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Depending on how you look at it, the French Open Men’s draw could be more or less open than usual in 2022.
With Rafael Nadal having won 13 of the last 17 French Opens, we often entered the event assuming that it would either be him, or perhaps one other, usually Federer or Djokovic who could win it.
But in 2015 it was Stan Wawrinka who popped up and took the title. Andy Murray made a final in 2016, and Dominic Thiem got to the decider twice.
Last year Stefanos Tsitsipas won the first two sets of the final against Djokovic, and he also pushed Nadal to five sets in a semi-final the year before.
Despite all that we can’t hide the fact that the path to victory has gone through Nadal.
Of the four French Opens he hasn’t won, two of them saw Djokovic eliminate him on the way to the final, one of them saw Soderling defeat him before losing to Federer in the decider, and the other was due to him withdrawing injured.
This year the clouds hang over Nadal due largely to fitness. After winning 20 matches in a row to start the year, including the Australian Open and Miami titles, injury struck the champion late in the Indian Wells campaign.
He would lose the final to Taylor Fritz before being sidelined for a couple of months with rib damage.
On his return, he has lost twice on clay, to Alcaraz and Shapovalov, meaning this is the first time since his maiden French Open title that he hasn’t won a clay court event in the months leading into Roland Garros.
Nadal clearly enters the event capable of victory, but bookies have him on the third line of betting and that is understandable despite his imposing record in Paris.
But who else can win it?
We’ll take a look here and depending on how optimistic you are… it could be a very narrow field.
Djokovic is the defending champion, and defeated Nadal in a four-set epic in the semi-finals last year. Djokovic also won the recent title in Rome quite impressively and appears to have brushed off the rust from an interrupted start to the year. We need also remember that Djokovic has lost just one of his last 28 grand slam matches. Prior to last year’s semi-final, Nadal had won his previous five clay court clashes with Djokovic, but given Novak has dominated him on other surfaces in recent times, last year might have been the final handover in the baton change.
Alcaraz is the buzz player in world tennis, having won four ATP titles since February, two of those on hard court and two on clay. He is 16-1 on clay this season, and took out the titles in Barcelona and Madrid.
In Madrid, he became the first player since 2010 to defeat Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament, and also knocked off the world no.3 Alexander Zverev in the same event. He also has wins over Tsitsipas, Norrie, de Minaur, Hurkacz, Carreno Busta and Ruud. The only slight query would be best of five sets over two weeks and running into the experience of Nadal and Djokovic deep in a major.
Tsitsipas is a prolific starter to seasons as a general rule, having won 32 matches at the Australian Open and French Open, compared to just six at Wimbledon and the US.
He reached the final of last year’s event, and has won a clay court title (Monte Carlo) and reached another final (Rome) in recent weeks. He has beaten Nadal in a slam, and pushed him on clay, and ran Djokovic close last year. With a bit of luck, and with the right matchup, he’d be a chance here.
Rublev is the interesting one given he has a relatively modest grand slam record for a player of his talents.. He reached the quarter-finals at the French in 2020 but was knocked out in the first round last year.
He also has quarter-final appearances at the Australian and US Opens. He is included here based on the fact he has defeated Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem and Tsitsipas on clay in the last two years. Those four men are the last four french open finalists. He also won a title in Serbia last month on clay, and ‘bageled’ Djokovic in the third set in the process. He is a distant fifth in this conversation, but you can’t entirely rule it out. He is my smokey.
The others who are another rung down are Medvedev who has never been a fan of the clay, and a recent loss to Gasquet doesn’t fill one with confidence and Zverev, who has been in great clay court form, and has a strong recent record against the top 10, and Auger-Aliassime who is just a fraction off his best form.