1. Will Riner return to put 10-year, 152-fight unbeaten run on the line?
All the signs are encouraging that double Olympic champion and 10-time world champion Riner, 30, will indeed compete in Paris for the first time since 2013 and open his 2020 season on home soil.
The French great, who is undefeated at the Paris Grand Slam with five victories, returned last summer after a two-year break to win the Montreal Grand Prix and then followed up with gold at the Brasilia Grand Slam in October.
France’s favourite sportsman has not fought since then and due to the stop-start nature of his competitive schedule, as he boldly plots his path to Paris 2024, Riner is still a lowly number 33 on the IJF World Ranking List.
The PSG Judo Club member is listed in the official team selection by FF Judo for their home Grand Slam and needs the points to be in the world’s top 18 by the end of May which means that he needs to compete several times and win over the next few months.
Ultimately a decision about his highly-desired participation in Paris will be made several days out from the event by the great man himself and the team around him.
If Teddy dons his golden backpatch a week Sunday then some fascinating matches are in prospect with Kageura Kokoro (JPN), Roy Meyer (NED), Inal Tasoev (RUS), Or Sasson (ISR) and David Moura (BRA) among a field bursting with world-class heavyweights.
2. Bilodid (8-0 v Japanese) tipped to meet new opposition in the form of Paris debutant Koga Wakana
Double world champion Daria Bilodid, 19, is mere months away from her first Olympic Games and her first opportunity to capture the sport’s greatest prize.
The Ukrainian sensation looks unstoppable on her road to Tokyo 2020 but now the pressure and expectancy on her young shoulders has reached almost unbearable levels as the -48kg dynamo carries the weight of a nation into the summer spectacle.
Bilodid was beaten once last year as she slipped to her first defeat since 2017 as France’s Melanie Clement shocked the world by scoring twice against the teen wonder.
The three-time Grand Slam winner, who is riding a 13-fight winning-streak since her loss to Clement, is the only champion on the IJF World Judo Tour who has never lost against Japanese opposition.
That remarkable and unheard of feat features a 4-0 clean sweep over her nearest rival Tonaki Funa who finished second in their 2018 and 2019 World Championship finals.
Bilodid could be set to face new Japanese opposition in Paris and an opponent even younger than herself.
Junior World Championships winner Koga Wakana, 18, has been fast-tracked in the Japanese setup having claimed Montreal Grand Prix gold and bronze at the Osaka Grand Slam either side of her age group title in 2019.
Koga will walk into the AccorHotels Arena with nothing to lose and everything to gain and would love to match her skills against the category’s standard-bearer who will, at some point of her fairytale career, emerge on the losing side against a Japanese judoka.
3. Is Deguchi the Olympic champion in waiting?
World champion, world number one and defending Paris Grand Slam champion Christa Deguchi (CAN) is quite simply the judoka to beat in the -57kg category.
Deguchi, 24, recorded one of the greatest season’s in IJF World Judo Tour history in 2019 as she won Grand Slams in Paris and Ekaterinburg, a Grand Prix in Montreal, the Pan American Championships and the World Championships.
Canada’s first world judo champion, who is still based in Japan, defeated defending champion and her former teammate Yoshida Tsukasa (JPN) to claim her crown and holds a 2-1 record against Japan’s number one pick in the category.
Deguchi will undoubtedly be installed as the favourite for Tokyo 2020 gold if she can retain her Paris title.
World Judo Masters bronze medallist Jessica Klimkait (CAN), five-time Grand Prix winner Nora Gjakova (KOS), Olympic bronze medallist Telma Monteiro (POR) and Osaka Grand Slam winner Tamaoki Momo (JPN) will all be in action while former world champion Dorjsuren Sumiya (MGL) will be particularly dangerous from her unseeded position.
The judoka that Deguchi would be most concerned about, World Judo Masters winner Kim, Jin A (PRK), who beat the Canadian in her opening contest at the Masters, will not be in Paris and that will be a rematch to look out for in 2020.
4. Will #JudoParis be a record breaker?
At the time of publication there are 793 judoka registered to compete from 122 nations and there is talk of a sell out crowd in Paris.
In 2019 Paris witnessed 570 judoka and 97 countries compete in search of glory which was up from 403 and 71 respectively in 2018.
In previous Olympic years the entry featured 584 judoka in 2012 and 557 in 2016.
The crowd could also reach a new level with the anticipated return to the famous venue of Teddy for the first time in seven years and with the event carrying even greater significance in an Olympic year the atmosphere will be cranked up to ear-popping levels and will reverberate around magical city of Paris.
Stay tuned to the IJF website to see how you can watch all the action and drama unfold on television in your country!
5. Year of reckoning for the Queen of Bercy Agbegnenou who could go down as the greatest female French judoka of all time in 2020
Four-time and reigning world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA) can seal her legacy by winning the Olympics this summer.
