Twelve months is a long, long time in sport. Just ask Rafael Nadal. Last year at the French Open, the Spaniard’s career seemed in jeopardy when he was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an injury to his left wrist. This year, he returns as the overwhelming favourite to clinch “La Decima” — an unprecedented 10th Grand Slam title on clay.
Or ask Novak Djokovic. The 2016 French Open was the pinnacle of the Serbian’s career — he lifted the only Major trophy missing from his cabinet to complete a career Grand Slam. But what followed was a slump in form, and his last title came way back in January.
If Djokovic has been slumping, World No 1 Andy Murray’s career is plummeting steadily by the day and he perhaps shares the honour with Angelique Kerber of being the most unconvincing top seed ever. The only question under debate over the next two weeks in Paris will be whether anyone can stop Nadal from winning La Coupe des Mousquetaires? Here’s a look at the possible contenders who stand in his way.
Murray needs to spark some life into his sputtering season and he will have to do it fast if he hopes to survive for long at Roland Garros. The Scot starts his campaign against Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov, who could grind Murray down. Last year, Murray needed 10 sets to progress to the third round and we could see a repeat of that in 2017.
If he does make it to the third round, Murray could then find himself facing the big-hitting Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine is far from fully fit, but he can always knock a few seeds out with his smacking forehand. Also, in Murray’s section are the big-serving John Isner and 13th seed Tomas Berdych.
The bottom half of this section pits Kei Nishikori and Rome winner Alexander Zverev in the quarters. While 20-year-old Zverev is yet to beat a top-50 player over a best-of-five-sets match, he looks primed to make a deep run after his confidence-boosting victory over Djokovic. However, Madrid semi-finalist Pablo Cuevas could prove to be a handful for Zverev in the third round.
First round match to watch out for: Zverev vs Fernando Verdasco
Possible semi-finalist: Zverev
Third seed Stan Wawrinka headlines the second quarter of the men’s draw. While the 2015 champion has had uninspired results for most of 2017, Wawrinka isn’t the kind who needs form and momentum to win big. He could peak from zero to 100 in one match and he comes to Paris after defending his hometown crown at Geneva.
Also lurking in Wawrinka’s section are the mercurial Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils. While Wawrinka could have a relatively easy path to the quarters, it’s the second half of his quarter that throws up a few interesting clashes.
Lyon winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, feisty youngster Nick Kyrgios, former finalist David Ferrer and Istanbul champion Marin Cilic are the seeded players in the bottom half. Frenchman Tsonga is also headed into the second Major with a title under his belt, and could make a quarter-final run in front of his home crowd.
First round match to watch out for: Dustin Brown vs Monfils
Possible semi-finalist: Wawrinka
This is Nadal’s quarter and it’s difficult to look beyond the nine-time champion here. Nadal’s first match could possibly be his toughest as he faces the erratic yet talented Benoit Paire. Nadal has never lost to the Frenchman and an upset seems unlikely but Paire is an extremely difficult player to start your campaign against.
Jack Sock, Gilles Simon and Roberto Bautista Agut shouldn’t pose much threat to Nadal but it will be interesting to see who could join Nadal in the quarters from this section of the draw. Fifth seed Milos Raonic made the last-eight three years ago but clay is far from his favourite surface. He hasn’t won any titles in his injury-plagued season yet and could face a tricky third round against Gilles Muller.
Should Raonic make it to the last-16, his potential opponents could be Grigor Dimitrov or Pablo Carreno Busta. Dimitrov won against the Canadian in Brisbane at the start of the year but he’s had patchy results since his title in Sofia. Carreno Busta has had some great performances on clay and will always be a dangerous dark horse on this surface.
First round match to watch out for: Nadal vs Paire
Possible semi-finalist: Nadal
Defending champion Djokovic has a new coach in Andre Agassi, a new sponsor in Lacoste, and will be hoping to renew his domination of the men’s tour at this year’s French Open. Although he lost the Rome final to an inspired Zverev, the tournament gave a glimpse of Djokovic hitting the right strides again just in time for the second Major of the year.
The Serbian leads the loaded bottom half as the second seed and shouldn’t have a tough time making the last-eight. Mischa Zverev was successful against Murray at the Australian Oepn but it’s difficult to see his contrasting old-school style make any dents against Djokovic on clay should they meet in the third round.
Last year’s semi-finalist Dominic Thiem is the biggest contender who could stop Djokovic, as his recent win over Nadal at Rome showed. Thiem thrives on clay and his explosive one-handed backhand could trouble the Serb. However, Thiem will need to get past 10th seed David Goffin first in what promises to be an intriguing fourth round clash. Goffin leads the head-to-head over his good friend 6-3 with his last win coming just weeks ago at Monte Carlo.
First round match to watch out for: Thiem vs Bernard Tomic
Possible semi-finalist: Djokovic
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Updated Date: May 31, 2017 11:46:51 IST