French Open preview: Anything is possible for Bianca Andreescu

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The French Open begins Sunday

The second tennis Grand Slam event of the year is also the last before most of the spots in the Tokyo Olympic tournaments will be decided. Here’s more on that and the other interesting subplots for the clay-court major:

Four Canadians are in the singles draws. Women’s No. 6 seed Bianca Andreescu is on course to meet No. 2 Naomi Osaka (who’s done talking to the press) in the quarter-finals if they both make it that far. Also in the women’s draw is 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez, who won the French Open girls’ title in 2019 and is now ranked 69th in the world. On the men’s side, Canada has 17th-seeded Milos Raonic, who’s playing for the first time since March, and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime. Canada’s highest-ranked men’s player, No. 14 Denis Shapovalov, is out with a shoulder injury. More time to work on his rap game.

No one knows what to expect from Andreescu. Canada’s best (and also most maddening) player finally returned this week from her latest health-related absence. It began with her retiring from the Miami Open final on April 3 with a foot injury and also included a positive COVID-19 test. The 2019 U.S. Open champ looked good in crushing two overmatched opponents at the clay-court Strasbourg Open this week, but she then withdrew with an abdominal injury. Andreescu insisted it was nothing serious and she just wanted to protect her health for the French, but any kind of ailment is concerning for someone who’s played a total of 14 matches in the last 19 months. Her volatile mix of injury problems, enormous talent and competitive spirit give Andreescu perhaps the widest range of outcomes of anyone in Paris. She could pull out of her first-round match or make a run at the title, and you wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Serena Williams probably won’t catch Margaret Court here. Everyone knows Serena is the greatest women’s player of all time. But Court still has a 24-23 edge in Grand Slam singles trophies, thanks to the 13 she won before the more-competitive Open Era. It’ll be tough for Williams to pull even in Paris for a few reasons. She’s 39 years old, hasn’t won a major in four years, and doesn’t excel on clay — she’s “only” won the French Open three times, compared to her six U.S. Open titles and seven each at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Williams is seeded seventh, and the betting markets agree: half a dozen players have shorter odds to win the tournament than hers. The favourite is defending champ Iga Swiatek, who’s seeded eighth. Despite its play-warping surface, the French Open simply follows the world rankings for its seedings rather than adjust them based on clay proficiency.

Only one of the “big three” can make it to the men’s final. For the first time ever at a Slam, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all landed in the same half of the draw. Nadal is going for his 14th French Open singles title. That would give him twice as many as anyone in the Open Era (Chris Evert won the women’s crown seven times) and would put him in sole possession of the record for men’s Grand Slam titles (he and Federer are currently tied at 20, with world No. 1 Djokovic knocking on the door at 18). The greatest clay court player of all time is seeded third, which the betting markets know is nonsense. Nadal is such a clear favourite that he’s about even money against the entire rest of the field. Federer, who turns 40 in August, is seeded eighth. He hasn’t won a major in three years, and knee problems and the pandemic have limited him to just three matches in the past 15 months.

This is the last chance for players to improve their chances of getting into the Olympics. The men’s and women’s rankings on June 14 — the day after the French Open ends — will determine most of the entries for the singles and doubles event in Tokyo. The men’s and women’s singles tournaments will each have 64 players, and 56 of these spots will be decided by the rankings. Countries are limited to four entries in each singles event. So, right now, assuming they’re healthy and want to go to the Olympics, it looks like Andreescu is a lock and Fernandez is on the bubble for the women’s event. Shapovalov, Raonic and Auger-Aliassime should have a spot in the men’s. Vasek Pospisil, ranked 65th but not playing in Paris, might have a shot too.

Clay-court master Rafael Nadal is going for his 14th French Open singles title. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Andre De Grasse placed second in a photo-finish 200m. The 2016 Olympic and 2019 world championship silver medallist ran 19.89 seconds — the fifth-fastest time by anyone this year. But he got nipped by 1/100th of a second by pre-race favourite Kenny Bednarek of the U.S. at today’s Diamond League meet in Doha. Canada’s Aaron Brown finished third in 20.25. Watch the race here. This was De Grasse’s and Brown’s second time losing to Bednarek in six days. The American won Sunday’s 200m at the Diamond League opener in England, with Brown second and De Grasse third. Two other Canadians competed today. Alysha Newman finished last in the women’s pole vault after failing to clear the opening height. Reigning Olympic high jump champ Derek Drouin finished in the middle of the pack in his first Diamond League appearance since 2017. He’s been plagued by injuries over the last few years, including a torn left and right Achilles and a herniated disc in his neck.

Canada is off to a great start at the men’s 3-on-3 basketball Olympic qualifier. The Edmonton-based team representing Canada improved to 2-0 today by beating the Netherlands 17-15. Canada’s final two group-stage games are on Saturday, vs. Latvia (12:40 p.m. ET) and host Austria (2:20 p.m. ET). The top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals on Sunday. The semifinals and the third-place game, which will decide the three Olympic spots up for grabs here, are also on Sunday. Watch all of this weekend’s games in the men’s and women’s tournaments live here.

The Champions League final is Saturday. English rivals Manchester City and Chelsea will play for the biggest title in men’s club soccer at 3 p.m. ET in Portugal. Chelsea is trying to win it for the second time, and first since 2012. Man City, which only became a powerhouse about a decade ago after the club was bought by the unimaginably rich Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family, has never won it — or even appeared in the final. But, fresh off capturing their fifth Premier League title in the last 10 years, the Gallagher brothers’ favourite side are heavy favourites to finally do it.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Besides the aforementioned 3-on-3 basketball Olympic qualifier, here’s what you can live stream and watch on TV:

Volleyball: Watch the Canadian men’s team play Argentina (Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET) and Brazil (Sunday at 11:45 a.m. ET) at the FIVB Nations League tournament in Italy on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Our Game: As the Canadian Elite Basketball League gets set to tip off its third season on June 24, this documentary tells the story of how the CEBL became the first sports league with teams in Canada to return to action after the pandemic hit last year. Watch it Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Road to the Olympic Games: This week’s show features the Doha Diamond League track and field meet and the beach volleyball World Tour event in Sochi, Russia. Watch it Saturday from 3-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

You’re up to speed. Have a good weekend.



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