Five Challenger Stars To Watch At Roland Garros
For the next fortnight, all eyes will be on the ATP Tour's top guns as they battle for the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros.
Storylines abound as Rafael Nadal bids for a staggering 12th tournament title, Novak Djokovic targets a second 'Career Grand Slam' and Roger Federer makes his first appearance since 2015. Will Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro make a charge on the terre battue? And which #NextGenATP star will break through on the big stage?
There are plenty of questions to be answered over the next 15 days. The stakes couldn't be higher, not only for the title contenders in Paris, but those hoping to crash onto the scene for the first time. For players looking to rise the ATP Rankings on the ATP Challenger Tour, a berth in a Grand Slam main draw is a significant prize. A platform to showcase their skills and eventually take the next step on the ATP Tour, it presents a huge opportunity on a global stage.
A strong performance in Roland Garros can prove to be career-altering for many Challenger stars, as they target the Top 100 and beyond. So, which players are poised to wreak havoc on the draw? We look at five to watch at the second Grand Slam of the year...
Gregoire Barrere (FRA)
Playing in front of the home fans is a special opportunity for all Frenchmen at Roland Garros. For Barrere, it takes on added significance. A native of Charenton-Le-Pont, located just 20 minutes from Stade Roland Garros, Barrere has played his best tennis on home soil. In fact, this year, 22 of his 24 victories have come in France, including Challenger titles in Quimper and Lille and a first ATP Tour match win in Marseille.
Barrere, who opens against Australia's Matthew Ebden, received a wild card into the main draw after putting together a strong run of results in 2019. Up to No. 129 in the ATP Rankings, he has been a force on the ATP Challenger Tour this year, compiling a 21-7 record - tied for third among match wins leaders on the circuit.
Entering Roland Garros on the heels of a semi-final on the clay of Bordeaux, the 25-year-old's potential path includes 10th seed Karen Khachanov in the second round and countryman Lucas Pouille in the third.
2019 Challenger Win-Loss Pct. Leaders (min. 20 matches played)
|(1) Ricardas Berankis*
|(2) Andrej Martin
|(3) Kamil Majchrzak
|(4) Soonwoo Kwon
|(5) Gregoire Barrere*
*Appearing at Roland Garros
Hugo Dellien (BOL)
When Dellien steps onto Court 13 on Sunday afternoon, facing India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran, there will be little fanfare but plenty at stake. Making his Grand Slam debut, the Bolivian will become the first from his country to compete in a major since 1984, ending a 35-year drought.
It is a well-deserved achievement for the 25-year-old, who crashed onto the Challenger scene last year behind a trio of titles and a Top 100 breakthrough. Now, up to No. 92 in the ATP Rankings, he recently lifted his fourth trophy on the clay of Santiago, Chile, and has already translated success to the ATP Tour. His first ATP Masters 1000 match win was also his first over a Top 50 opponent, stunning Gilles Simon this month in Madrid. And he enters Roland Garros on the heels of a quarter-final run in Geneva, where he pushed eventual champion Alexander Zverev in a tight three-setter.
Tommy Paul (USA)
Few players are relishing the chance to play at Roland Garros more than the 22-year-old American. Last year, Paul was fighting a knee ailment for the majority of the season and he would miss the first three months of 2019 with a quad tendon injury. But, in just his second tournament back, he exhibited nerves of steel to lift a maiden clay-court trophy on home soil in Sarasota.
Paul saved all 15 break points faced to defeat Tennys Sandgren for his second Challenger title, which he followed with a final run in nearby Tallahassee and quarter-final finish in Savannah. It all resulted in a main draw wild card for the clay-court Grand Slam. After starting the year outside the Top 200, the American is up to No. 136 in the ATP Rankings. His dogged defence translates perfectly to clay and the 2015 junior champion is back once again on the terre battue.
Paul will be thrown into the gauntlet from the first ball, opening against fourth seed Dominic Thiem. But, having pushed Kei Nishikori to the brink in his only other Top 10 match, at the 2017 Citi Open, the American has proven he lives for these moments.
Stefano Travaglia (ITA)
With nine players in the draw, Roland Garros has an Italian flair in 2019. Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini and last year's semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato lead the charge, with Matteo Berrettini also seeded. But don't overlook qualifier Stefano Travaglia. The World No. 120 battled through qualifying to reach his first Roland Garros main draw, carrying the momentum from an impressive run on the Challenger circuit.
The 27-year-old has risen more than 30 spots in the ATP Rankings during the clay-court season, thanks to a first title of the year in Francavilla al Mare, quarter-final run in Ostrava and semi-final finish at the award-winning NECKARCUP in Heilbronn. It was in Heilbronn that he suffered a heart-breaking defeat from a set and double break up against top seed Filip Krajinovic. But the Italian has since turned that result into motivation, reeling off six sets in a row to qualify at Roland Garros.
Travaglia is no stranger to the big stage either, having qualified and won a round at this year's Australian Open, before pushing Nikoloz Basilashvili to five sets. The 27-year-old will open against France's Adrian Mannarino, with another Frenchman - Gael Monfils - potentially waiting in the second round.
Mikael Ymer (SWE)
Quick, name the #NextGenATP player with the highest Challenger win percentage this year. That's right, Ymer has been on fire since lifting his maiden trophy in Noumea to open the season. The 20-year-old has been flying the flag for Sweden alongside older brother and World No. 116 Elias Ymer, registering an impressive 18-6 mark (.750) this year.
In just three clay-court tournaments leading up to Roland Garros, Ymer reached a pair of finals in Murcia and Bordeaux and quarter-finals in Francavilla al Mare. And with his mettle tested in qualifying, he came through three tough deciding-set battles, culminating in a 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 win over fourth seed Henri Laaksonen.
Up to a career-high No. 149, Ymer is also sitting in ninth place in the ATP Race To Milan. A strong run at Roland Garros could see him bolster his bid to appear at the Next Gen ATP Finals. He opens against another qualifier, Blaz Rola, with Geneva champion Alexander Zverev potentially lurking in the second round.
Others To Watch
Two Frenchmen - Quentin Halys and Corentin Moutet - enter their home Grand Slam on the heels of clay-court Challenger finals. Halys finished runner-up to Pablo Cuevas in Aix-en-Provence, while Moutet was a finalist in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, two weeks ago.
Blaz Rola claimed his first title of the year in Leon, Mexico, last month, before storming through qualifying in Paris without dropping a set. And keep an eye on Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis, who owns a tour-leading .864 win percentage this year (19-3) and three titles. His last match win on clay was in 2017, when he lifted the trophy in Shymkent.