On Sunday, the 114th edition of the French Open begins in Paris. In the men's, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are favorites, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the women's.
Between May 24 and June 7, Stade Roland Garros will be the centre of the tennis world. The second Grand Slam of the year is the high point in the clay-court season and has a 28-million-euro ($31.2 million) purse, the second most in the 2015 season behind Wimbledon (37 million euros). Both the men's and women's champion this year will collect 1.8 million euros this year, while even a first-round exit would result in a 27,000 euro return.
After the comfortable win in Rome, world number one Novak Djokovic is favorite for the tournament. "Along with 2011, this is probably my best season," said Djokovic after his triumph at the ATP Masters in Italy against Roger Federer. The Serbian is on a 22-match unbeaten run and has already won five tournaments this year. After securing the Australian Open title, Djokovic won Masters events in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and, of course, Rome.
"I have a lot of confidence and I'm really enjoying my tennis at the moment. I hope that it continues," said the sport's dominant force. "I've just got to keep the routine going. I hope that can take me where I want to go."
The one that's missing in Djokovic's trophy cabinet is the one from the clay court in Paris.
Defending champion Nadal has won nine titles and 66 of his 67 matches at Roland Garros so far, but his 2015 season has been less impressive. "I'm seeded lower than ever coming into Roland Garros," said Nadal after his quarterfinal defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka in Rome. With that in mind, Nadal's fears were confirmed when the draw on Friday afternoon left him with the possibility of facing Djokovic as early as the quarterfinals.
With Nadal out of form, Djokovic's main challenger looks set to be Andy Murray. The Scot has impressed on clay so far this season, winning in Munich and beating Nadal in the Madrid final. In Rome, the 2012 Olympic Champion withdrew due to exhaustion, in order to be fit for Paris.
Sharapova back in number two spot
The women's defending champion Maria Sharapova goes into the tournament ranked two in the world. The 27-year-old Russian moved up a spot in the world ranking's after winning in Rome to set-up a battle against 19-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. The American is by far the best female tennis player in the world, clay included.
The last German to win in Paris was Steffi Graf over 16 years ago, when she beat Martina Hingis in one of tennis' unforgettable finals. Since then, Andrea Petkovic, Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki have tried to follow in her footsteps, but have yet to be as successful.
The dream does not look set to be realized in Paris this year either. Petkovic, who was a semifinalist last year, is battling with her fitness, Kerber with her form. They both need two perfect weeks to progress, while Germany's men would see the tournament as a success were any to make the second week.