Are we set for the most unpredictable French Open men’s draw in years?

Are we set for the most unpredictable French Open men’s draw in years?

With less than one month until action begins at the French Open, we don’t quite know what to expect at Roland Garros this year.

When talking about the women’s draw, there is a strong sense of the pecking order: Iga Swiatek is the favourite, with Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina her two main rivals.

But, rather unusually, the picture regarding the men’s draw is not as clear.

The clay season has been fascinating in every single way, with plenty of huge talking points on and off court.

There is no one figure conclusively ahead of the pack – with no one completely excelling, and injuries scuppering a fair few.

All that leads to one question: is this the most unpredictable French Open men’s draw in years?

Djokovic’s patchy form

We’ve not seen much from defending champion Novak Djokovic in 2024, and when he played, he has not quite been at his best.

The world No 1 was outplayed by Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open, out of form in a shock Indian Wells loss to Luca Nardi, and suffered a first loss to Casper Ruud in Monte Carlo.

Djokovic languishes down in 12th in the ATP Race to Turin and though we will get a great indicator of his form at the Italian Open, there is a sense he is not as untouchable as he was.

With three titles at the French Open to his name and several key protagonists also struggling, he might still be the favourite at this point – but not a heavy favourite, like he has been at most majors recently.

Sinner, Alcaraz, and Medvedev’s fitness battle

Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, and Daniil Medvedev entered the Madrid Open as the top three seeds, and all then exited the tournament under an injury cloud.

World No 2 Sinner withdrew from his quarter-final due to a hip issue, while world No 4 Medvedev retired in his last eight encounter due to an abductor problem.

While, having withdrawn from Monte Carlo and Barcelona, world No 3 Alcaraz also lost in the last eight in Madrid – and has now withdrawn from Rome with a persistent arm issue.

Recently there has been a growing sense that these three and Djokovic had started to separate themselves from the rest of the field, and ranking points show this is true over a 52-week period.

But with three of the four potentially unfit and undercooked heading into the second major of the year, they are perhaps more susceptible than we would have thought a few weeks back.

Read More: Carlos Alcaraz dealt huge blow as latest injury forces significant withdrawal

Unproven chasing pack

Behind the top four, the players ranked fifth to eighth are all established names: Alexander Zverev, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Andrey Rublev.

But while they have all found success in their careers, they combine for a grand total of zero Grand Slam titles.

Ruud has managed to reach three major finals – including at the last two editions of Roland Garros – while Tsitsipas is a French and Australian Open runner-up and Zverev lost a US Open final.

But there is a sense that, more often than not, there is a mental block for these four when it comes to Slams.

Zverev has suffered some painful Slam defeats – his US Open final loss and this year’s Australian Open semi-final loss among them – and often finds himself dragged into unnecessary four or five-setters.

Ruud has failed to reach a major quarter-final outside his three final runs, while Tsitsipas has not reached a Slam quarter-final since Australia last year – while Rublev is 0-10 at the last eight stage of a major.

Zverev has reached three straight semi-finals in Paris, while Ruud and Tsitsipas are already clay court titleists in 2024, and Rublev has looked good in Madrid.

But while all of them are talented enough to win a major, it is hard to find enough confidence to truly back them.

Read More: Casper Ruud labelled the French Open favourite by ATP rival in bold claim

Nadal undercooked

The reason Roland Garros has been fairly shut off in terms of surprises in recent years is largely because of one man.

Rafael Nadal’s French Open record speaks for itself – 14 titles, and just three losses – but the Spaniard who has owned this event is not the player he once was.

His run in Madrid was encouraging but it is clear his body is fragile, and he himself does not seem to realistically back himself to win seven best-of-five-set matches in a row.

A champion in Paris recently as 2022, it feels like this will be Nadal’s French Open farewell; it will likely be a bittersweet one.

Who to back

There are reasons why you could back any one of the top eight to win the title come early June – but then there are also reasons why you would not back them to triumph.

We may not get a champion quite as surprising as Albert Costa in 2002 or Gaston Gaudio in 2004, but there is undoubtedly a chance for someone here.

It might be safest to hedge your bets on a familiar face – but don’t be surprised if this year, more than ever, Roland Garros throws up one or two surprises.

Read More: ‘Rafael Nadal will only play French Open if he thinks he can get to the end’, says Roger Federer’s ex-coach

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