Roland Garros 2016 is now less than 24 hours away from getting underway. All the players (bar a few who have been competing in finals today in their last pre-French Open tournaments) have arrived, the draws has been made and the excitement is bubbling. Whilst the sport's biggest names continue to dominate the headlines and analysts plot their potential routes to the title, there are some who could upset the odds and provide a real test for those being tipped as favourites to be crowned the King and Queen of Court Philippe Chatrier in a fortnight's time. Here's five players in the men's and women's draw who could be potential dark horses in Paris.
The 22-year old Austrian has sensationally burst on to the scene in the past year, but especially at the start of this season. With three titles to his name from four finals, including successfully defending his Nice title this afternoon against good friend Alexander Zverev, five of Thiem's six career titles so far (all won in the last twelve months) have come on clay. Only Novak Djokovic has won more matches (37) than Thiem (36) in 2016. With this being his favourite surface, surely his best French Open result of reaching just the second round on two occasions will be beaten.
He starts against Inigo Cervantes, with the winner facing either Thiemo De Bakker or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez; matches the world no.15 should win comfortably. Zverev is a possible third round opponent, but all eyes when the draw was made yesterday were on the possibility of a last-16 meeting with Rafael Nadal, a mouth-watering prospect considering Thiem has beaten the King of Clay, on clay, on route to the Buenos Aires title back in February. Nadal did get his revenge in Monte Carlo, but the Austrian created 17 break point opportunities, albeit only taking two of them.
If they were to face off again, and the no.13 seed these next two weeks can create those chances again, surely he will be able to take more of them. Should that match come to fruition, and Thiem could hand Nadal just his third ever defeat in Paris, who knows where the Austrian could go from there.
"I'm so proud of you. You're going to be No.1 for sure." Those were the words of current world no.1 Serena Williams after she had just defeated her fellow American Madison Keys in Rome last Sunday to win her first title (70th overall) in nine months. Williams' quote about her opponent isn't just seen by her, yet by the masses. Keys is a special talent, and whilst Sloane Stephens was seen a few years ago as Serena's potential successor (and she has been the best American on the WTA tour this year with three titles to her name), the 21-year old from Rock Island, Illinois has emerged in recent times as being the big name of the next generation of US tennis.
It was a fantastic run to her first ever clay court final, with victories over Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza on route, and looking at her draw in Paris, the former Australian Open semi-finalist could very well be licking her lips at the prospect of reaching her second major last-four a week on Thursday. Current Melbourne champion Angelique Kerber is in her quarter, but she has been alarming inconsistent, especially on the red stuff, since her first Grand Slam triumph back in January, with early exits in both Madrid and Rome.
Timea Bacsinszky, Venus Williams and Britain's Johanna Konta are all in her quarter as well, but in form and high on confidence, Keys should really fancy her chances of going very deep into the tournament. And who could potentially be across the net should she get to the semis? Why a certain Serena Williams of course.
A withdrawal from Gael Monfils at the French Open. Sadly for the lovers of tennis, we won't see the unpredictable Frenchman on his home turf this year. We also didn't see Monfils at Roland Garros back in 2012, although David Goffin wouldn't have minded, as that provided him with the platform to make his big breakthrough. The Belgian became the first lucky loser in seventeen years to reach the fourth round of a major, and although he eventually lost to Roger Federer, he did take the first set of the Swiss great.
Nowadays, Goffin is on the verge of the top-10, having arguably the best year of his career, reaching his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Indian Wells and immediately backing that up by reaching his second in Miami, whilst also getting to the quarter-finals in Rome after handing Tomas Berdych a double bagel. A repeat of his Paris run of four years ago should be on the cards at the very least, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga projected to be his last-16 opponent, and at the moment, Goffin would appear to be favourite should those two clash.
Thiem or Nadal could then await in the quarter-finals, yet one would expect the world no.13 will quietly and efficiently go about his business, at the venue where he first made his name. He could go under the radar, but Goffin could very well have another huge Paris impact.
Think of Romanian women's tennis and Simona Halep will immediately spring to mind. However, as the event in Madrid recently proved, it isn't just about Halep (granted, she went on to win the title). Half of the quarter-final line-up hailed from the Eastern European country. Sorana Cirstea and Patricia Maria Tig were there, the now infamously unorthodox wasn't. Irina-Camelia Begu was the fourth, and she may have lost to eventual champion Halep, yet she showed why it isn't just about the world no.6.
She handed her friend a second set bagel and whilst the Roland Garros finalist of a couple of years ago went on to take the victory, Begu used her run to the Madrid last-eight as a springboard to go a step further a week later, booking a place in the semi-finals in Rome, where again, the eventual champion, in this case Serena Williams, handed her defeat. She'll be seeded 25 in Paris, although she's in a section containing Roberta Vinci, not in the greatest of form right now, and Petra Kvitova, who we can never know which Kvitova will show up.
It's a draw which has its opportunities for Begu. She took advantage in Madrid and she took advantage in Rome. If she can use the confidence she has gained on this clay court season so far, Halep won't be the only Romanian being discussed over the next fortnight in the French capital.
Looking at a draw where you could potentially have to beat half of the top ten seeds to win a major title would leave you wondering why on earth you packed your bags for Paris. That is the prospect awaiting Nick Kyrgios as he arrives at Roland Garros. Gasquet, Nishikori, Murray, Wawrinka, Djokovic/Nadal. Well it would be quite the way to land a first Grand Slam title going through that lot. Whilst it might be a little premature for the young Aussie to get his hands on one of the sport's four biggest prizes, the marmite of men's tennis right now can't stop being discussed.
Let's not forget, whilst there have been quite the few controversial moments already in the short career of Kyrgios so far, he has already reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, becoming the first teenager to have two major last-eight appearances on his resume since Federer (and we know how his career has turned out). It just goes to show how the now 21-year old, when he gets his head down and focusses on his tennis, can, on his day, be a match for all. Having won his first title of his career in Marseille earlier this year, not losing a set that week, proves just how mighty talented Kyrgios is.
He will be talked quite a bit over the next two weeks, as has become the case wherever he rocks up now. Love him or hate him, he most certainly isn't dull. And the game's great names know for sure that this future major winner will provide a huge test should they come to collide with Kyrgios.