September 25, 2020
There must have been a wry smile on Andy Murray’s face after he heard the Roland Garros draw.
Only a few days ago, as he practised on the famous Parisian clay once more, Murray reflected on a pivotal moment in his career.
Andy told his Instagram followers: ‘Been a long journey to get back on Court Philippe Chatrier.
‘Three-and-a-half years since I played Stan Wawrinka in a brutal five-set semi-final, which turned out to be the end of my hip.’
And who should Andy Murray be facing in his opening match at Roland Garros 2020? That’s right, Stan Wawrinka.
The plucky Brit will trust that the metal resurfacing on his hip will stand him in good stead for the latest clash against Stan The Man.
The signs are encouraging. Andy proved at the US Open that he can handle a five-set drama again now.
And of course, we can’t wait to see Murray grace Centre Court again at Wimbledon 2021.
What an amazing reception he will get from the Centre Court crowd next summer.
It has been a long road back to full fitness for this natural-born gladiator. He will relish another huge occasion.
And he won’t shy away from trying to win the latest war of attrition against Stan The Man.
That punishing 2017 epic lasted four hours and 34 minutes before Wawrinka advanced to the French Open final.
Who would bet against another marathon nail-biter at Roland Garros this time around?
Murray has won twelve of his twenty battles against Wawrinka, the most recent of those coming in Antwerp last year.
Stan had also experienced serious injury problems by the time that one played out.
Two operations on his left knee showed that classic matches come at a price for both players.
As Andy said in his victory speech after the Antwerp final: ‘Both me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems in the last couple of years.’
Yet Wawrinka still has one of the most beautiful backhands in Grand Slam history. Like Murray, he has won three Grand Slams.
In 2015, Stan won the French Open title with one of the greatest performances of all time against a Novak Djokovic at the very height of his powers.
Wawrinka probably starts as a narrow favourite against Murray. But this could very easily come down to a fifth set again.
Once any tennis thriller goes that far, it’s often a question of who wants victory more. Murray won’t be short of confidence or fighting spirit.
We can’t wait for this early Roland Garros treat. But there are others too!
Dan Evans will hope to draw Kei Nishikori into a similar, protracted dogfight.
The feisty Brit may not quite have Nishikori’s natural talent. But he has the heart of a lion and a new professionalism.
Everyone will have their eye on that Nishikori match to see how it unfolds. Evans will need to show better form than he could find against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Germany, though.
Can Evo put a straight-sets defeat to the superstar Greek behind him and recapture the magic he conjured at the Battle of the Brits?
Another fascinating match-up involves the current US Open champion and a former US Open champion.
Dominic Thiem takes on Marin Cilic in a truly mouthwatering opener. The big Croatian took a set off Thiem little more than a fortnight ago at Flushing Meadows.
The popular Austrian should prevail once more. But is Thiem favourite for the tournament?
Many would give that dubious honour to Novak Djokovic, despite Rafael Nadal’s amazing record at Roland Garros.
The draw has been relatively kind to the Serb. If he keeps winning, he wouldn’t have to face Thiem or the King of Clay until the final.
Nadal looked very rusty in Rome. But he has a habit of rising to the occasion at Roland Garros. It would be very dangerous to rule him out.
Meanwhile Johanna Konta faces a scintillating first-round showdown with Coco Gauff.
Wimbledon tennis fans love both these stars!
We cheered Konta all the way to the Wimbledon semi-final a few years back.
And last year we took a fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff to our hearts as she captivated Centre Court with her fighting spirit.
What will Konta and Gauff be able to achieve at Wimbledon 2021? The mind boggles.
But only one of these much-loved stars can progress at this year’s French Open.
As a former Roland Garros semi-finalist, we think Konta has enough in her armoury to see off Gauff this time.
But Coco will only grow stronger before next year’s Wimbledon. Can she pull off another Grand Slam shock in Paris in the meantime?
Simona Halep is in the sort of form that could see her win the French Open. She made victory in Rome look relatively easy.
But Serena Williams will go in search that elusive 24th Grand Slam title and she always feels at home in Paris. Don’t be surprised if Serena goes deep once more.
Whatever happens, we can’t wait for the French Open to start. There will be so much for the fans to enjoy during the opening days.
And don’t forget, with every Grand Slam event that passes, Wimbledon 2021 comes closer!