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7 tennis stars you’ll need to know when you watch the French Open

PHOTO: GETTY
PHOTO: GETTY

What if you, a tennis novice, find yourself with a bunch of tennis-loving friends catching all the action around the telly? With our easy guide of must-know tennis personalities, you won’t have to feel like a deer caught in the headlights. Read on.

The French Open is into its 116th edition, a testament to the red-hot action that takes place once every year.

Played on outdoor clay courts, the tennis tournament is the second Grand Slam of the year.

Will defending champions Novak Djokovic and Garbiñe Muguruza be able to retain their titles for the men’s and women’s singles respectively?

Or will Rafael Nadal’s top form propel him to win the French Open, another addition to his recent string of victories on clay?

Here is a quick overview of three key male players at the French Open:

Rafael Nadal – The King of Clay

Being widely regarded as the greatest clay-court tennis player in history has earned Nadal his nickname.


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The 30-year-old Spaniard was born right-handed, but engages in a left-handed (two-handed backhand) style of play. The 1.85m-tall player has won the men’s singles in the French Open no less than nine times.

Nadal is a top contender for the champion title this year, as he is starting the season injury-free. The bowing out of Swiss player Roger Federer from the French Open has also increased his chances of victory.

This year, he is definitely living up to his moniker — having already won three titles on clay so far — at the Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open and Madrid Open.

The only risk he faces is overplaying, having played the most tournaments out of his rivals going into the French Open.


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Novak Djokovic – You’ll “Nole” He Means Business 

He may be 30 years old, but the 1.88m-tall Serbian, the world’s number two player in men’s singles tennis as ranked by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), shows no sign of stopping.

Djokovic is the first Serbian player to be ranked number one by the ATP, as well as the first male player to win a Grand Slams Single title for Serbia.

Affectionately called “Nole” and well-known for his right-handed (two-handed backhand) style of play, Djokovic turned pro in 2003.

To date, he has won 12 Grand Slams, but only one French Open, after coming in victorious last year.

However, after a recent slump in his career, including a third-round loss in Wimbledon last year and being ousted on the third day of this year’s Australian Open, he’s certainly bold action to get back on form, going as far as to drop his entire coaching team — a rather drastic move this close to the French Open.

The rivalry he shares with Nadal has been well documented — over the years, the two have met head to head on the court 50 times, with Djokovic winning 26 of those matches.


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Andy Murray – Red-hot Scot

World number one player Murray is a three-time Grand Slam winner and two-time Olympic champion.

The 30-year-old right-hander from Scotland cuts an imposing figure on the court with his 1.91m frame. While Murray has never won the French Open, he had a face-off with Djokovic in last year’s finals.

In fact, he has sparred against Djokovic quite a few times, most notably in 2012’s US Open final and Australian Open semi-final — lengthy matches that each lasted almost five hours.

While Djokovic has had the upper hand in most of their showdowns, Murray managed to beat the Serbian in straight sets in the 2016 ATP World Tour Finals to win the coveted top spot.

Like his foe Djokovic, Murray needs to get back into shape before the French Open — having just been beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Italian world number 29 player Fabio Fognini in the Italian Open.

Battle of the fairer sex

After winning the Australian Open’s women’s singles in January, 35-year-old tennis champ Serena Williams announced she was pregnant.

Now that Williams is out of the competitive arena, these female players have a golden opportunity to win a Grand Slam without having to face her:


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Angelique Kerber – Teutonic Talent

After going pro in 2003, the 1.73m-tall player rose to prominence when she reached the semifinals of the 2011 US Open, when she was ranked number 92 in the world.

In 2016, the 29-year-old finally overtook Williams to become a world number one player as ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

Since then, the ambitious German has won 10 singles titles, including major wins like last year’s Australian and US Opens.

In fact, she has won at least one title on every surface on the WTA Tour — be it green clay, red clay, grass or hard court — using her signature aggressive left-handed counter-punching technique.

It will be interesting to see if she can rise to the occasion at the French Open.

*UPDATE: Angelique Kerber was knocked out of the French Open when she lost her opening match on Sunday, June 28.


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Garbiñe Muguruza – Finding Her Footing

Known for her powerful groundstrokes and aggressive right-handed playing style, the 23-year-old Spanish-Venezuelan player managed to beat her idol Williams to win the French Open last year. Having only turned pro in 2012, the feat is nothing short of remarkable.

To date, the 1.82m-tall world number seven player has won three singles titles, including her first Grand Slam title in Paris last year.

But since her victory over Williams, she has been waiting to score another major win since.  With opening-round defeats in Stuttgart and Madrid, Muguruza will have to improve her form and up her game considerably to defend her title successfully at the French Open.


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Simona Halep – Young and Hungry

Halep first started playing tennis when she was four to emulate her older brother and turned pro in 2006.

At 1.68m, this Romanian player may not be very tall, but she is quick on the court, due to her athletic build and aggressive counterpunching right-handed technique.

In 2014, she reached the French Open finals, but lost to Maria Sharapova. In the same year, she lost to Williams in the last round of the WTA Finals.

Still, the world number four player is being touted as a hot favourite to win the women’s singles of the French Open after she bagged her second win in as many years at Madrid Open, a clay event.

In fact, the 25-year-old performs best on clay — having won almost 70 per cent of her games on clay.


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Venus Williams – Unstoppable Star

Since turning pro in 1994, Serena’s older sister Venus has nabbed no less than seven Grand Slam wins.

In the Open era, the 1.85m-tall right-handed player is one of six women to win 200 or more main draw Grand Slam singles matches.

Currently the world number 10 player, the 36-year-old has often held the number one and number two spots alongside her sister in both singles and doubles matches.

Since 1998, she has sparred with her sister in 27 matches and won 11. Out of nine Grand Slam singles finals during which the sisters played against each other, Venus managed to win only two matches.

Now that Serena is out of the action, can Venus get to the finals and beat her opponent hands down?

Don’t miss the action

Catch the glorious action and experience the heart-pumping excitement of the 2017 French Open on StarHub TV, FOX Sports (HD) Ch 208 and FOX Sports 2 (HD) Ch 209, until June 11. Visit starhub.com/french-open for more information.