5 reasons Roland Garros is the most difficult Grand Slam to win

5 reasons Roland Garros is the most difficult Grand Slam to win
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There’s no escaping the fact that Roland Garros is an insanely tough tournament to win. Even the best player of all time has only been able to win the tournament three times (Novak Djokovic). Sure, there was a certain Rafael Nadal to contend with over the last 15/20 years, which is a reason this is Djokovic’s least successful slam.

However, this demonstrates that even for a guy like Djokovic, winning the French Open is a remarkably difficult thing to do. But besides the King of Clay standing in the way of anyone who wanted to lift the title in the last two decades, there are other reasons I wish to bring to your attention. 

Some of the reasons I am about to highlight and explain, you will understand and agree with. But I’ve highlighted some reasons that you may not have thought about previously. I hope that this breakdown gives you an entirely different level of appreciation for what players are trying to achieve at Roland Garros.

Anyway, let’s get on with this deep dive into the topic.

The demands of the clay court game

Let’s start with the obvious – the surface. Those slow, high-bouncing clay courts are a different beast entirely from what you get in other slams. Subsequently, you can’t just waltz in and overpower opponents with huge serves or sling-shot forehands, as can be the case on other surfaces. Instead, to succeed at Roland Garros, you need to be a master craftsman, constructing points with precision and patience.

However, every slide and each gruelling point takes its toll at Roland Garros – especially over the full two-week period. Many players have buckled under the demands of those rallies, and the physical dynamic that clay court tennis brings puts the French Open right at the top for its difficulty rating. 

Therefore, you don’t just need immense fitness levels to win the tournament. You also need an almost limitless ability to dig deep and keep going under such challenging conditions.

The depth of clay court specialists in the draw

Secondly, the French Open is unique for the fact that it opens the doors for ‘clay court specialists’ to make a deep draw run. In fact, there are many individuals in the French Open draw for 2024 who you just wouldn’t expect to see in the later rounds at other slams. This ties into the fact that a clay court game style is more effective here than a game style based on power. 

Keep in mind that it takes seven successive wins to take home the French Open title, too. And each clay court specialist you meet will sap your energy, both physically and mentally. Naturally, there’s a chance you can lose to them too, as they are well equipped to handle the clay court game necessary for success in Paris.

Essentially, this means there are more chances to slip up and suffer a shock loss compared with other slams.

The challenge of legends who must be beaten

Speaking of clay court specialists, no name puts fear into the hearts of French Open competitors more than Rafael Nadal. He is the King of Clay with 14 Roland Garros titles to his name. However, he’s not the only legend that you’ll probably need to beat at some stage if you are to lift that Roland Garros trophy.

In addition to Rafa, you have legends like Novak Djokovic, who are still at the top of the tree. You’ve also got ‘emerging legends’ in the form of Alcaraz, Sinner, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Ruud, and others who can play some great tennis on clay, too. Of course, beating these guys in any slam might seem like an impossible task already.

But beating them on clay is something special, which only adds to the challenge of winning Roland Garros. 

The demands from a mental perspective

I’ve stressed the physical demands of clay court tennis earlier. However, I wouldn’t be doing this topic justice if I failed to put the spotlight on the mental demands of Roland Garros. As mentioned previously, the French Open is an event where the resilience required is just out of this world. Each time you lose a brutal rally or drop a set having battled to claim it for more than one hour – a piece of your belief gets taken from you.

Tennis: French Open
Photo by Icon Sport

Not only is this exhausting, but it pushes players to the very limits of their mental capacity, which is why so many players struggle to go deep at the French Open. The pressures and demands are just too intense, and again, this is totally understandable. In fact, if there was a tournament where you’d expect to witness a ‘crack’ in the armour of any player, it would have to be Roland Garros.

The difficulty of managing the Roland Garros crowd

Lastly, as I’m sure you’re aware, if you have tuned in using any French Open live streaming options this year – the French crowd can be somewhat difficult. They certainly have their favourites, yet when they decide they don’t like you, it can be absolutely brutal out there. We’ve seen this time and time again over the years, and they can really get on your back when the chips are down.

Subsequently, you’re not just battling the demons in your own mind when trying to win Roland Garros, but you’re also battling thousands of rowdy spectators. Sure, the energy and enthusiasm of the French crowds build quite an atmosphere. But this is something that doesn’t exactly work in the favour of any individual who doesn’t have the majority support!

Instead, it can cause some seriously dark clouds to enter one’s mind. And for a player to continue grinding out there on the clay, pursuing the title with every ball struck – it takes a level of grit and determination possessed by only the most exceptional players.

Final thoughts

At the time of writing, we are approaching the end of an era with the imminent retirement of Rafael Nadal. Additionally, it looks as though the sun might be setting on the career of Novak Djokovic too. So, who will step up and start dominating Roland Garros in the years to come? I can’t wait to find out!

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