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Men’s French Open Preview

Damien Kayat previews the men’s draw of the 2021 French Open.

Rafa Nadal - French Open Preview
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Absolutely everything that you need to know about the men's draw at the 2021 French Open!

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

2021 ATP Tour
Men’s French Open
Stade Roland Garros, Paris, France
30th May- 13th June

Would it be cynical to call this the Rafa Nadal Inevitability Championship? Seriously, the man’s getting himself immortalized in statue at this year’s event.

Going for his 14th Roland Garros title, there’s a strong argument to be made that no professional sportsman or woman has ever dominated a single event with his ruthlessness.

This year’s French Open has special significance for Rafa, as victory would finally see him pull clear of eternal rival Roger Federer in the Grand Slam stakes. But he will certainly not have it all his own way this year.

There are actually a growing number of emerging threats to the Nadal-Djokovic-Federer hegemony. That should make for an extremely exciting fortnight in ‘The City of Light’.

There will also be a growing number of fans present this year as the event progresses. Up until Tuesday 8 June, the grounds will welcome 5 388 spectators (quite an arbitrary figure that).

Each court will only field a maximum of 1000. From 9 June, Roland Garros will make use of the EU’s Covid ‘health pass’ in order to boost capacity. The grounds capacity will increase significantly to 13 146.

The individual courts will be allowed to reach around 65% capacity. This is welcome news from a spectator perspective.

Having sampled a healthy dose of sporting activity sans fans over the last year, tennis has certainly been one of the weirdest to digest.

I think it has to do with the amplified grunting (imagine taking the musical score out of an Avengers film and you get a similarly eerie vibe).

The Big Three

Roger Federer

I think its always important ahead of a Slam to touch base with the modern ambassadors of the sport. I have the feeling that this could be a farewell French Open for the iconic Roger Federer.

He holds little chance of victory this week after a series of poor precursor results (he lost to Andujar in Geneva).

You have to ask yourself this question: why would Federer compete at a Slam if he basically knew he couldn’t win? I feel this could be a grand farewell for Federer to the Slam that has proven so elusive to him.

There are bittersweet memories to be sure (he did complete the career Grand Slam here in 2009). But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his recurring nightmares is a falling dream which ends in hard red clay.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic will draw plenty of confidence from his stellar performance in Rome. After winning the Aussie Open, he took some time off and only returned to action at the Monte-Carlo Masters.

There was definitely a hint of rust in the opening salvos of his clay-court season. But he really showed his class in Rome. To beat the in-form pair of Tsitsipas and Sonego in one day was incredible. He then pushed Rafa to three sets in the final.

I think that Djokovic will always be a factor in the latter stages of slams. But can he overcome Nadal in the final on this court?

Last year’s final was a procession for the Spaniard and I don’t think that Nadal’s biggest challenge will come from the Serb this week.

Rafa Nadal

Nadal has perhaps not been as dominant on clay this year as usual. But he still won titles in Barcelona and Rome. I’m going to make this short. Nadal is the favourite- full stop.

He has adapted his game wonderfully at this arena over the years. He utilizes a more economical style than his trailblazing days, relying on a steadier serve and his usual brand of punitive groundstrokes. Still the man to beat.

Flattering to deceive: Alex Zverev

Alex Zverev has thrown himself into the reckoning this week by capturing that brilliant title in Madrid. That run included victories over both Nadal and Dominic Thiem. I still think there are question marks over Zverev’s ability to go all the way in a Slam.

He reached his first Grand Slam Final at last year’s US Open. However, that event was decimated by Covid withdrawals.

I just think Zverev’s physicality is always an issue in Slams. This year will be especially tough with so many competitive clay-court prospects.

Can the German go all the way this year? | Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Mr Consistency: Stefanos Tsitsipas

A semi-finalist at last year’s French Open, the versatile Greek has to be in the conversation entering this week’s event. He has reached three clay-court finals this year, capturing titles in Monte-Carlo and Lyon.

He also pushed Nadal to his limits in Barcelona. Tsitsipas has also shown a greater maturity in Slams, reaching the semi-final of the Aussie Open earlier this year.

Tsitsipas seems to tick many boxes this week. Yet I still have lingering doubts over him in a five-set format. That one-handed backhand has the tendency to get really wild. Still, Tsitsipas should pose a greater threat than Zverev.

Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas has developed into a bigger threat at Grand Slams | Image Copyright Steve Haag Sports

The Greatest Threat- Dominic Thiem

I still think that Austrian Dominic Thiem is the biggest threat to Nadal’s crown. Yes, he has lost all three matches at Roland Garros to Nadal. But he has also won four clay-court matches against the dirt demigod.

The reason I opt for Thiem is simple: Grand Slam chops. The two-time French Open finalist won his maiden Grand Slam at last year’s US Open. He also reached the final of last year’s Aussie Open. He just has the durability to go all the way on this surface.

True, 2021 has proved somewhat lacklustre for the Austrian. But he was nursing a knee injury in the early part of the season. He came back with a decent run to the semi-finals in Madrid.

Two poor results since don’t auger well for success. But this is different. Five-set tennis is like test match cricket. You always have a 2nd chance to bat.

Dominic Thiem ATP Lyon Open Preview - Round of 16
Thiem could well be the biggest threat to Nadal | Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

From Russia with Love: Danil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev

I wouldn’t be too fanatical about backing either of these Russian heavyweights this week. Medvedev has struggled for consistency this year while Rublev has started to feel the impact of a punishing 2021.

Incredibly, Danil Medvedev has lost in the opening round at Roland Garros for the past four seasons. Enough said.

Andrey Rublev reached the quarterfinals last year and he also has a final in Monte-Carlo this season. He is clearly more suited to clay. However, I just think his gruelling schedule will catch up to him, especially if he flirts with the latter stages of this event.

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Does Rublev have the engine to go all the way? Probably not | Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The Dark Horses: Casper Rudd, Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner

Norwegian Casper Rudd has been simply brilliant on clay this year. He reached three consecutive semi-finals in Monte-Carlo, Germany and Madrid.

He then captured his 1st title of the year in Geneva last week. His season win-loss stats read 20-6. He reached the 4th round in Australia earlier this year and he could be a great underdog this week.

Matteo Berrettini won a title in Serbia before a brilliant run to the final in Madrid (he actually beat Rudd in the Madrid semi-finals).

He also reached a Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows in 2019. He has a power-based game that can devastate anyone on its day.

And my 3rd option is fellow Italian Jannik Sinner. This one is slightly against the grain. The former NextGen champ is widely considered as a potential future World Number One.

He reached the final in Miami earlier this season. But his clay-court season has really flatlined following a semi-final run in Barcelona. But 19-year-old Sinner reached the quarterfinals here last year on debut.

I think that the Italian is well suited to this surface, with his two-handed backhand able to generate outrageous topspin.

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Berrettini's power could catapult him into the latter stages of the French Open | Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports
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