Roland Garros 2018: Nadal and his challengers
Can Nadal win an unprecedented eleventh title this fortnight? Zverev, Thiem and Djokovic would be leading contenders to play spoilsport.
Nadal looks to claim his eleventh title
In the lead up to the second slam of the year, Rafael Nadal has placed himself as the firm favorite to lift Coupe des Mousquetaires for an unprecedented eleventh time. Him being such a strong favorite after so many downs in his career is a tremendous achievement.
Yet, something that is not so good for tennis, is the absence of a set of firm challengers to the world No.1.
In the absence of Roger Federer and Andy Murray, and with Djokovic not being the expected challenger, the brunt of challenging Nadal falls squarely on the shoulders of the upcoming players, ones who could potentially replace the erstwhile Big 4, if the former does not reclaim that status soon.
Potential Challengers: Zverev and Thiem
Speaking of the players to challenge Nadal, it should be the duo of Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem who would figure at the top of the list.
Zverev, the second seed here, will be looking for a good run at the Roland Garros this week. Having not forayed beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam, despite his seeding and expectations in the past, a deep run now looks inevitable.
With the draw clear until the quarterfinals (of course, a former Champion in the form of an off-color Wawrinka would look to steal the show), it looks as though he would at least make it one round further.
What makes his run beyond the quarterfinals doubtful is the towering challenge in the form of Austrian star Dominic Thiem.
Having made it to the semifinals in the past two years and having played almost all of the weeks during the clay-court season with decent success, he would look to go a step or two further this year.
With Nadal in the other half of the draw, he should not have much to complain about. Yet, the loss that he faced in the finals of Madrid Masters after serving Nadal his only defeat in the last two months, could lower his confidence if he were to face the same opponent in the quarters as in the Madrid finals- Alexander Zverev.
If the two meet in the quarters, in line with their seeding, we could witness a battle that would be significant in two ways - it would become part of a budding rivalry between two prospective Grand Slam Champions; it could also be a very significant match that could decide how the business end of this tournament would pan out.
Is Djokovic Back?
Placed in the bottom half along with these two are two former Champions, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka.
Though Wawrinka might not be so much of a threat, the experience that he brings when compared to the inexperience of these two could play its part in a five-setter.
Still, such surprises could be written off, as the Swiss has been exhibiting a very poor form since his return from an injury break.
Djokovic though, is staring at redemption. With his form and results getting better of late, he could pose a serious challenge to these two.
Wins over these young stars and a couple of other players in the next fortnight could definitely signal a resurgence. Wimbledon and beyond would confirm it.
Others in the run
Others like Kei Nishikori, David Goffin, and Grigor Dimitrov also occupy places in the lower half. Among these only Nishikori, who is on a comeback trail, could notch significant wins the last few weeks.
The top half, in comparison, looks rather dull. Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Kevin Anderson (who is having a late-career spurt) could make the most of the draw to make deep runs.
Old guard Vs the new prospects
For Nadal, it could be another chance to claim the trophy that he has owned for most of his career.
Other contenders look rather weak in comparison. For most, it could be a successful tournament, if they manage to reach as far as to be able to meet Nadal on the match courts.
With results and form wavering, the field looks rather unstable and unpredictable. With the current crop of Champions not giving up easily and the next crop unable to breach their fortresses, it looks like a prolonged battle for transition in the men’s tour which might not see an end even this fortnight.