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Action Begins At French Open, Tennis' Second Grand Slam

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The tennis world is focused on Paris this week. The French Open got underway yesterday, and a few big names are hoping it's a chance to make tennis history. For more, we're joined now by Sports Illustrated writer Courtney Nguyen. She's on the line from Paris. Welcome.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: Bonjour.

MONTAGNE: Bonjour to you. Well, let's talk about one of the French Open's favorites - Rafael Nadal. He's won nine of the last 10 times, but he enters this tournament under a bit of a cloud. So tell us what the story is there.

NGUYEN: Normally, we presume that Rafael Nadal is just going to tear right through it and really establish the reasons why he's considered the greatest clay player in the history of the game. But this year, he comes into the French Open without a European red clay title for the first time in his career. He had an injury that knocked him out last year and has really been kind of building his level ever since.

And while all of that is happening with him, we have Novak Djokovic, who is the No. 1 player on the men's tour. He's been absolutely dominant in 2015 having won the Australian Open. He comes into Paris on a 22-match win streak, and this is the Slam he wants. It would complete his set of all four majors in his career. And he comes in incredibly focused and just on form. So the combination of Rafa not playing his best and the surge of Novak Djokovic creates one of the most wide-open French Opens that we've seen in the last decade.

MONTAGNE: And on the ladies' side, an American favorite, Serena Williams - she's chasing an even bigger piece of history this year - Steffi Graf's record 22 major victories. Can Serena do it?

NGUYEN: Serena can absolutely do it. She's obviously 33 years old, getting up there in age. But we say that, and yet, she is the No. 1 player on at the women's tour and by a fairly large margin when she can play her best tennis. Now, the question is, can she play her best tennis? Can she sustain a top level in seven matches over two weeks? This is historically the most difficult major for her to win, but if she gets this title, you know, we kind of start to think a little bit about whether or not she can win actually all four majors this year. And for her to be able to complete the calendar Slam at 33 years old would be one of the most ridiculous feats in sports ever.

MONTAGNE: Courtney, I understand that on the first day of play yesterday, the big surprise was actually a security scare. They took it pretty seriously.

NGUYEN: Yeah, I mean, it was really unfortunate. Roger Federer won his opening round match fairly easily, and as he was walking off the court, a young fan was able to get past security out on the big court, Court Philippe-Chatrier, and try and take a selfie with Roger. Now, you know, in most sports, I think you can probably say, well, fans breach the grounds all the time. But in tennis, we take this incredibly seriously given the incident back in 1993 with the stabbing of Monica Seles by a deranged fan. So Roger Federer made it very clear he was not happy about it.

And so it caused quite a kerfuffle. The tournament director had to give a press conference and kind of attempt to reassure people. I'm not sure he did. I think that he kind of dismissed it a little bit as a one-off and said that the security issues at the French Open were fine. But this is not the first time we've seen this happen here at Roland Garros.

MONTAGNE: That's Sports Illustrated reporter Courtney Nguyen joining us from the French Open in Paris. Thank you.

NGUYEN: No problem - any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.