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Hip injury forced Rafael Nadal to pull out of this year's French Open

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As fans head to the French Open this week to watch lesser-known players qualify for the main draw and to watch the legends practice, Rafael Nadal will not be there. He's recovering from a hip injury. So what does the French Open look like without him? Let's call Jon Wertheim, who's a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and an analyst at the Tennis Channel.

Hey there, Jon.

JON WERTHEIM: Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm OK. What's wrong with Nadal?

WERTHEIM: He has a hip injury he suffered in Australia. He's not played since. He is also almost 37 years old, which is, you know, almost dotage in tennis years. And what is a French Open without Nadal? It's like - you know, this is Prince without "Purple." This is going to be an interesting absence - big transition here.

INSKEEP: I guess we should say - is this right? - he has won the French Open 14 times, which must be the majority of the times he's ever played.

WERTHEIM: Not a typo. His match record - 112 and 3.

INSKEEP: Wow.

WERTHEIM: He's won this event more than any tennis player in history has ever won any other event. And you can imagine, with a player with 14 titles to his name absent, the field opens up.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the field. Who would be a favorite then?

WERTHEIM: Novak Djokovic, who is tied with Nadal with 22 majors all-time, this sort of great duel is - you know, he's, on paper, the favorite, but he hasn't won a tournament since Australia. And he, too - he's 36 years old as well. So Carlos Alcaraz, the young Spaniard - sort of the seeds - these are the green shoots of Rafa. He just turned 20 years old. He's probably the favorite. He won the U.S. Open last year. He's a splendid player, but he's just coming off a loss to a player outside the top 100. So the big question is, does he look at this as sort of a one-off, or is his confidence dented headed into this big event?

INSKEEP: OK, so an injury may, in fact, open the way for some newer talent - possibly, anyway. What about on the women's side? I understand there's also a leading woman who will miss the French Open.

WERTHEIM: It's a similar type of story. Iga Swiatek of Poland - again, a splendid player. She's won this event twice before. She won the U.S. Open in the fall and didn't even play near her best tennis. But she, too, is coming off a defeat and an injury. But, you know, it's funny. Men tennis used to have these three stalwarts - Federer, Nadal, Djokovic - these three sort of reliable warhorses, and the women's field was wide-open. And now it's the men's field that's wide-open, and the women's field has their real favorite in Swiatek, provided she's fully healthy.

INSKEEP: What about Simona Halep? What happened to her?

WERTHEIM: Simona Halep is a former No. 1, a former French Open champion, and she, to great surprise, had a positive doping test. She hasn't played since. And recently this weekend, there was news that she had sort of a second violation of her biological passport. You know, essentially, that's, de facto, a second violation. So it's very out of character in as much as we ever know these athletes. There's a lot of surprise, but it doesn't look good. And she's north of age 30, and two doping violations does not bode well for a comeback.

INSKEEP: I guess you better explain what a biological passport is for those who don't know.

WERTHEIM: In international athletics, one way to try to crack down on doping was they had players essentially provide a biological passport of all their bio info and bio data. And if there were inconsistencies, if there was a spike in testosterone, that would be an indication of doping. And we haven't had many violations of this. Usually it's sort of a dirty doping test. Usually it's a violation. But in this case, it's these irregularities in the biological passport.

INSKEEP: Understood. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. Thanks so much.

WERTHEIM: Thanks. Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.