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Canadian stars look to take advantage of wide open Roland Garros draw


Opportunity is in the air on the ATP Tour. 

"Tennis is in a super competitive spot right now," said Canada's Denis Shapovalov. "It's super entertaining to be a part of." 

During this era, the list of contenders at Roland Garros has almost always been headlined by Rafael Nadal, who claimed his 14th French Open title in 2022. But age is finally catching up to the 37-year-old Spaniard, who has faced a series of injuries of late and is preparing for what may be his final stand at his favourite event. The 'King of Clay' arrives in Paris this year after losing to Hubert Hurkacz 6-1, 6-3 in the second round of the Rome Masters 1,000 event. 

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who just turned 37, is the defending champion at the season's second major, but the Serb star hasn't reached a final at any event this year. After an early loss in Rome, Djokovic took a wildcard into Geneva this week where he fell to World No. 44 Tomas Machac in the semifinals

Australian Open champion and world No. 2 Jannik Sinner pulled out of Madrid and skipped Rome due to a hip injury. He is feeling better now, but readily admits he's not in the shape he'd prefer heading into a Grand Slam. 

World No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz has played just one event since March as he deals with a right forearm issue. The reigning Wimbledon champion revealed he's scared of hitting his forehand at full strength right now. 

Add it all up and this year's French Open feels unpredictable. 

"Super competitive," Shapovalov reiterated. "It's the closest it's ever been, especially with Alcaraz and Sinner being a big question mark now with their health. I think going into the French it's a big question mark for everyone."

The oddsmakers are keeping the faith. Alcaraz (+270) is the favourite at FanDuel followed by Djokovic (+340) and Sinner (+470). 

"Carlos hasn't played much this clay-court swing, same with Sinner," said Canada's top-ranked singles player Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is the No. 21 seed. "So not sure what to expect. But, at the same time, they came here early. If they're playing, it means they're ready to play because these guys, they won't just show up to show up, they're showing up to win."

Rome champion and world No. 4 Alexander Zverev is fourth on the favourites list (+700). He will open up against Nadal, who has the seventh best odds to win (+2400). 

Zverev is competing even though a domestic abuse hearing to address charges against the 27-year-old German is set for Friday in Berlin. Zverev, who has denied the allegations, isn't required to attend. 

Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas (+950), two time French Open finalist Casper Ruud (+1100), Madrid champion Andrey Rublev (+2700), world No. 5 Daniil Medvedev (+3300) and Holger Rune (+3300) round out the top 10 favourites at FanDuel.  

"People talk, 'It's open,' and all that, but at the end of the day, as the tournament progresses, I'm sure we'll see similar names going deep," Auger-Aliassime predicted. "Hopefully I'm a part of that."

Auger-Aliassime lost to Rublev in the final in Madrid, which marked his best ever result at the Masters 1,000 level. 

"I did take some confidence from that week," the 23-year-old said. "You have to try and ride the wave whenever you can."

Auger-Aliassime recorded a career-best run at Roland Garros in 2022 when he reached the fourth round before falling to Nadal in five sets. He sounds primed for a long run this year. 

"The body is feeling good," the Montreal native said. "The head is feeling good, which is obviously, we all know, very important. It's crucial. All the lights are green to go ahead and have a great tournament."

Auger-Aliassime will face world No. 72 Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round. He's won three straight against Nishioka, including a three-set affair just a few weeks ago in Madrid. 

"He can go on stretches of a few games without making any unforced errors so you have to stick with him, be patient and sometimes dig deep physically, get the heart rate going," Auger-Aliassime said. "I'm ready for that challenge. I think I have what it takes to get the win and start off my tournament on a good note."

Shapovalov, meanwhile, is slowly but surely working his way back up the rankings after missing the second half of last season due to a knee injury. After picking up a match win in Geneva this week, he's up to No. 118 in the live rankings. 

"I feel like I'm playing well," the 25-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont. said. "I definitely feel like I'm close to having a run. I deserve it with the work I'm putting in and the way I'm playing. I got to stay patient and stay positive."

Shapovalov posted his best ever Roland Garros result last season when he reached the third round before falling to Alcaraz. 

"My comfort level is fine on clay, I just don't prefer it," Shapovalov acknowledged. "The points are much longer and matches are gruelling. I played over three hours in my Rome first round [a loss to Luciano Darderi]. It's not easy and I just feel like it's a little bit easier with my game style on other surfaces, but I'm definitely capable of playing on this surface and I've shown I'm able to beat good clay courters on these type of courts."

Shapovalov will face world No. 101 Luca Van Assche of France in the first round. It will be their first meeting on tour. 

There will be a third Canadian man in the main draw after Gabriel Diallo won three matches to qualify this week. The 22-year-old from Montreal will be making his debut at this stage. 

"It's a pretty big milestone to qualify for your first Grand Slam but my team and I, we have big aspirations," Diallo said. "Obviously one of them was to qualify and hopefully this can be the start of something special."

Diallo, who arrived in Paris ranked No. 166, celebrated the achievement by going to dinner with his girlfriend. 

"I had calzone pizza, some cheese, some ham and a Coke Zero," he said with a smile. "That's about it. I had to go to bed early and try to get ready for the first round."

Diallo will face Japan's Kei Nishikori in his first ever major match on Sunday. It will also be his first best-of-five match. 

"I'm definitely going to play my game the same way, but you got to manage a little bit your emotions," the University of Kentucky product said. "You can't go crazy first, second game of the match. It will be a learning experience for me."

Diallo is grateful for the chance to play in the same Roland Garros as Nadal. 

"I feel blessed watching him," Diallo said. "At the French Open, he's the greatest to ever do it ... It's going to be sad to see him leave. He made an impact on the sport that goes beyond the sport."