Agbegnenou, 27, has won more world titles than any Frenchwoman in history and in France is only behind to the phenom Teddy Riner.
he seven-time Grand Slam winner took silver at her first Games in 2016 but has matured a lot since then and wrapped up every world title at stake in this Tokyo 2020 cycle having dominated the IJF’s crown jewel in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The French superstar will have her home crowd in a frenzy every time she walks out into the field of play as she bids for her sixth Paris Grand Slam title.
6. Fireworks at -73s – Basile, Ebinuma, Hashimoto and Orujov, but who will light up Paris?
Olympic champion and self-appointed ‘King of The Tatami’ Fabio Basile (ITA) put on a masterclass in Tel Aviv to open his season in stunning fashion.
The world number 17 was greeted with a superstar reaction every time he graced the tatami in Israel and will be afforded the same kind of reaction in the French capital.
It went under the radar in Tel Aviv that Basile’s Grand Prix win was actually his first IJF World Judo Tour gold medal.
In his 26th attempt, having debuted on the IJF circuit in 2014, the Italian revelation was the last man standing and heard his anthem being played for the very first time in an IJF setting and crucially it was his first title since moving up a weight category in 2017.
Basile won bronze a year ago in France and will relish the stage of Paris on a Saturday in front of a capacity crowd of 12,500 judo lovers.
Osaka Grand Slam winner Ebinuma Masashi (JPN), who took bronze at the season-ending Masters, has been picked alongside former world champion and Masters winner Hashimoto Soichi (JPN).
It does both men a disservice to consider their participation as the pair of them fighting for the right to be Japan’s number two behind pound-for-pound king Ono Shohei (JPN) as both men are champions in their own right and are two of the most breathtaking judoka in the sport.
World number one Rustam Orujov (AZE) will also be in the mix in Paris in a category which could steal the show on day one.
7. Kelmendi – Giuffrida XI?
Olympic champion Majlinda Kelmendi (KOS) and Olympic silver medallist Odette Giuffrida (ITA) know each other better than any other two judoka in the sport.
The Kosovo and Italian stars have squared off against each other in an Olympic final and Grand Prix and Grand Slam gold medal contests as they have racked up 10 meetings between 2013 and 2019.
Kelmendi and Giuffrida shared famous moments as they embraced on and off the tatami after their Rio 2016 Olympic final with the pair of them being overcome with emotion and genuine respect for each other.
Since then their rivalry has been renewed on the IJF World Judo Tour and they’ve had some tough battles in Budapest, Düsseldorf and most famously in Abu Dhabi.
Their competitiveness has led to a couple of combative contests between the two in the U.A.E with neither judoka backing down and both keen to get one over one another.
Kelmendi leads their head-to-head series 7-3 with their five post-Rio meetings going narrowly in her favour at 3-2.
If the 11th instalment and latest chapter of their simmering rivalry is realised in Paris then it will be lapped up by the French faithful and the IJF broadcast team.
8. Nagayama afforded the chance to strike first in 2020 as Takato awaits Dusseldorf chance
World number one Nagayama Ryuju (JPN) gets a headstart on his teammate Takato Naohisa and rival for Japan’s -60th berth in Tokyo, as he, and he alone, has received the call-up for Paris.
The two-time World Judo Masters winner, 23, has been a consistent performer on the IJF World Judo Tour with bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 Worlds.
While Takato is something of a Paris specialist as a four-time winner at one of the sport’s most renowned competitions, Nagayama has only fought there once before in 2017 when he fell in the second round.
Takato is in a more comfortable position having three world titles to his name and two in this cycle (2018 and 2019) but fellow Tokai University man Nagayama can turn up the pressure on his colleague by producing something special in France which he is more than capable of doing.
9. World champ Muki aims to complete Paris medal collection with elusive gold
Israel’s man of the moment Sagi Muki has graced every spot on the podium in Paris except the top spot.
World number one Muki took silver last year and claimed bronze in 2015 and 2016 but has Grand Slam pedigree having won titles in Azerbaijan, the U.A.E and Russia.
The owner of the -81kg red backpatch will start as the favourite in Paris in a category which is teeming with world-class judoka.
Muki, who took silver at the Masters in a reverse of the Worlds final against Matthias Casse (BEL), will be severely tested with a line-up akin to a World Championships.
The participation of former world silver medallist Fujiwara Sotaro (JPN), Masters bronze medallist Vedat Albayrak (TUR), former Paris winner Frank de Wit (NED), three-time world medallist Antoine Valois-Fortier (CAN) and former world champion WIECZERZAK Alexander Wieczerzak (GER) gives you an idea of the quality that will be present in an extraordinary -81kg category which always delivers.
10. One last hurrah for former Paris winner Guilheiro?
With an all-star cast and gigantic entry of over 700 judoka and well over 100 countries engaging in the Paris Grand Slam in this Olympic year it’s easy to get lost amongst the abundance of champions in red and gold backpatches.
There are far more celebrated judoka and indeed legends of the sport set to take part amongst the current generation of champions.
Leandro Guilheiro, 36, is one such figure.