French Open Men’s Dark Horses

Kei Nishikori
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The French Open draw has been released, and fans have been shocked by an unfamiliar sight.

For the first time ever, the “Big Three” are in the same half of the draw. Joining them are huge-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev,potential future world #1 Jannik Sinner, the man with the third-most wins in 2021, Cameron Norrie, 2021’s breakout player Aslan Karatsev, and incredibly energetic Italian Lorenzo Sonego.

Though Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas are strong contenders in the other half of the draw, it’s safe to say there is a little bit of a disparity between the two sides.

In this article, we take a look at some of the men’s dark horses that could take advantage of the weaker half of the field.

French Open Men’s Dark Horses

Kei Nishikori

It feels strange to regard Kei Nishikori as a dark horse but, having suffered a slew of injuries and with a world ranking of #49, it would be foolhardy to say otherwise.

Nishikori could cause some surprises, however. His favorite surface is arguably clay, having won 68.5% of his matches compared to 66.5% on any other surface. He’s shown it this season too, having beaten Fabio Fognini, Cristian Garin and Karen Khachanov on the surface.

Furthermore, he is likely the favourite in his first three matches, at least.

  1. First Round: Qualifier. This will ease Nishikori into the tournament.
  2. Second Round: Karen Khachanov. Khachanov has not been in the best form recently and potentially lost some confidence after winning only two games against Cam Norrie in Lyon.
  3. Third Round: Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard will be the favorite to reach the third round but he might struggle to find the firepower necessary to defeat Nishikori.
  4. Fourth Round: Alexander Zverev. Should Nishikori reach the fourth round, a rematch with Zverev will probably be his reward (though even this isn’t guaranteed as Zverev isn’t the most reliable player at the Majors). Nishikori was beaten soundly in Madrid by the German but in Rome, a slower surface more akin to Roland Garros, Nishikori was very close to winning the match.

Keep an eye on Nishikori as this could be a very promising tournament for him.

Casper Ruud

If you don’t know who Casper Ruud is, you will probably know him well by the time Roland Garros comes to a close.

The Norwegian has utilized his extremely spinny shots to make the semifinals of the last three clay-court Masters events he’s played. He recently picked up his second career title in Geneva, and in 2021 alone, he’s beaten the following players on clay: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Fabio Fognini, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Diego Schwartzman.

Here are his first few potential opponents.

  1. First Round: Benoit Paire. Paire has lost 20 of the last 23 matches he’s played.
  2. Second Round: Arthur Cazaux. Cazaux is a French wild card. At only 18 years old and with a single ATP match win under his belt, the youngster will probably be out of his depth in his first Slam main draw.
  3. Third Round: Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. A dangerous player but Ruud should get the win here.
  4. Fourth Round: Dominic Thiem. Though Thiem walked Ruud at last year’s French Open, the Austrian is not in the same form as he was last year. Ruud could come away with the win here if Thiem is still feeling lackluster.

Ruud could really make an impact in Paris. Don’t let him slip under your radar!

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Cristian Garin

Cristian Garin is a clay court machine.

Garin has the 11th highest winning percentage on the surface of any active player and has won five clay court titles. Though he is the 22nd seed, he is surely the favourite to win his quarter of the draw.

  1. First Round: Juan Ignacio Londero. Londero is currently on a nine-match losing streak.
  2. Second Round: Emil Ruusuvuori. The Fin has won one match on clay in his career, back in 2018, against an unranked player in the Davis Cup.
  3. Third Round: Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov hasn’t been in the best form recently, having been whitewashed by Nadal in Monte Carlo and losing to qualifier, Pablo Cuevas, a few weeks ago in Geneva. The French Open is also the only Slam where he hasn’t made it passed the fourth round.
  4. Fourth Round: Daniil Medvedev/Reilly Opelka/Alexander Bublik. There is no clear favourite for Garin’s fourth round opponent. In any case, he would probably be the favourite in each of these match-ups, having beaten all of these players previously on clay.

Cristian Garin could be very, very dangerous at this year’s French Open. Look out for him in the latter stages of the tournament!

Main Photo from Getty.