In the Open era of professional tennis, only two champions of the most prestigious clay-court tournament, the French Open, have represented the host nation: Hall of Famers Yannick Noah in 1983 and Mary Pierce in 2000.
With the tournament kicking off in a few days time, a number of players will be looking to make their mark in Paris as they attempt to bring those droughts to an end. Here’s a look at five of them that are capable of making an impact on their respective draws—perhaps even going so far as to find a place at the podium by the end of the tournament.
1. Benoit Paire
Long hailed as one of the more flamboyant shot-makers on the ATP Tour, Paire’s results have yet to match up to his ability. Capable of defeating almost anyone, the Frenchman suffered a number of inexplicable losses the past couple of seasons. However, this year, something appears to have clicked for the 30-year-old: In April, he won his first tournament in four years, capturing the clay-court title in Marrakesh, where he only dropped two sets all week. Paire will be entering the French Open with momentum on his side after making a deep run in Lyon. The first seed he could see is No. 12 Daniil Medvedev in the second round, a winnable match provided his renewed sense of focus is there.
2. Gael Monfils
Over a stretch of three tournaments in the first couple of months of the season, Monfils reached the semifinals or better, a run that included his eighth career title in Rotterdam. Shortly thereafter, injuries crept back up on the crowd favorite and he was forced to the sidelines for several weeks. Monfils, a former French Open semifinalist, has worked on getting his legs back under him for Roland Garros, where he’s seeded 14th. He’ll be entering the tournament with only a 3-3 record on the clay, but there is something he can stake his hopes on: In Madrid, he had Roger Federer on the ropes before the Swiss fought off a couple of match points. If the seeds hold up in Paris, he could face last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem in the fourth round in a match that will be a test for both players.
It’s been three years since Garcia won a clay-court title, when she triumphed on home soil in Strasbourg, and her subsequent tournament victories coming on grass and hard courts. Still, Garcia—the lone Frenchwoman to be seeded at Roland Garros this year—is always a threat on the dirt, with her best Grand Slam singles result coming in Paris in 2017, when she reached the quarterfinals. The clay hasn’t been too kind to her this year, but she’s in the top portion of the draw, where there’s no clear-cut favorite—including the top seed, Naomi Osaka. The pressure of competing at home has held up many a French player over the years, but if Garcia can navigate the mental hurdles, there’s room to succeed in the actual on-court match-ups.
In March 2018, Pouille’s rapid ascent up the rankings hit its peak when he cracked the top 10 in the world for the first time. But as quick as his rise was, the way back down was much faster as he ended up going through a prolonged slump that lasted through the end of the year. In an effort to right the ship, he brought Hall of Famer Amelie Mauresmo in as his coach for 2019 and the partnership paid off nearly right away as Pouille advanced to the Australian Open semifinals. The 25-year-old was unable to build upon that run in Melbourne, experiencing another months-long slump. He has recently shown some signs of coming out of it by claiming his first Challenger title in Bordeaux, which was a much-needed confidence booster. Seeded 22nd in Paris, Pouille has a favorable draw that could land him in the second week of the tournament, where anything can happen.
Perhaps the most intriguing French player in the draw, Mladenovic has experienced more lows than highs on the singles court the past couple of years. There was the Top-10 singles breakthrough that was soon followed by a losing streak that reached double digits. Last year, doubles was her saving grace as she bookended the year with victories at the Australian Open and WTA Finals. Eager to get back on track in singles, Mladenovic snapped up Sascha Bajin as her coach after his split with Naomi Osaka, whom he helped guide to two Grand Slam titles and the top ranking. So far, the partnership has been a fruitful one, with Mladenovic advancing to the quarterfinals in Rome from the qualifying rounds. Unseeded, she could potentially face world No. 2 Karolina Pliskova in the third round and pose a threat to the Czech’s title hopes—as the Frenchwoman pursues her own dreams of becoming France’s first women’s champ in nearly two decades.