The season’s 1st Grand Slam has recently come to a close at Melbourne Park. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Austria’s Dominic Thiem were the worthy winner and finalist respectively. The next Grand Slam will be played in May and June this year on the red dirt of Paris at Roland Garros.
Will the results of the Australian Open have any effect on the French Open or will Rafael Nadal again conquer Roland Garros without much resistance. We analyse the early possibilities in this article.
The Clay King Is Hungrier Than Ever?
Rafael Nadal has already lost 3 matches in the 1st month of Season 2020. He lost just 7 matches in the whole of 2019. Rafa will now play in Mexico and then the sunshine double starts in the United States. Following the sunshine double Nadal would have to defend 3900 points at the clay court season.
Last year the Spaniard lost in the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before lifting titles at Rome and Roland Garros. Nadal who has won Monte Carlo and Barcelona 11 times each would be aiming to lift the trophies again in 2020 as he missed both of them in 2019. That could set the Spaniard up and running for the 2020 Roland Garros International championships.
Nadal was bitterly disappointed after the loss to Dominic Thiem of Austria in the Australian Open quarter-finals. The great Spaniard knows that as he sits just 1 Grand Slam shy of Roger Federer, his own Grand Slam record seems under imminent threat from Novak Djokovic. Another win at Paris will take Nadal 3 slams ahead of Djokovic and on level terms with Federer. Nadal knows that Novak will have more chances than him in both Wimbledon and the United States Open. So the Spaniard would want to do well on his beloved clay and once again raise the Coupe des Mousquetaires in June 2020.
The Challenger And The Heir Apparent
Few players have managed to challenge Rafa Nadal’s dominance on the red dirt. However there are 2 big names who stand out in the current circuit. Those two players are Dominic Thiem who is currently labelled as the Prince of Clay and the current World Number 1 Novak Djokovic.
Thiem has been to the finals of Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019. Last year the Austrian even managed to even take a set of Nadal. Thiem has won 4 matches against Nadal on clay. He is one of the very few players who can match Nadal in intensity for long hours. The World Number 4 will also derive confidence in his at least 1 win each year on clay against Nadal since 2016.
Djokovic has 9 victories against Nadal on the red clay. No player has defeated the Spaniard on the clay more times than Novak has. The Serb is also one of the only 2 players to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros as well as taken the Spaniard to 5 sets in the same tournament. He took Rafa to 5 grueling sets in 2013 semis and also beat him in 2015 quarter-finals.
Both Thiem and Djokovic will have their own motivations as the French Open arrives. Djokovic will sense a chance to hold the double career Grand Slam by winning all 4 slams at least twice. This will make him the only male player in the Open Era to have such a record. He will also sense his chances of closing the Grand Slam gap with his 2 great rivals Roger and Rafa with a win in Paris.
Dominic Thiem was bitterly disappointed to have lost the Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic after being in front with 2 sets to 1 lead. The Austrian was clear in his post match interviews that he wants to win a major tournament when Roger, Rafa and Novak are still playing. The red clay is Thiem’s strongest surface and he already has the experience of playing 2 back to back finals at Court Philippe Chatrier. In 2020, the Austrian will be going all out to better his record there and try to hold the trophy. He knows Nadal will be the most formidable opponent standing between him and the French Open trophy.
Federer And Other Young Guns
Roger Federer has is also expected to play at least one tournament during the clay court season as his preparation for Roland Garros 2020. This Swiss may be above the age of 38 but he still is a force to reckon on any surface. He made it to the semi-finals of 2019 French Open even after a 2 year hiatus.
Other new players like Zverev, Tsitsipas and Medvedev are also gearing up in their chase for a Grand Slam trophy. Alexander Zverev has already made it to his 1st Grand Slam semis in Australia this year. He has won 2 Masters 1000 titles on clay and thus making him a player to reckon.
Daniil Medvedev who took Rafa to 5 sets in the US Open 2019 made it to Monte Carlo semis last year. He even beat Novak Djokovic in the quarters there. Medvedev also made to the Barcelona final before having a sort of burnout and losing his 1st round matches in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. The Russian would be focused to put his disappointments in Australia behind and fully prepare for the season’s 2nd Grand Slam in May and June this year.
Another great clay court player who should find a mention in the conversation is the 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. Stan who also made it to the 2017 finals has the stroke play and forceful shot making ability that gets him great results on clay. The current World Number 13 is putting his injury and lack of form days behind. He made it to the quarter-finals in Australia as well as the US Open 2019. The Swiss who is a 3 time Grand Slam winner can beat any opponent on his day and he has showed it in all 3 of his major wins.
The French Open this year at least on paper should be very competitive with the lot of history on the line. But it would be a suicidal tennis prediction not to place Rafa Nadal as the overwhelming favorite. More things will be clear as the clay court season arrives but based on what we saw in Australia both Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem should jointly be regarded as 2nd favorite(s). Any player other than these 3 winning the title would be news that would rock tennis for a long time.