Open

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The French Open will take place without Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004.

The Spaniard’s withdrawal through injury opens the door for the rest of the men’s field, while two-time champion Iga Swiatek will look to cement her dominance of the women’s event.

Here, the PA news agency picks out 10 players to watch at Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic at the Italian Open
Novak Djokovic has been below his best on clay (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Carlos Alcaraz

While Nadal’s absence undoubtedly leaves a huge hole, Spanish fans have another phenomenon to cheer in the shape of Alcaraz, who has reclaimed the world number one ranking from Djokovic. An early loss at the Italian Open was a shock but the 20-year-old was supreme in winning titles in Barcelona and Madrid and is firmly in the frame for a second grand slam title.

Holger Rune

Holger Rune celebrates beating Novak Djokovic in Rome
Holger Rune celebrates beating Novak Djokovic in Rome (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev at the Madrid Open
Daniil Medvedev has found his feet on clay this season (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Jannik Sinner

Sinner’s emergence at the top of the game was rather overshadowed by Alcaraz’s even more rapid ascent but their rivalry has been a tonic to a sport adjusting to the loss of its aging superstars. This year has seen the big-hitting Italian establish himself in the top 10 and a grand slam breakthrough may not be too far away.

Iga Swiatek

The Pole strolled to her second Roland Garros title last year as part of a 37-match winning streak. A clay-court natural, Swiatek can appear unstoppable on the surface but the gap at the top of the women’s game has certainly narrowed. Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have been the players of the season so far while Swiatek has had a couple of injury niggles.

Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka holds the Madrid Open trophy
Aryna Sabalenka holds the Madrid Open trophy (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Elena Rybakina

Elena Rybakina in Rome
Elena Rybakina has built on her Wimbledon title this season (Fabrizio Corradetti/LaPresse via AP)

Zheng Qinwen

Zheng Qinwen in Rome
Zheng Qinwen has risen steadily (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Marketa Vondrousova

Even among the numerous women who have made grand slam finals in recent years, Vondrousova flies under the radar. Beaten by Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros in 2019 as a teenager, the Czech has struggled with injury since. But she is one of the most naturally talented players on clay and has been showing good signs this season.

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