We have finally made it to the second Grand Slam event of the year and, with it, the end of the clay court season. The season went just as one would have expected with Rafael Nadal leading the way with two Masters titles and a title in Barcelona.
After watching the match-ups on clay this year, though, there are some strong opponents looking to upset Nadal from an 11th title in Paris. Here is a list of the top challengers with the best chances to dethrone the King of Clay this year at the French Open:
Alexander Zverev– He won two titles and made it to the Finals at the Italian Open this season, where he lost to Rafa. In that match he was up a break in the 3rd set before a rain delay interrupted the match energizing Nadal to come back to win. Though he is yet to break through at a Grand Slam, you can sense that his time is coming and his confidence is building.
Dominic Thiem– Last year, in Rome, he was the only one to beat Nadal on clay and so far the only player to beat him this year on clay at the Madrid Open. In doing so he ended Nadal’s 50 set win streak on the red dirt. In the past two years, he has played Rafa more than anyone else on clay at 6 times. This should give him the experience needed to test the Spaniard.
Novak Djokovic– Two years ago he completed his career Grand Slam with winning his first French Open title. He has not won a Grand Slam event since. The Serbian is battling his way back from an elbow injury that left him sidelined for several months last year. Recently, he had a very competitive match against Rafa in the semi-finals of the Italian Open. Although he lost, it should give him something to build upon to try to get back to his championship level.
Stan Wawrinka– He is another one coming back from the injury bug with a knee injury. Stan made it to the finals of last years French Open where he lost to Nadal in straight sets. Is his fitness level ready to take Nadal to the limit? The Swiss man has shown great resolve in the past few years, so there is no counting him out.
Stefanos Tsitsipas– This 19 year old is a long-shot but has certainly shown this season that he has the makings of a star. He made it to the final in Barcelona and the semi-final in Portugal. Is he ready to take the next step?
Despite being the strong player that he is, there is one other thing that makes Roland Garros that much more difficult to beat Rafa at and that is trying to beat him in a best 3 out of 5 sets match. His physical level is top-notch and he will wear any challenger down in a grueling and a grind-it-out manner.
With an astounding win-loss record of 79-2 at the French Open the best advice one can offer up to any Nadal opponent is…Good luck!
Featured Image Credit: ATP
Photo credits (in order): Daily Express, Daily Express, Hindustan Times, Léman Bleu, Tennis365.com