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French Open Underway Without One of Its Biggest Draws

  • Defending champ Rafael Nadal is out this year with a lingering injury.
  • Tournament looking for new storylines without its most decorated winner.
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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The second Grand Slam on the tennis calendar is underway as the French Open looks to find a new identity this year without defending champion Rafael Nadal.

Men’s favorites Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz each won their first-round matches in straight sets at Roland Garros, while American Jessica Pegula, the No. 3 seed and daughter of Bills and Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula, easily advanced to the second round in the women’s draw.

But Nadal’s absence has been the biggest story as the Spaniard is missing the tournament because of a lingering hip issue after he won last year’s event for the 14th time.

“I always want to watch Rafa playing,” Alcaraz, the No. 1-ranked men’s player, said in the event’s lead-up. “Hopefully, we’ll see him next year that he’s 100%.”

“Him and Roland Garros is something special,” added American player Coco Gauff.

Nadal has said he is likely to retire in 2024 but is hopeful for one more run at the French Open and winning his 15th trophy in Paris.

Money Talks

Prize money for this year’s event has increased by more than 12% to $54.6 million. 

Former top-ranked men’s player and two-time French Open champion Jim Courier recently explained on the Front Office Sports Today podcast how pro tennis is striving for a healthier existence with top players helping lower-ranked competitors get paid more.

“Players like Federer and Djokovic and Nadal and Venus Williams [said] ‘We don’t need a check that’s $3 million this year to be $3.5 million next year.’ If it goes up to $3.1 million … and then first round prize money goes from $25,000 to $40,000, that’s a better use of that money,” Courier said.

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