French Open 2023: Main contenders for the men’s singles title
Roland Garros is nearly upon us again, and in the men’s singles that would usually mean another Rafael Nadal French Open masterclass. It won’t this time, though.
The legendary Spaniard has won 14 singles titles at Roland Garros in his career so far. That stopped being remarkable some time ago and now it is firmly in the realm of otherworldly.
This year, though, his absence could dictate the narrative in a similar way that his presence usually does because it has left one burning question: If not Rafael Nadal, then who?
The obvious answer would be Novak Djokovic, but that is far from assured and there are a number of serious contenders who will be looking to stop the Serbian take full advantage of his greatest rival’s absence.
Best French Open: Winner (2016, 2021)
Occasions in the last 18 years when Rafael Nadal has not won the French Open are rare. In fact it has only happened four times in all those years. In two of those four years, Novak Djokovic was the man to cash in.
Djokovic is not often a man with whom it is easy to sympathise, but you have to feel for him a little when it comes to clay. In any other era, Djokovic would have established himself as an all-time great on the red dirt.
His clay game is exceptional by anyone’s standard – except Nadal’s. That means he has fewer French Open titles than his ability on clay probably deserves, although he has obviously more than made up for that on the other surfaces.
Best French Open: QF (2022)
It’s never kind to make comparisons when it comes to young players, but it is hard to escape the feeling that Carlos Alcaraz is not the natural successor to Rafael Nadal.
Yes, both are Spanish but that isn’t the only similarity. Like Nadal, Alcaraz plays with a ferocity of spirit that is rarely seen and he is incredibly confident on clay. That hasn’t translated into a deep run at the French Open yet, but it is just a matter of time.
If you want an indicator of just how good Alcaraz is on clay then just look back to Madrid last year when he beat both Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back en-route to winning a Masters title.
Best French Open: F (2022)
Casper Ruud is proof that players don’t have to be winning everything in their teens to develop into something special. The Norwegian has enjoyed slow yet consistent progress over the last few years to grow his game into one of genuine Grand Slam winning potential.
He is yet to win a major, although he reached two finals last year – including the French Open. There, he lost to Rafael Nadal, but there is no shame in that.
Ruud is exceptionally comfortable on clay and he would certainly describe it as his favourite surface. What else would we expect from a graduate of the Rafa Nadal Academy? His 2023 form isn’t great but he can beat anyone on any given day, especially on clay.
Best French Open: Quarter-final (2021)
Ordinarily you’d never put Daniil Medvedev among the main contenders for any clay tournament, let alone the biggest and toughest of them all, but things seem to have changed a little for the Russian this season.
He heads to Paris on the back of winning a clay Masters in Rome, and one in which he had something of a nightmare draw. He had to beat Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Holger Rune to claim the title, and that is no mean feat at all.
The big question about Medvedev will be whether or not his patience can hold out. He is not the most even-tempered player at the best of times, and that is even worse on clay, which takes the sting out of his groundstrokes like no other surface. Can he keep it together mentally in a five-set marathon, which he will surely need to do at some point along the way? It will be fascinating to find out.
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