Rafael Nadal is undoubtedly the king of clay. He has won a record 10 French Open titles with his latest coming in 2017. He won his first title there in 2005 and has not looked back since. Incredibly, in all these years, he has only been defeated by Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic on the courts of Roland Garros.
Soderling of course has gone into obscurity after that rare win in 2009 and enabled Federer to achieve the Career Slam. Djokovic too has suffered from loss of form, with the latest rankings putting him at No.22.
Not many players are capable of giving Nadal a run for his money on clay but here we take a look at five players who can possibly prevent him from winning his 11th title:
4 players who can beat Nadal
#1 Dominic Thiem
The Austrian giant-slayer is one of the rising stars of tennis. His big forehand and effortless style of playing has earned him many fans and his biggest victory was when he ousted Djokovic in the 2017 French Open in straight sets.
The manner of his victory was what stunned most people. He is currently ranked no.8 in the world. His best performance at Roland Garros has been his two semifinal appearances in 2016 and 2017, where Nadal defeated him en route to his 10th title.
Thiem’s most recent encounter with the world number 1 was at the Madrid Open where Thiem got the better of him in straight sets win. He is more than capable of holding his own on clay and his victory should spur him on and give him the motivation to overcome Nadal.
#2 Alexander Zverev
German Alexander Zverev is currently ranked third in the world. He is only 21 years of age but has already announced himself on the big stage, with victories at the Madrid Open and last year’s Italian Open.
In these title wins, he defeated players like Djokovic and Thiem in the final and to add to it, won them in straight sets. His talent and capability on clay is proven. While he may not have progressed very far in his Grand Slam appearances, this season he has added another dimension to his game and could be set for the long haul.
Zverev and Nadal have played each other 5 times so far, with the Spaniard winning all of the encounters. Their most recent encounter was in the finals of the 2018 Italian Open, where Nadal defeated him in three sets. Despite not having won a match against Nadal, Zverev is sure to take encouragement from his recent performances and could overcome him.
#3 Juan Martin Del Potro
Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro is one of the tallest players in the tennis circuit. Standing at 1.98m, his big frame allows him to get those serves in at blistering pace and a lot of times, the return does not arrive. He is his country’s highest ranked men’s player ahead of Juan Monaco, Guillermo Coria and fan favourite, David Nalbandian.
He has won only one Grand Slam so far in his career, the 2009 US Open where he defeated Swiss legend, Roger Federer in five sets. His best performance at the French Open was his semifinal appearance in 2009. He is currently ranked no. 6 in the world.
Del Potro and Nadal have played each other 14 times throughout their careers, with Nadal holding the edge with 9 wins to Del Potro’s 5. The most high-profile victory for Del Potro was when he defeated Nadal en route to his US Open in 2009 in the semifinals. They last met at the US Open semifinal in 2017, where Nadal prevailed in four sets. Del Potro will be looking to get one over him at the French Open.
#4 Novak Djokovic
How could we leave out the enigmatic Serbian from this list? He has done it once in the past and is most certainly capable of doing it again in the 2018 French Open. Djokovic was world no.3 for a long time behind Federer and Nadal and rose to the top through sheer hard work.
Though he has had an underwhelming past year due to an elbow injury, even taking time off after Wimbledon, he has looked improved since his surgery in February. His rankings have suffered as a result of his break and he currently finds himself in the 22nd position. He will be looking to get into the top ten as soon as possible.
Djokovic and Nadal have a fairly even head-to-head with Djokovic just edging out Nadal with 26 wins compared to 25. They met at the Italian Open semi-final where Nadal got the better of the Serbian. His recent resurgence is not to be taken lightly and Djokovic could most probably oust Nadal from the French Open.