Sheltering from the late spring warmth on the Spanish isle of Mallorca, a big group of journalists eagerly awaited Rafael Nadal inside a vibrant convention room.
In entrance of the neatly-spaced and neatly dressed members of the press final Thursday, Nadal introduced he wouldn’t play within the 2023 French Open resulting from a hip harm, denying his likelihood of a fifteenth title.
Successful the French Open with out Nadal
As his assortment of Roland Garros titles steadily elevated from 2005, the query for tennis followers was at all times who might cease the French Open skilled at his personal event.
Now, the tennis panorama has dramatically shifted. With essentially the most profitable participant of the occasion eliminated, the competitors has opened right into a vicious battle between three rival teams. Novak Djokovic, the NextGen, and youthful rising stars like Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner now have a good chance at claiming the trophy, however solely by defeating the opposite two, in an epic clay court docket battle.
Winners of the French Open past Nadal (and those that beat the Spaniard) mauled the normal clay court docket playbook in favour of higher-risk methods. Shorter rallies, aggressive baseline hitting, and daring drop-shots combined with volleys have collectively proved an efficient path to victory.
Three Rival Teams
Initially, the outlook for Djokovic seems to be suboptimal. The latest Rome masters proved that his ongoing elbow harm hampered efficiency whereas nonetheless being susceptible to the youthful technology.
Holger Rune patiently dismantled Djokovic within the quarter-finals by standing behind the baseline and ready for Djokovic to make an error or pounce on a brief ball from the Serb. This technique labored, given the scenario with Djokovic’s elbow and his relative lack of match observe this yr.
However a hungry, aggressive Djokovic with a recovered arm can be a formidable power to beat if his opponent relied on the Serb making errors.
Supplied Djokovic has gained sufficient clay court docket expertise by way of motion, shot restoration and bounce peak, he has no cause to carry again.
An all-out assault from Djokovic would devastate any opponent from the NextGen or youthful rising stars. A extra correct and exact first serve out-wide on either side and an improved second serve have been one key to Djokovic’s newest clutch of grand slam victories from his 2018 US Open victory onwards.
His flat backhand down the road, surprising drop photographs and ghosting into the online additionally helped him declare the 2021 French Open title.
Above all, his psychological sport in a grand slam ultimate can be unmatched, particularly having come again from two units down towards Stefanos Tsitsipas that very same yr.
The importance of successful would additionally spur Djokovic’s willpower. A 3rd French Open title would have him go down because the second-best clay courter of all time, whereas a twenty-third grand slam places him above Nadal and ties Serena Williams’s main depend.
With two grand slams left within the yr and clearly the upcoming favorite at Wimbledon, Djokovic can win essentially the most grand slams of any participant in historical past. It will additionally solidify a mini-comeback for Djokovic after his surprising Monte-Carlo, Bajka Luka, and Rome exits by quelling doubts about his bodily talents.
Except Daniil Medvedev, the hopes of the NextGen (i.e. the remaining Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Tsitsipas) don’t look as robust.
Simply two years in the past, on the 2021 Madrid Masters, Medvedev exclaimed his dislike of enjoying on clay in a McEnroe-esque show of frustration.
The episode included racquet-throwing and chattering to the umpire in what turned out to be a weird spherical of 32 victory towards Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. He was later defeated by Cristian Garin within the following spherical.
The issue for Medvedev was motion. He was so used to sliding and balancing exhausting courts that he struggled to get better to a prepared place after sliding on clay. Having labored on his clay footwork, Medvedev was capable of pull off a exceptional feat – his first title victory on the floor, with the Rome Masters 1000.
Check out the ways utilized by different French Open champions than Nadal, they usually bear a placing similarity to Medvedev’s enjoying type. A brief takeback giving the flexibility to hit balls on the rise, flat photographs, acute angles and a combination of netplay with disguised drop photographs is a fertile breeding floor for victory on clay.
Commentators have lately nicknamed him “the professor” for his tactical acuity. Put his latest victory in Rome, improved motion, and sport type collectively, and out of the blue one of the vital unlikely gamers turns into a possible champion on the French Open.
