Top 5 Contenders to Beat Nadal at the French Open

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Rafael Nadal is not called the "King of Clay" without good reason but here are five potential challengers to his French Open crown.

Rafael Nadal celebrating his French Open win of 2020

Rafael Nadal has dominated the French Open for well over a decade and the King of the Clay is a short price to conquer Roland Garros for a 14th time in June.

Since claiming a first Grand Slam crown at the French Open in 2005, the super Spaniard has made the Paris Major his own and there have been only three different names engraved on the trophy since his breakthrough triumph.

Nadal, rightly considered the greatest clay-court player of all-time, has won four French Open titles on the spin and despite closing in on his 35th birthday, challengers to his supremacy appear few and far between.

But age must catch up with everyone eventually, so we assess the chances of five players who may be able to bring Rafa’s reign in Paris to an end this year.

1 Dominic Thiem

The biggest obstacle to Nadal may be Austrian ace Dominic Thiem, who claimed his first Grand Slam title at last year’s US Open.

That was the fourth Major final of Thiem’s career and two of those Grand Slam title-deciders came at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019, when he was thwarted by Nadal.

Despite his big win coming at Flushing Meadows, clay is without doubt Thiem’s best surface and it would be a shock to the system were he not to one day be crowned champion in Paris.

Thiem has reached at least the quarter-final stage at Roland Garros in each of the last five seasons – that also featured two semi-final defeats – and he is a more complete player now.

The 27-year-old is a 17-time winner on the ATP Tour, with ten of those titles coming on clay, and he took Rafa to four sets in his 2019 French Open final defeat.

With more experience of high-pressured situations under his belt, Thiem is capable of offering stiffer resistance were they to lock horns again, and he is 7/2 to triumph in 2021.

2 Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is one of only three players who have been able to taste French Open glory since Nadal’s domination and it would be dangerous to dismiss the 18-time Grand Slam champion.

Djokovic has won six of the last nine Grand Slam events and he has failed to make the quarter-final stage at Roland Garros just once in the last 15 years.

The Serb has reached five of the last nine finals, which includes last year, and although he has been beaten by Nadal in three of those, his consistency at the top table makes him a serious threat, with odds of 11/4 to win this time around.

3 Stefanos Tsitsipas

Rising Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas is edging ever closer to a first Grand Slam final and this year’s French Open may be where he can achieve that goal.

The world number five made the semi-final in the French capital last year before losing out in five sets to eventual runner-up Djokovic, but it was a defeat that should have taught him plenty.

Tsitsipas had outclassed Grigor Dimitrov and Andrey Rublev in straight sets prior to that and this is a surface that clearly plays to his strengths.

The 22-year-old came from two sets down to defeat Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open earlier this year and it shouldn’t be long until he gets his day in the sun, with Paris a possibility at a price of 18/1 this year.

4 Jannik Sinner

Italian tennis is in a healthy place and the emergence of teenager Jannik Sinner has provided them with another star destined for big things.

At 19 years of age, Sinner is already a two-time winner on the ATP Tour and up to 34 in the world rankings.

Sinner, who is 40/1 to win at Roland Garros in 2021, has shown he is not fazed by the big occasion and his run to the quarter-final of last year’s French Open, where he defeated seeds David Goffin and Alexander Zverev, highlighted his talents.

The Italian was denied by Nadal in the last eight but he posed plenty of problems early on for the Spanish great, taking the opening set to tiebreak, and with more tactical nous may one day exact his revenge.

5 Diego Schwartzman

There are few players more consistent on clay than Diego Schwartzman, who this month claimed silverware on the surface at his home event of the Argentina Open.

The plucky world number nine reached the semi-finals of the French Open last season, going one better than in 2018 thanks to his win over Thiem in the last eight.

Schwartzman has won three of his four titles on the ATP Tour on clay and is at his best on the slower surface, as highlighted by last year’s Rome Masters quarter-final win over Nadal, and he is 25/1 to triumph in Paris this season.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Aaron is Mr Versatile – he covers all sports but with a particular passion for football, tennis and snooker.

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