Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic French Open contenders assessed
By Abel Morton
Last Updated: 26/05/19 5:14pm
It would take a brave individual to bet against 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal from winning his 12th title in Paris in a couple of weeks time.
The same can be said about current world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who peaked again during this clay-court season by winning on the dirt in Madrid and then reaching the final in Rome where he was beaten by Nadal in three sets.
All the signs suggest that we could be set for yet another blockbuster final between the two when Roland Garros reaches its climax in just over a fortnight's time - but the unpredictable nature of Grand Slam tennis is why a Nadal-Djokovic meeting should not be etched in stone just yet.
Here are five possible contenders who could cause an upset at the French Open this year...
Last year's beaten finalist and current world No 4 Thiem, is arguably first in line in the chasing pack after Nadal and Djokovic to win his first major title in Paris.
The Austrian's results on clay this year are those of a man who would fancy himself to run through the field and create history for himself in Paris. Thiem, who has remarkably beaten Nadal on clay in each of the past four years, defeated the 'King of Clay' in Barcelona last month in comprehensive fashion on his way to the title.
His brute power off both wings has seen him beat Roger Federer twice this year in the Indian Wells final and then in Madrid where in both final sets, Thiem's shot-making and explosive power was too much for the Swiss player to handle.
In two tie-break sets, Djokovic got the better of Thiem in the semi-finals in Madrid earlier this month but after picking up the title in Barcelona - remarkably without dropping a set - you better believe that the Austrian will be a considerable threat in Paris.
The charismatic rising star continues to impress the tennis world by catapulting his eye-catching game to new heights. At 20, the world No 6 can already say that he has beaten Federer, Djokokvic and Nadal - that is 52 Grand Slam titles combined that have all fallen to the talented Greek sensation.
In one of the matches of the year, Tsitsipas displayed his full repertoire of skills by shocking Nadal in the Madrid semi-finals. His court-coverage, movement, retrieval capabilities and outstanding depth of shots was unleashed on the Spaniard who simply had no answer to his opponent's onslaught.
Along with reaching the finals in Madrid, prior to that huge milestone Tsitsipas won the Estoril title in Portugal.
Another impressive run in Rome last week saw Nadal get his revenge on Tsitsipas in the semi-finals but the signs were clear - it is just a matter of time before Tsitsipas raises some of the biggest titles in men's tennis above his head - could the Coupe des Mousquetaires have the Greek's name on it when it is all said and done?
Federer returns to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015 after opting to play the clay-court season this year. The 20-time Grand Slam champion's main objective was to get enough matches on the surface to leave him in perfect shape for challenging for the title in Paris.
The 2009 French Open champion recorded victories over Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Joao Sousa and Borna Coric in Madrid and Rome before withdrawing from his last eight meeting with Tsitsipas in Rome due to a right leg injury - mainly as a precaution.
In the back on the Federer's mind he will be having one eye on the beautiful green grass of SW19 at Wimbledon. Make no mistake though, Federer has not just entered the French Open to make up the numbers - it's a Grand Slam and no matter what has transpired previously, he will arrive in Paris to win.
Fognini produced one of the shocks of the season when he went all the way and won the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
The flamboyant Italian ousted world No 5 Alexander Zverev, Gilles Simon and Borna Coric before doing the unthinkable when he produced one of the performances of the season by defeating Nadal in the semi-finals en route to his first Masters crown.
Understandably after winning the biggest title of his career, the 31-year-old was only able to reach the third round of Madrid and Rome in the next two Masters events. However, his unpredictable nature as well as his array of beautiful shot-making makes him a contender at Roland Garros.
Juan Martin Del Potro
Coming into the Rome Masters, former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro had only played four matches this year. What was to follow in his quarter-final match against Novak Djokovic was a reminder as to why the Argentine will forever be one of the most-feared players on the ATP circuit.
Del Potro squandered two match-point opportunities to defeat Djokovic in the second set tie-break that the Serb went on to win, before Djokovic closed out the third set to prevail in an absolute classic.
Del Potro may not have had enough match-play this year to win the French Open after a long lay-off due to a patella injury, but he proved in Rome that once he sinks his teeth into a tournament and especially against some of the greats of the game - he is more than capable of pushing them all the way.
When you possess a ferocious forehand that Del Potro has it is undoubtedly a game-changer.
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