Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2018 French Open.

Welcome to Paris, may we interest you in one of the prime empty seats over the next two weeks?

As is customary every year of the end of May, the tennis world has descended upon Paris for the French Open and, in what’s become a little bit like a yearly tradition, the tennis world is now complaining about the fact that Court Philippe Chatrier has just so many dang empty seats.

With a simple Google search, you can find a large number of different headlines hammering home this simple truth, which basically boils down to: what the fuck, France?! (Same deal with a Twitter search too, btw.)

Are you too good, France, for the tennis? Every year, it does feel like Roland Garros is basically just there on the calendar as the bastard child of the four major tournaments. The US Open is in America so it’s always the biggest of deals, Wimbledon loves to drown itself in decorum and tradition while the Australian Open launches the season.

By comparison, what exactly does the French Open have going for it? The fact that it’s in Paris, one of the most gorgeous cities in the world? The fact that it’s an exercise in inevitability in awaiting Rafael Nadal’s latest triumph? What??

Whatever the case may be, it seems to always lead to empty seats, and it’s pissing people off. To some extent, we can understand the frustration, how empty seats maybe should have gone to more deserving fans, or at least fans who would have made sure to watch Roger Federer and not drink champagne at lunch.

But is that problem really this unique to the French Open? We once saw the Rogers Cup in Toronto with crowds that seemed more in line with high school volleyball than international women’s tennis. It’s not a French Open, not really.

So whatever, Paris. Do you. People will complain, if only because they can.

All of this to say that yes we are in Paris for the 2018 season’s second major, and it’s time for another of our usual looks at the forces in presence in Paris. Who’s hot, who’s not, and who’s just happy to be here?

Welcome to the 2018 French Open power rankings.

1. Rafael Nadal

The King of Clay should add another Coupe des Mousquetaires to his mantle in a few days time, and really you should only be surprised if he doesn’t. It’s utterly ridiculous that in a main draw with 127 other competitors the end result could feel like such a foregone conclusion, but here we are.

2. Dominic Thiem

We’re sliding Dominic Thiem at No. 2 here for the simple reason that the last two times Nadal lost on clay came against this man. If the Spaniard doesn’t win the French Open, Thiem will likely have something to say about it.

5. Simona Halep

Simona Halep arrives at Roland Garros as the defending finalist, and still without a Grand Slam tournament to her name. That shouldn’t mean anything, but in the eyes of many it does. Is this finally her time?

7. Alexander Zverev

For as heralded and decorated and excellent as Alexander Zverev has been over his young career, he has been disappointing at Grand Slams. We wouldn’t mind if this were to change at long last.

15. Novak Djokovic

Over the past few years, the Serb has been inconsistent, injured, hurt, and at times all three at once, and his results have fallen mightily low. He used to be the safest bet in men’s tennis, and now we must count as progress and encouraging a loss against Nadal in two straight tight but ultimately decisive sets.

19. Petra Kvitova

If only because she might have a little more peace of mind now, we’re slotting Petra Kvitova pretty high on this list.

23. Karolina Pliskova

24. Maria Sharapova

A year ago, Maria Sharapova’s absence loomed large over the French Open, the tournament director having decided not to grant the Russian a wild card entry into the main draw for reasons that still don’t make that much sense. In 2018, she appears ready for a deep run deep…so long as she can escape a potential third round match against sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova.

40. Lucky Losers

The French Open main draw has been hit with a number of late withdrawals despite changes having been made to make this situation less likely to occur. And while it’s great to see other less heralded players get a second chance, the peak conditions for  great matches simply aren’t there when that happens. The situation is especially dire on the men’s side.

Still, there is strength in numbers.

50. Serena Williams

Serena Williams had apparently come back too soon earlier this season when she competed in Indian Wells and Miami, and we’re thrilled to see how she’ll fare on one of the biggest stages of the sport. She may be ranked as low as No. 453, but she’s still the best tennis player ever, man or woman. Just ask Roger Federer.

66. Naomi Osaka

Has the 20-year-old Japanese got next? The clay courts aren’t her favourite and best surface, but this year’s French Open draw is a prime occasion for the player who hasn’t really done much on tour since capturing the Indian Wells title in March.

128. Stan Wawrinka

So far this season, Stan Wawrinka, with a record of 4-6, has been utterly content in simply letting the tennis happen all around him as he doesn’t do a whole lot to affect anything, like he just has been utterly inconsequential to the outcome of matches and tournaments. Will the French Open be any different?

255. Johanna Konta

Here, a story told in two different headlines published on two successive days. French Open: Britain’s Johanna Konta says she is a threat. Johanna Konta falls at first hurdle of the French Open yet again.

Life comes at you fast.

256. Simone Bolelli

There always must be a player ranked last. The first-round opponent of the great Nadal seems like a prime candidate for this distinction.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG


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