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Mats Wilander explains why Novak Djokovic, and not Rafael Nadal, is the No. 1 favorite at RG

Rafael Nadal after winning the 2019 French Open
Rafael Nadal after winning the 2019 French Open
Modified 25 Sep 2020, 12:18 IST

In the lead-up to every Grand Slam, a host of former champions and tennis pundits tend to provide their views on the favorites for the title. And for this year's men's singles title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have unanimously been labeled the top contenders.

However, the pecking order in which they appear on people's list of favourites does vary.

Rafael Nadal is a 12-time Roland Garros champion and the heavy favorite in Paris every year. But this year, due to the pandemic and his lack of match practice, he is not as overwhelming a favorite as he usually is.

Even Mats Wilander, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, is predicting a much tougher challenge for the Spaniard in 2020. In fact, Wilander has picked Novak Djokovic as his favorite to win the title - ahead of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.

“I think it’s Novak, Rafa and Dominic who are the three favourites – I would put Novak Djokovic slightly ahead of the other two," Wilander told the PA news agency.

Novak Djokovic has won the French Open on one occasion - in 2016. And after his earlier than expected exit in New York, he rebounded well to win the title in Rome on Monday.

Also check out: The Complete French Open 2020 Schedule 

Novak Djokovic nearly beat Rafael Nadal that time when it was rainy: Mats Wilander


One of the reasons that Wilander suggested could work against Nadal are the weather conditions this time of the year, which would be much cooler and possibly wetter than when the tournament is normally held in May. It was in similarly heavy conditions that Nadal was beaten by Argentina's Diego Schwartzman in Rome last week.

Rafael Nadal with the French Open title in 2014 when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the final
Rafael Nadal with the French Open title in 2014 when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the final
"I think the field has a much better chance this year than any year I can remember since Rafael Nadal started winning. It’s a huge, huge difference for Rafa. This is a huge challenge for him and he’s going to be praying for some kind of Indian summer," Wilander added.

The Swede then went on to explain why Novak Djokovic and other hardcourt specialists might do better than usual on the Parisian clay this year.

"For Novak, I think it’s perfect," Wilander said. "Novak nearly beat him (Nadal) that time when it was rainy (the 2012 final). But even the field – I think the hardcourt players are going to do better because it’s not as slippery when it’s a little wetter and colder, the balls don’t spin as much.”
Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal at the 2019 French Open
Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal at the 2019 French Open

Dominic Thiem, meanwhile, has reached the Roland Garros final the last two years, losing to Rafael Nadal on each occasion. But he does have four wins over the Spaniard in 12 matches on clay (the second most by any active player after Novak Djokovic's seven).

The Austrian comes into Paris after winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open earlier this month, and will be well-rested after choosing not to play any of the tune-up events.

Wilander believes Dominic Thiem will also be very dangerous at this year's tournament, despite the less-than-stellar manner in which he won the US Open final.

“If he can forget the final (of the US Open) and just take the win and tell himself: ‘I don’t know what happened that day but I played great for six matches, I fought hard in the final and I managed to bring home the trophy.' This is perfect conditions for Thiem. He can hit through a heavy clay court. I think he’s going to be extremely dangerous," Wilander added.

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Published 23 Sep 2020, 22:16 IST
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