Five things we learned from the French Open as Olympic tennis qualification takes shape  

Roland-Garros has wrapped up in Paris, and the tennis picture is becoming clearer for the coming Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by JB Autissier / Panoramic

The player field for the tennis event at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is becoming clearer after the conclusion of the French Open, which wrapped up Sunday (13 June) in Paris.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will use Monday (14 June)’s rankings on the ATP and WTA tours to create its initial entry list for the coming Olympics, which will feature draws of 64 singles players and 32 doubles teams in both the men’s and women’s events, as well as a 16-team mixed doubles field.

The finalised Olympic entry list will be released later this month.

Pending respective national governing body’s approval, top players including French Open champ Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Ashleigh Barty, Osaka Naomi and Serena Williams have all made the rankings cut.

Also in pending confirmation: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev on the men’s side; while French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova (pictured above), runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, as well as Simona Halep, Bianca Andreescu and young American Coco Gauff are all within the ranking cutoff.

“I’m definitely planning on playing the Olympics. I haven’t thought too much about it yet [otherwise],” Gauff, 17, said after her first-ever run to a major quarter-final at the French Open. “But I’m excited to play; I’m happy my result here contributed to me qualifying.”

How Olympic tennis qualification works

The ITF – the governing body of international tennis – follows detailed guidelines for the Olympics. National teams are limited to six players on the men’s and six players on the women’s side, four in singles and two in doubles.

In the singles draws, 56 players are “direct acceptances,” meaning the highest-ranked eligible players (again, no more than four per nation) make the draw. A reserved eight qualification places (called “ITF Places”) then fill out the 64-player singles draws.

Previous Olympic gold medallists are saved a spot by the ITF, which could help London 2012 and Rio 2016 men's winner Andy Murray into Tokyo. The current world No.123 and former No.1 has dealt with injuries and subsequent surgeries over the past two years.

2016 women’s winner Monica Puig announced she would not participate due to a shoulder surgery.

Held in front of limited crowds due to Covid-19 restrictions, the French Open took place one week later than its normal staging, but otherwise was a closer version to “normal” than last year’s October staging.

Men: Djokovic wins epic final for 19th Grand Slam title

The Serbian top seed looked down and out against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was contesting his first Grand Slam final.

The Greek, seeded fifth, got off to a fantastic start and won the first two sets 7-6 (8-6) 6-2 playing nearly flawless tennis before Djokovic found his energy again.

The world number one had already erased a two-set deficit in the fourth round. And he produced another incredible comeback, taking the next two sets 6-3 and 6-2.

Djokovic's greater experience showed in the decider as the 34-year-old held on to win the fifth set 6-4.

And with that he becomes the first player in the Open era to clinch each of the four Grand Slams at least twice. His first title at Roland Garros came in 2016.

His 19th Grand Slam title also moves him only one behind Nadal and Federer who share the all-time record.

Champ twice: Krejcikova does double duty

In the women’s field, upsets were aplenty – and world No.33 Krejcikova, previously a success story in the doubles game – emerged as women’s winner, beating Pavlyuchenkova in a thrilling women’s final, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.

She followed that up with a third Grand Slam triumph in doubles alongside Czech countrywoman Katerina Siniakova, becoming the first woman in 21 years (Mary Pierce, 2000) to win the singles and doubles in the same year. 

Krejcikova had been ranked as low as No.114 as recently as last September, when she made a run to the French Open third round. An all-court player, she was previously mentored by the late Grand Slam champion Jana Novotna, whom she dedicated her win to.

Find out more about the new Grand Slam singles champ here.

Women: Open field shows depth of game

It’s the sixth consecutive French Open in which a first-time Slam winner emerged as champion as the women’s game continues to show its depth. Osaka Naomi, who had won the last two majors, withdrew from the event after the first round, having revealed she had battled depression since 2018 and opting out of media interviews for the event.

Defending champion Iga Swiatek fell at the quarter-final stage, while 2019 winner Barty was undone by injury mid-tournament.

Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova are joined by semi-finalists Maria Sakkari and Tamara Zidansek as Parisian success stories.

Serena Williams, Halep, Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Garbiñe Muguruza and more remain forces in the women’s game – but Wimbledon – set to start 28 June, will help shape who the favourites are going into Tokyo 2020.

Where do Nadal and Federer go from here?

It was just a third career loss at Roland-Garros for 13-time champion Nadal, Djokovic beating him 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 in a thrilling semi-final, their third set called by many on social media as one of the most hotly-contested in the sport’s history. 

“No doubt he deserved to win,” said Nadal of Djokovic. “Probably was not my best day out there. Even if I [fought] and I put a lot of effort [in], the position on the shots has not been that effective tonight. “Against a player like him that takes the ball early, you are not able to take him out of his positions, then is very difficult.”

Federer, meanwhile, took solace in his three wins in Paris, then opted out of the rest of the event, citing a lingering back injury that he didn’t want to inflame. Some criticised the 20-time major winner for his mid-tournament withdrawal, though Federer had some pre-event he didn’t see himself as one of the favourites. He is an eight-time Wimbledon champion, and while he has an Olympic gold in doubles (with Stan Wawrinka at Beijing 2008), he’s yet to win one in singles – much the same as Djokovic.

French first stop in busy summer: Wimbledon, Olympics next

The tennis tour has slowly returned to its normal schedule, and will next head to London later this month for Wimbledon, set for 28 June to 11 July. Just 12 days thereafter is the Opening Ceremony for Tokyo 2020, with the tennis event set to get underway on 24 July and go for one week.

Here is a full schedule of play for the Olympic tennis event.