Who will be Rafael Nadal’s biggest challengers at Roland-Garros this year?
Rafael Nadal has openly declared that 2024 is likely to be his final season on tour, but who are the Spaniard’s biggest threats to a triumphant ‘last hurrah’ at Roland-Garros?
Nadal is a record 14-time champion at the Paris major, having lost only three of his 115 matches on the French clay over the years.
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However, after spending nearly a year on the injury sidelines, the former world No.1 is likely to be unseeded in May and could play anyone from the first round of the tournament.
So we, at Tennishead, have listed the five players that we believe pose the biggest threat to the ‘king of clay’ this year:
It kind of goes without saying that at any tournament and at any stage of his career, Novak Djokovic has and will always be one of the biggest threats to Rafael Nadal.
Although Nadal has an overwhelming head-to-head over Djokovic on clay, the Serbian is actually the only player to beat the 14-time champion twice at Roland-Garros.
The first of these came in 2015, when Nadal was on a 39-match winning streak at the tournament, however Djokovic put an abrupt halt to that in a straight sets quarter-final victory.
Nadal went on a streak again between 2017 and 2020, winning four titles in a row, before meeting Djokovic in the 2021 semi-finals.
Despite winning the first set, the Mallorcan was pegged back by Djokovic and beaten in a four set classic on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The following year, Nadal did get revenge over Djokovic en route to his 14th title in Paris, but Djokovic won his third title at the tournament in the Spaniard’s absence last year.
From someone who has a lot of history at Roland-Garros in Djokovic, to a player with a relatively new history at the tournament, Carlos Alcaraz.
Alcaraz made only his third main draw appearance at the tournament last year, impressing with a semi-final run that ended in a cramp affected defeat to the aforementioned Djokovic.
The 20-year-old has become a constant threat at every tournament he plays in and is certainly not shy of the big occasion, leaving him as a big threat at Roland Garros in 2024.
Although they have only played on three occasions, Alcaraz has the most recent victory over compatriot Rafael Nadal in an encounter on the clay of Madrid.
And it is the clay in his home capital where Alcaraz has thrived the most, claiming the Masters 1000 crown in back-to-back seasons.
Since being one victory away from becoming world No.1 at the 2022 US Open, Casper Ruud has not managed to reach the same heights.
However, the Norwegian has still been able to showcase his clay court prowess and reached a second consecutive Roland-Garros final last year.
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Do you think Casper Ruud will manage to win a Grand Slam after 3 finals lost? pic.twitter.com/BsjHHQd5N2
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) June 13, 2023
This resulted in another straight sets final defeat, but Ruud is undoubtedly one of the strongest clay court players in the world, with nine of his 10 ATP titles coming on the dirt.
Being a Rafael Nadal Academy graduate, Ruud unsurprisingly idolises the 22-time Grand Slam champion and does not appear to have overcome that obstacle yet.
In their two previous meetings, that include the 2022 Roland Garros final, Ruud has not managed to win a single set and won only six games in their three set match on Court Philippe Chatrier two years ago.
Like Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas has slightly fallen down the rankings in recent months, but is always a threat on the clay and was one set away from the Roland-Garros title in 2021.
Not only does the Greek have pedigree at the Paris major, but he also has a rare victory on clay over Rafael Nadal, that took place at the Madrid Masters almost five years ago.
Nadal does combat this with three victories over Tsitsipas on the dirt of his own, but with the Spaniard’s lack of fitness it may be difficult to keep up with the 25-year-old over a best-of-five set format.
However, the Greek will be hoping for a better build-up to Roland Garros in 2024, having not reached a Masters 1000 final on clay for the first time since 2020 last year.
The final biggest threat to Nadal in this list is Alexander Zverev, who has been a match away from the Roland-Garros final in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
This included a gruelling semi-final with Rafael Nadal in 2022, with the first two sets lasting over three hours before the German tore all three ligaments after rolling his right ankle.
As expected, Nadal has an overwhelming lead in their head-to-head on clay, but Zverev is likely to be very hungry to avenge the trauma of that aforementioned semi-final.
However, with Zverev’s pending court case expected to take place during Roland-Garros his year, his mind may be elsewhere.
Despite Sinner not being known for his clay court game, the Italian has reached the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros and won a title on the dirt of Umag back in 2022.
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