Successful right here would additional separate Medvedev from his NextGen cohort as the one participant to win a number of grand slams and spend time because the world primary.
Whereas Medvedev relaxes again into coaching, Zverev has cruised to the Geneva Open semi-final by walkover within the quarter-final.
His file at Roland Garros is respectable, having reached the quarter-finals twice, then the semi-finals in 2021 and 2022.
Harm has dogged him since his 2022 exit towards Nadal, hampering his restoration, eliminating the prospect of aggressive observe, and sliding him additional down the rankings to twenty-seven from six in October final yr.
After a straight-sets defeat by Medvedev within the spherical of 16 at Rome in 2023, an out-of-form Zverev appears unlikely to win the title.
Rublev has a formidable file on clay, with 4 titles gained on the floor, together with the Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 occasion. Nevertheless, his efficiency at Roland Garros doesn’t portend to a good likelihood of successful the event, having been twice so far as the quarter-finals, most lately in 2022.
Equally, Stefanos Tsitsipas has a constructive file on clay with 4 titles, together with the 2021 and 2022 editions of Monte-Carlo. However his psychological energy appears to be his downfall in Grand Slams, shedding to Djokovic within the 2022 French Open ultimate (once more regardless of his two-set lead) and the 2023 Australian ultimate.
Among the many youthful rising stars, Carlos Alcaraz appears the perfect contender. The truth that he has gained a Grand Slam on the 2022 US Open will assist his perception in successful one other event of that magnitude.
Changing into the primary man to beat Nadal and Djokovic on the identical clay court docket occasion (the 2022 Madrid Masters 1000) will even present encouragement.
Alcaraz’s aggressive type of play and tactical variation once more echoes again to the profitable methods of previous Roland Garros champions. His stamina and sustained vitality on the court docket can be important due to the “finest of 5” grand slam format.
His flexibility, too, has confirmed a strong weapon to show defence into assault, hitting winners far past the traces of the court docket. The significantly nice depth behind the baselines of Philippe Chatrier will assist Alcaraz because it did Nadal for therefore a few years, growing the prospect of staying within the rally and getting one more ball again.
Sinner might even have a superb likelihood, although he has gained one clay occasion in comparison with Alcaraz’s six, together with the Spaniard’s back-to-back Madrid titles in 2022 and 2023. Sinner’s flexibility and motion may push him deep into the slam, however he has but to progress previous the quarter-finals of a serious (most lately on the 2022 US Open).
The Rome masters have altered the rankings, displacing Djokovic from one to 3, Medvedev at two and Alcaraz at one.
The result’s that the 2023 French Open draw accommodates Djokovic, Alcaraz and Rublev in a single half, with Medvedev, Rune, Sinner and Zverev within the different half. Djokovic might meet Alcaraz, however solely within the semi-finals.
Which means that the ultimate will probably be a contest between Medvedev and Djokovic or Alcaraz.
A battle between the NextGen and the rising stars is likely to be fascinating, however I would favor to see Djokovic within the ultimate.
Within the final chapter of the massive three, a Djokovic victory can be becoming, overcoming not solely the NextGen but in addition the facility of latest gamers like Alcaraz – the final word domination of shutting out a number of generations from successful grand slams, lengthy after most gamers have retired of their early thirties.
The possibility to go down as the best of all time and finish the talk may very well be too tempting for Djokovic. Defeating Alcaraz and Medvedev back-to-back would require herculean energy, however past Nadal, solely Djokovic is succesful.
An alternate scenario is Alcaraz wins a second slam, overcomes Djokovic within the semi-finals, then faces Medvedev, or higher but, a contemporary battle towards his rising rival Sinner.
Risks lurk, too, for these key gamers. Casper Ruud, Davidovich Fokina and Tsitsipas stay robust forces who might upset higher-seeded gamers and dramatically change the result of the latter draw.
No matter occurs, Nadal’s exit has solely solidified the resolve of those three warring factions in maybe essentially the most essential grand slam of the yr.
What are your ideas on every group’s probabilities? Can Djokovic make it to twenty-three grand slams, or will a youthful technology block him? And the way finest might every group win the title? Depart your feedback under.