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The five favourites: Roland Garros men’s preview

  • Matt Trollope

As Roland Garros approaches, five men – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev – stand above the rest when it comes to title favouritism.

Tsitsipas, Alcaraz and Djokovic scooped the three biggest clay-court lead-up titles at Masters events in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome.

Djokovic, Tsitsipas and Zverev were three of the four semifinalists in both Madrid and Rome – as they were at Roland Garros last year.

The fourth of that 2021 semifinal quartet, Nadal, is a towering figure at the clay-court Grand Slam and will target a mind-blowing 14th French title over the next fortnight.

READ MORE: Stosur backs Swiatek for Roland Garros title

What makes this year’s tournament at Roland Garros all the more exciting is that these players may well have to go through one another to achieve ultimate glory in Paris.

That likelihood increased when Djokovic, Nadal, Alcaraz and Zverev all landed in the top half of the draw when it was released on Thursday.

Novak Djokovic

Ranking: No.1
Clay W-L in 2022: 10-3 
Best results: W Rome; F Belgrade; SF Madrid

Despite a slow start to the European clay-court swing, the world No.1 has steadily built momentum, which reached a crescendo last week in Rome.

Djokovic scooped the Italian title for the sixth time – beating top-10 players Felix Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud and Tsitsipas in succession – and believes he is well positioned for his Roland Garros title defence.

“I couldn't ask for a better week really. Played a perfect set today. Didn't drop a set the whole tournament,” Djokovic said following his 6-0 7-6(5) victory in the final over Tsitsipas.

“I knew I'm kind of player, particularly on clay, that needs more time, at least three, four weeks to get to the desired level. Historically that's always been the case. I usually peak here in Rome.

“Anything that I was really looking for here in Rome I got. It's the perfect kind of preparation and lead-up to Roland Garros.”

Djokovic will be playing for his third title in Paris, and a record-equalling 21st major singles title.

Rafael Nadal

Ranking: No.5
Clay W-L in 2022: 3-2
Best result: QF Madrid

One cannot discount Nadal, despite his physical issues.

The 35-year-old Spaniard was visibly struggling with a chronic foot injury during his third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov in Rome, although, in an encouraging sign, he practised before thousands of fans on Wednesday at Court Philippe Chatrier.

Unlike previous seasons, Nadal arrives in Paris short on clay-court match play. The rib injury he sustained at Indian Wells kept him off tour for six weeks and limited him to tournaments in Madrid – where he stretched Alcaraz to three sets in the quarters – and Rome.

Yet the last time he won at Roland Garros, in 2020, he entered the tournament with just three clay-court matches under his belt following a quarterfinal loss in Rome, and proceeded to storm to the title without losing a set.

This year, he could meet 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, and faces a projected quarterfinal meeting with Djokovic, who ended his run last year in a brutal semifinal.

Carlos Alcaraz

Ranking: No.6
Clay W-L in 2022: 16-1
Best results: W Madrid, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro

Nadal’s teenaged countryman was the talk of the clay-court season prior to Djokovic’s Rome resurgence.

Alcaraz takes a 10-match winning streak into Roland Garros, with his three most recent victories coming over Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev to complete a stunning run in Madrid.

Despite having played in the main draw at just five majors, the 19-year-old is already a US Open quarterfinalist and came agonisingly close to a place in the second week at Melbourne Park before losing in a fifth-set tiebreak to Matteo Berrettini.

RELATED: Timing perfect for Alcaraz to dominate, says Woodbridge

“I consider that I am playing very, very well, and I think that I am a tough opponent for the other players,” smiled Alcaraz, who in 2022 has a 28-3 record and has risen from world No.32 to No.6.

“I think that people are going to think that I'm going to be one of the favourites to win Roland Garros, but… I don't have it as tension; I have it as a motivation. I really look forward to going to Paris, to fighting for the Grand Slam, and I am really looking forward to show my great level in a Grand Slam too.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Ranking: No.4
Clay W-L in 2022: 14-3
Best results: W Monte Carlo; F Rome; SF Madrid

As is becoming tradition, Tsitsipas put together another excellent clay-court season in 2022 and will hope to conclude it with a strong showing in Paris.

He came within a set of capturing his first major title last year at Roland Garros, before Djokovic reeled him in from two-sets-to-love down in the final.

Admirably, Tsitsipas seems to have shaken off that disappointment to retain a place in the world’s top five; despite another loss to Djokovic in Rome, he notched impressive wins over Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner, among others, during the European spring and defended his Monte Carlo title.

He does not, however, consider himself the favourite next fortnight.

“Carlos Alcaraz or Novak Djokovic. They both play great, great tennis. I would put them as favourites,” he said.

“I'd love myself to get around with these players and be there with them. But I will really need to put a bit more attention to detail in the next couple of weeks.”

He opens his Roland Garros campaign against talented young Italian Lorenzo Musetti. 

Alexander Zverev

Ranking: No.3
Clay W-L in 2022: 12-4 
Best results: F Madrid; SF Monte Carlo, Rome

The German has enjoyed a solid clay-court swing, reaching at least the semifinals of the three clay-court Masters events.

The one blip was an opening-round loss on home soil to Holger Rune in Munich. 

Zverev scored hard-fought wins over Sinner, Auger-Aliassime and Marin Cilic in the past month, as well as a confidence-boosting triumph over nemesis Tsitsipas in the Madrid semis – yet lost to the Greek in both Monte Carlo and Rome. 

Boasting an impressive career record on clay, Zverev owns three Masters titles on the surface as well as three trips to the quarterfinal stage in Paris; the third of those became a semifinal finish in 2021. 

He has landed in the same quarter of the draw as Alcaraz, who beat him 6-3 6-1 in the Madrid final.