French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

The French Open qualifiers being on Monday with the grand slam itself starting on May 22 and all indicators point to a dramatic tournament, with some big names meeting a raft of new and exciting talent.

Taking place over two weeks at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, the men’s and women’s champions will each walk away with a €2.2 million (US$2.32 million) cheque.

With just a couple of weeks left until the second grand slam of the year begins, we take a look at what’s in store and what’s at stake as the 2022 season continues at pace.

What’s it all about

Roland Garros runs from May 22 to June 5 and as the only grand slam to be played on clay, is arguably the best spectacle tennis has to offer. The 2022 tournament precedes Wimbledon and the US Open.

Novak Djokovic won the men’s singles title last year, with Czech tennis player Barbora Krejcikova winning the women’s singles. Home favourites Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut triumphed in doubles.

Despite some injury woes, Australian Open winner Rafael Nadal said he will do everything in his power – including having his doctor on hand in Paris – to mount a competitive bid to win Roland Garros despite bowing out of this week’s Italian Open with a chronic foot injury.

Naomi Osaka sat out the Italian Open to nurse an Achilles’ injury, but says she will return for the French Open.

French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

Naomi Osaka serves the ball during a training session for the Italian Open in Rome. Photo: AP

No vax, no worries

Thanks to a relaxed stance on Covid-19 vaccines, this year’s French Open is attracting big names, including Novak Djokovic, who missed the opportunity to defend his Australian Open title after being turfed out of the country because of his unvaccinated status.

Barring any big change in the rules before Roland Garros, the 20-time grand slam champion will be available for the season’s second major.

Keep an eye out for Iga Swiatek, the 20-year-old Polish star who replaced Ash Barty at the top of the women’s world rankings in March. Swiatek is currently on a hot streak, winning 23 matches back-to-back and will be the player to beat.

French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka during their match at the Italian Open on May 12, 2022. Photo: AP

Talent explosion

While the big guns of tennis will out in force, there’s a lot going on further down the ranks. Surging Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz will have the eyes of the world on him when he takes to the clay in Paris. The 19-year-old knocked out Nadal, Djokovic, and world No 3 Alexander Zverev en route to winning the Madrid Open – his fourth trophy of the season- earlier this month.

Djokovic hailed Alcaraz as “the best player” of the season so far and said the Spanish teenager is one of the main favourites for Roland Garros.

Ons Jabeur arrives in Paris on a similar trajectory. The Tunisian is a phenomenal talent that has proved she can sweep big titles and contend at the majors.

The 27-year-old is back to her career-high ranking of No 7 after going on a revenge tour in the Spanish capital, taking out the likes of former world No 1 Simona Halep, Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, and the powerful Ekaterina Alexandrova to lift the trophy.

French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in action during her women’s singles match against Sorana Cirstea of Romania at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome. EPA-EFE

Wild cards

Veteran French players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon have been handed wild cards to play in the main draw at the French Open. A former Australian Open runner-up, Tsonga announced earlier this season that he will retire after the clay-court grand slam event. Play begins at Roland Garros on May 22.

Tsonga and Simon are both 37 years old and helped France win the Davis Cup in 2017.

The 12 wild card entries for the main draw were allocated to French players. In addition to Tsonga and Simon, the French tennis federation said Lucas Pouille, Corentin Moutet, Manuel Guinard and Gregoire Barrere were also invited to play at Roland Garros.

In the women’s draw, the wild cards were awarded to Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, Fiona Ferro, Elsa Jacquemot, Leolia Jeanjean, Chloe Paquet and Harmony Tan.

The two wild card entries granted to Australian players have yet to be announced.

French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

The French Tennis Federation will increase its prize purse to US$46 million compared to the pre-Covid edition in 2019. Photo: AP

How to watch Roland Garros

Earlier this year the French Tennis Federation signed a deal with beIN Media Group to broadcast Roland Garros in key Asia markets, including Hong Kong for the next five years.

Under the agreement, beIN SPORTS will become the exclusive broadcaster of the Parisian grand slam event in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, Philippines, and Singapore.

French Open: start times, how to watch, the rapid rise of teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and return of Novak Djokovic

French Open unveiled its first-ever NFT collection “RG Game, Seat & Match”. Photo: French Tennis Federation

NFT for tennis

What would a sporting event be today without its own line of non-fungible tokens? Yes, these confusing pieces of crypto art are everywhere, and the French Open has unveiled its first-ever NFT collection called “RG Game, Seat & Match” on the Polygon blockchain (don’t ask me what that is).

Buying an NFT gives you access to the Roland Garros fan community where you can interact with people, as well as owning a virtual numbered seat which can change colours depending on who you support.

There’s a real world element to the NFT collection where match balls played on Center Court will be given to the community of NFT holders based on an algorithm and a series of predetermined stats. Phew!

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