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Tennis: French Open 2016 set to be a classic

Spare a thought for the tipsters and the punters, the 2016 French Open could be the most difficult to call in over a decade.

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Spare a thought for the tipsters and the punters, the 2016 French Open could be the most difficult to call in over a decade.

'King of Clay' and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal is resurgent as he seeks 'La Decima' at Roland Garros, but enters the tournament nursing defeats to world number one Novak Djokovic and the men's game's form player on dirt, Andy Murray.

Murray was beaten by Nadal in Monte Carlo, before vanquishing the Spaniard on his way to a final defeat by Djokovic in Madrid, which in turn was avenged in Rome.

Roger Federer's withdrawal with a back injury means Murray and Nadal are once again on collision course in Paris, while Djokovic and defending champion Stan Wawrinka could meet in the last four after an epic final last year.

Add into the mix the likes of Kei Nishikori, who has only lost to Nadal and Djokovic on the ATP Tour since March, Nick Kyrgios, whose five wins against top-10 opposition in 2016 are only bettered by Djokovic, and Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, a semi-finalist in two of the last three editions, and the tournament looks set to be box office.

The usual suspects are no less intriguing.

Nadal can match his beloved Real Madrid's Champions League record as he chases 'La Decima' and title wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona are in stark contrast to the 10-4 record on clay he took into last year's tournament.

Errors crept into the former world number one's game as he lost a 7-5 7-6 (7-4) epic to Djokovic in Rome, the scoreline doing little to reflect the dominance Nadal had enjoyed for large parts of the contest.

Djokovic referred to his ability to find "an extra gear" after that gruelling win and the Serbian will need to hit the ground running as the only major to elude him pulls into view.

He had a 26-1 Tour record coming into the clay season – during which he has gone 8-2, the final defeat to Murray in Rome much more palatable than a three-set humiliation at the hands of Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo.

As Djokovic looks to master Paris for the first time, a fourth Roland Garros win will give Serena Williams a major page in the history books.

Williams has been stuck on 21 grand slams – three behind record holder Margaret Court – since victory at Wimbledon last year had set her up for the 'Serena Slam'.

Flavia Pennetta and Angelique Kerber have since added new names to the grand slam honour roll, while Williams' defeats to Klara Koukalova, Christina McHale and Petra Kvitova last year suggest the American's powers on clay may have waned further.

Nevertheless Williams is the defending champion and won at Roland Garros in 2013, but champion either side of that win – Maria Sharapova – will, of course, be absent to open the women's field up nicely.

Victoria Azarenka was the WTA Tour's form player in the early part of the year, but, like Federer, a back injury has limited her clay season and just her second defeat of 2016 came in Rome at the hands of Irina-Camelia Begu.

Sloane Stephens, Kerber, Simona Halep and Williams have been the notable winners on clay this year.

Stephens, along with Azarenka, has claimed a Tour-leading three tournament wins this season and has suffered a fourth-round elimination in each of the past three editions.

Elsewhere the powerful Madison Keys, who proved stern opposition for Serena in the Rome final, and Garbine Muguruza lurk in a field that could well throw up another surprise winner.

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