With the abdication of Rafael Nadal, this year’s Roland Garros looks to be the most open in years. But with a whole host of players having a successful clay court season, who will triumph and be crowned the new King of Clay?
In the history of tennis, no man has dominated a Grand Slam as much as Rafael Nadal. With fourteen French Open titles, Nadal is out on his own as the leading player with the most titles at a single Grand Slam (Djokovic is second with ten Australian Opens).
Nadal’s absence from Roland Garros will come as a huge relief to the cast of players hoping to triumph this year. Only three other men have won Roland Garros since Nadal won his first title in 2005, and his dominance has often made the tournament quite predictable.
But with the King of Clay now missing from this year’s tournament through injury, it seems that there could well be a new King in town.
Masters of Clay
The nature of the tournaments that have preceded Roland Garros have demonstrated how unique Nadal’s dominance of the surface was.
Of the seven ATP clay court tournaments that have taken place over the last month or so, six different winners have been produced, with only Carlos Alcaraz winning twice.
Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, Casper Ruud and most recently Daniil Medvedev have all gotten their hands on clay court silverware this year and will be hoping to challenge Alcaraz and Djokovic for the title.
The undeniable favourites for the title in Roland Garros will be Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic. Both will be desperate for the title, but for very different reasons.
Alcaraz will have the pressure of being the favourite in a Grand Slam for the first time and will be hoping that he can become the natural successor to his idol Nadal in France.
Alcaraz’s game is perfectly suited for clay, with his fantastic movement, heavy topspin forehand and unrivalled control of drop shots making him more or less the full package on the surface.
Djokovic will be hoping that Roland Garros will be a record-breaking Grand Slam for his career. If he wins this year, he will be out on his own as the leading Grand Slam winner in men’s tennis history, as well as becoming the first man to win three of every Grand Slam.
Interestingly, Medvedev’s victory in Rome means that Djokovic will be coming into the tournament as the third seed, meaning that himself and Alcaraz will potentially meet in the semi-finals. This could indeed open the door for other players…
A Number of Contenders
Alcaraz will be the rightful favourite for the tournament, his fantastic forehand greatly suiting the high-bounce on clay, but who else will be worth considering for this year’s tournament?
Holger Rune 10/1 – The young Dane has had a fantastic clay court season. While he has only won one tournament, in Munich, he has made the finals of both Monte Carlo and Rome. He made the quarter-finals at last year’s Roland Garros, and his game is perfectly suited to clay. He finds himself in the same quarter as Casper Ruud, which will be his main competition before the final.
Jannik Sinner 14/1 – The Italian superstar has often been spoken of in the same light as Alcaraz, with both believed to be the future of men’s tennis. While Sinner’s main potential may lie on grass, his game has the consistency and skill to succeed on clay. He finds himself in the same quarter as Zverev, but if he could get past the German, then he could have a good run to the semi-finals.
Casper Ruud 25/1 – One of the break-through players of last year, Ruud has shown remarkable potential on clay. Despite having had a slightly underwhelming clay court season, last year’s Roland Garros finalist will be fourth seed this year. If he can get past Holger Rune in the quarter-finals then he could be a serious contender.
Alexander Zverev 35/1 – Once believed to be one of the main successors to Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, Zverev has underachieved what his potential once promised. That said, the German has made the semi-finals of the last two French Opens. Although his form has been poor since picking up an injury, if he is able to regain form at the right time, he may well produce a deep run. His potential meeting with Sinner in the round of 16 is one to watch out for.
Andrey Rublev 40/1 – The champion in Monte Carlo, Rublev has always struggled at Grand Slams, but his performance at the Master’s event proved that he is more than capable of performing on clay on the big stage. If he can overcome his Grand Slam nerves and put a run of results together, he could be a handful for anyone at Roland Garros, although, he is in the same quarter as Djokovic.
Of the above-named players, I believe that Rune and Ruud are the most likely to produce a title bid, the fact that the two of them could meet in the quarter-finals may well be an early title decider.
In terms of early round upsets to look out for, both Alcaraz and Djokovic have some potentially difficult matches to look out for. Alcaraz may well have to face both Dennis Shapovalov and Lorenzo Musetti in the early rounds, and Djokovic could have Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to worry about.
Despite his recent successes on clay, Medvedev’s vulnerabilities on the surface are well known. He could be open to a potential early exit, opening the door for Borna Coric and Alex De Minaur.
The focus of the tournament will undoubtedly fall on Djokovic and Alcaraz, but with the draw having just been announced there are some potential banana peels lying in wait for the pair in the early rounds.
There is the potential for both players to become distracted by each other and lose sight of the players in the other quarter.
I believe that both Casper Ruud and Holger Rune may have a serious part to play in this tournament and might sneak in through the back door to be crowned the new King of Roland Garros.