With the 2nd Major of the year getting underway on the red dirt of Paris, the onus once again, like all other Slams, will be on the 'Big 3' of men’s tennis. However, as far as the only Slam on clay is concerned, apart from the 'Big 3', Austria’s Dominic Thiem has become a mighty force to reckon with and has assumed a crucial place as one of the top contenders to win the French Open.
This has been an unusual season on clay so far with four different champions emerging at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. Indeed, the lead up to the most prestigious tournament on clay has been indifferent this year and prompts us to suggest that this may be a wide open Slam, perhaps for the first time since 2015.
For Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and last but not the least Dominic Thiem, at this year’s French Open, it is not just about winning a Grand Slam. The stakes are pretty much high for each one of them as they look forward to writing intriguing stories of their own supremacy on the Parisian clay at this year’s Roland Garros.
Let’s closely analyze what is at stake at this year’s French Open for each one of them on an individual level.
The Spaniard, the tormentor, the ‘King of Clay’ has invincibly ruled Paris for an unprecedented 11 times in the past. For Rafael Nadal, French Open is by far the most important tournament of his illustrious career. His triumphs in Paris have been a part of tennis folklore for over the last decade and his heroics at Roland Garros have pretty much defined his legacy.
A victory at this year’s French Open will not only be his phenomenal 12th title at Paris, but also the 18th Major of his glamorous career. If he achieves his title triumph at the French capital, the Spaniard, who is sandwiched between the Swiss maestro and the Serb as far the number of Majors won are concerned, will close down the gap between himself and Federer to 2 for the very first time in his career and will extend his lead over his other rival, Djokovic to 3.
More importantly, Nadal’s last Major win was at last year’s French Open and with an ageing and injury-prone body, it is extremely important for Nadal to keep winning at Roland Garros. Ever since his first US Open triumph way back in 2010, which helped the Spaniard to complete his Career Slam, Nadal has just added two more US Open titles to his name outside of titles at Paris as far as his list of Grand Slam triumphs is concerned.
Nadal, soon to be 33, who has been extremely injury prone since the end of the 2017 season, will find it much more difficult to win any other Grand Slams apart from French Open moving forward. It is hard to say, but putting his injury-prone and ageing body in perspective, this, in fact, very much could be Nadal’s last triumph at the French Open.
And if the Spaniard indeed fancies overtaking Federer’s count of 20 Majors so far, it is imperative that Nadal achieves his unassailable 12th title in Paris and 18th Major of his overall career at this year’s Roland Garros.
With just one title triumph at Rome, it has been an indifferent clay season for the Spaniard and perhaps for the first time since 2015, has given us an impression of being vulnerable on clay this year.
It would be fascinating to follow Rafael Nadal’s journey at the French Open.
With three successive Grand Slam title victories that comprises Wimbledon and US Open 2018 and this year’s Australian Open, the Serb appears to be on Grand Slam winning spree.
Novak Djokovic, the World No. 1, having completed his ‘Nole Slam’ at the French Open 2016, is on the verge of holding all the four Majors at once for the second time in his illustrious career.
Just as Roger Federer, the French Open has been the most challenging tournament for Novak Djokovic as well, being denied the coveted title by the undisputed champion of Paris Rafael Nadal.
Yes, Djokovic has indeed pulled off a win against Nadal at Paris once before, but it would be incredibly amazing if the Serb manages to upset Nadal in the final to complete the second ‘Nole Slam’ of his career.
Nonetheless, the fact that he has an opportunity to hold all the four Majors at the same time yet again, would be a huge motivational factor for Novak Djokovic when he steps out on Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris.
If Djokovic reigns in Paris, it would be the 16th Grand Slam title win of his incredible career, just one short of Nadal’s 17 and four short of Federer’s 20 Majors win.
After Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic firmly starts as the second favourite to reign supreme in Paris.
In the case of Roger Federer, his comeback on clay after three long years and just his participation in the French Open for the first time since 2015 is like the celebration of tennis.
Analyzing the draw, Roger Federer is expected to meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, assuming both these top guys reach that stage. Realistically speaking, for the Swiss maestro, at the age of 37, on clay, if indeed he successfully manages to qualify for the semi-finals, it would be a massive achievement in itself.
2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of Roger Federer’s triumph at Roland Garros. And Federer, who would turn 38 this August, might just be playing in his last ever French Open.
In the midst of all this, Federer would be extremely motivated to put up his strongest performance on clay this year, taking one day and one match at a time. As a matter of fact, Federer has never ever managed to beat Nadal on the Parisian clay. However, the Spaniard has appeared vulnerable this time around and it might be the last chance, if not the best, for the Swiss maestro to finally defeat Nadal in his own fortress.
Federer, as we know, would be definitely keen on leaving a strong impression in perhaps what could be his last ever French Open.
The ‘Prince of clay’, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, the potential heir to Rafael Nadal, starts as a third favourite after Nadal and Djokovic to triumph at this year’s Roland Garros.
Thiem, 2016 and 2017 semi-finalist and 2018 runner-up at Roland Garros, would be confident and hoping to cross those final hurdles to pocket his first ever Grand Slam crown at this year’s French Open.
This has been a coming-of-age season for the young Austrian with his title wins at Indian Wells and Barcelona. It would be like icing on the cake for Thiem, if he indeed manages to overcome stalwarts like Nadal and Djokovic over best of five sets to finally win in Paris.
For Dominic Thiem, a win at this year’s French Open would not only act as a breakthrough achievement, but would also be a torch-bearer for many more accolades and monumental victories to follow.Published 27 May 2019, 12:06 IST