It is one of the most natural and recurring annual questions at the end of every major tennis tournament: What are the stakes for the next one?
In men’s tennis, we haven’t had to wonder what the big stories are — not for the past 18 years. One member of the Big 3 wins a major and the question becomes if a rival or a challenger can respond the next time around. As the scene leaves Melbourne and shifts to Paris for the French Open, we obviously have a lot of time to allow the tennis season to unfold. How Indian Wells and Miami evolve, and how the lead-up clay events shape the scene at Roland Garros, will obviously have some bearing on how we perceive each contender’s chances, and how the odds might look to a Louisiana sports betting player.
Yet, we can say with total confidence that the battle between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will take center stage at the 2022 French Open, barring injury. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Nadal, not Djokovic, became the first men’s tennis player to win 21 majors. Nadal, not Djokovic, will have a chance to forge a two-major lead and get to 22 if he can avenge a loss in last year’s epic semifinal, featuring a titanic third set which is one of the best sets ever played since the sport of tennis was created in the 1870s.
On the women’s side, the calculus is much more fluid and fascinating. Ashleigh Barty has won two of the past three majors. If she comes to Paris and wins, she resets the dial and becomes a supreme heavyweight in women’s tennis. She already is a heavyweight, but winning in Paris would take her dominance of the WTA Tour to an entirely different and far more exalted height. Women’s tennis has lacked a Serena Williams-level superstar since the icon became a mother in early 2017. Naomi Osaka has become a hardcourt superstar, but not a player who rules the tour throughout a season on all its surfaces. Barty, with a win in Paris, could become that figure.
If Barty doesn’t win, the next biggest potential story in women’s tennis in Paris would be an Iga Swiatek title. Swiatek, among other players in her early 20s or late teens, seems especially likely to rise to superstardom. There are no guarantees in tennis, but Swiatek carries more potential and a higher ceiling than most. By rising to the Australian Open semifinals — her first major semifinal at a non-French Open (non-clay) major — Swiatek showed what she is capable of. If she wins in Paris, the idea that her career is ready for a full, all-surface takeoff into the stratosphere would gain considerable traction.
Other WTA players could create special stories in France as well: Barbora Krejcikova could defend her 2021 Roland Garros championship. Elina Svitolina is searching for a first major title. So is Karolina Pliskova. Aryna Sabalenka hasn’t yet made a first major final. Paula Badosa will be a popular choice if she is healthy.
How will the uncertain landscape of women’s tennis change in Paris this June? It’s several months away, but the questions are already very intriguing.