French Open 2021: Can anyone stop Nadal at Roland Garros?

It's undisputed that Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay but can anyone stop him from taking number 14? Source: Roland Garros

The question on everyone’s mind about the men’s singles at Roland Garros is always who can stop Nadal from taking home the French Open title yet again?

This year will be a particularly challenging fight to claim the title as players are at the beginning of a jam-packed summer featuring short breaks between the two Grand Slams and the Tokyo Olympics across three surfaces. Here are the five athletes that are the best contenders to walk away champions in Paris.

Rafael Nadal – 3rd Seed

Never having lost in Paris if he makes it past the quarter-final, the King of Clay is hunting his 14th French Open title and his 21st Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.

All eyes were on the men’s draw to see which half Nadal fell on, would he be able to cruise into the finals on Medvedev’s half or would he be looking at a potential Djokovic semi-final match-up. The Spaniard has claimed he’s not worried about the matchup and nor should he be, in Rome earlier this month Nadal beat Djokovic in the final in three sets, and of their 26 matchups on clay Nadal has won 19, seven of which have been at the French Open.

Nadal’s form has been solid during clay season this year, winning two finals at the Italian and Barcelona Opens, and falling two top 10 players Zverev and Rublev in the quarterfinals at Madrid and Monte-Carlo respectively.

In the first round, he’ll play Australian Alexei Popyrin but his first major challenge might not come until the quarter-final which will likely be against seventh seed Andrey Rublev.

Novak Djokovic – 1st Seed

The world number one is chasing his second career Grand Slam and he seems to be reaching his peak coming into the French Open.

Djokovic had a rocky start to his clay-court season losing to Daniel Evans in the round of 16 in Monte-Carlo, before falling short in the semi-final to Russian Aslan Karatsev at the Serbian Open. From then on Djokovic made it to the next two finals, losing to Nadal at the Italian Open and winning at home at the Belgrade Open against Alex Molcan.

Whilst Djokovic should make it through to the final 8 with little trouble, facing Tennys Sandgren in the first round. Reaching the final will be no easy ride with a likely duel with Federer on the cards for the quarter-final before the expected semi-final against Nadal.

Stefanos Tsitsipas – 5th Seed

No player would have been happier with the draw this year than Tsitsipas. Come quarter-finals it’s uncertain who will survive Medvedev’s bracket but there are very few threats that could position themselves to upset a smooth run into the semi-final for the Greek wonder from there or his side of the draw.

The 22-year-old has proven why clay is his favoured surface this year, reaching three finals, winning in Monte-Carlo and Lyon. There have been hiccups, with Tsitsipas going down in straight sets to Casper Rudd in Madrid in the round of 16 and bowing out in Rome against Djokovic. However, he took Nadal to the wire in the Barcelona Open final, stealing the second set from the King of Clay.

After heartbreak against Djokovic in the semi-final last year, Tsitsipas will be the favourite in the bottom half of the draw. Looking to tear apart his own bracket comfortably and come into the semi-final on fresh legs he’ll prove to be a threat to claim his first Grand Slam title.

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Dominic Thiem – 4th Seed

Looking at his lead-up to the French Open, Thiem might sound like an unusual contender, however, he’s had a standard run into the tournament with third-round and semi-final exits in Rome and Madrid respectively. However, the French Open is Thiem’s favourite clay event, preferring the slower courts at Roland Garros than those in Madrid.

The two-time finalist has a favourable draw this year, avoiding the Big Three unless he makes the final. Thiem’s biggest threats will be Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, previously beating both in the 2018 French Open and has winning records against on clay.

The Austrian will start his French Open campaign against Spaniard Pablo Andújar.

Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros in 2019 Source: ATP Tour

Alexander Zverev – 6th Seed

Zverev is another player that will be grateful that he landed himself a spot in the bottom half of the draw at Roland Garros.

Having spent more time on clay this year than 2020, Zverev soared in Madrid beating the dominant forces on clay, Nadal and Thiem in straight sets in their matches. Nadal got his revenge at the Italian Open but it was proof for Zverev that he can get a win over the best clay players in recent years.

An assurance that will be useful should he play Thiem in the quarter-final, he’ll need to start his campaign with a few quick wins, to avoid fatiguing in the second week should he have back to back matches against Thiem and Tsitsipas.

About Jacqui Dodd 99 Articles
Jacqui is a journalist based in Melbourne. A fan of all things sports she primarily focuses on Olympics and Tennis news. You can hear her on The Inner Sanctum's Olympics podcast, Ascending Olympus.

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