The 2022 French Open contenders

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It’s that time of year again. Spring is here, COVID restrictions are loosening, and the 2022 French Open is almost upon us! A perfect time to take a look at the contenders.

2022 French Open Contenders

Rafael Nadal

Nadal has had an extraordinary career. At the age of 35 going on 36, he is still at the top and going for his 14th French Open. I will say it again to sink in, 14th French Open! 13 victories in one tournament is by far the most of any player at an event. However, it says a lot about Nadal that he wants to add another.

On paper it looks doable but as time rolls on it becomes more difficult. Injuries are taking its toll and could jettison him out of the tourney, and if fully fit, will have to face Djokovic at some point to win it. Djokovic beat him in last year’s seminal and is looking sharp. Meanwhile, Carlos Alcaraz has emerged as a real threat the last few months but is an unknown quantity at his stage at five set level. Nadal will feel he has the measure of Tsitsipas and Zverev, should they meet deep in the tournament.

If Nadal can recover from his latest injury setback to play the tournament, I would make him slight favourite. But not heavy favorite as in previous years.

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic has experienced a strange year so far. It all began with the drama of the Australian Open, when he was initially admitted with a Covid19 exemption. However, he was then unceremoniously kicked out by the Australian government when it was discovered his exemption was flawed.

Since that saga Djokovic has not played much at all. He lost early in Dubai, missed Indian Wells and Miami due to covid restrictions and lost the Madrid semifinal to Alcaraz. Djokovic will feel much better, having just beaten Tstisipas to win the Italian Open.

Incredibly, Djokovic retained his number 1 ranking due to his nearest challenger Daniil Medvedev fluffing his lines then having a hernia operation. As defending champion, Djokovic will go into the French Open in confident mood. Three things can stop him: complacency, serious injury, or Carlos Alcaraz. At this stage, unlikely but we will see.

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Carlos Alcaraz

Alcaraz has had an incredible start to the year and is the talk of tennis. Alcaraz won Miami in April, Madrid last weekend and is proving the most influential teenager since Nadal in 2005.

No doubt Alcaraz is an exciting prospect and plays the type of game we don’t see often in modern tennis. Alcaraz plays attacking tennis in the true sense of the phrase. Very much in the footsteps of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras. The convention over the last fifteen to twenty years is to play a game which is steady, within the lines with the occasional spectacular shot.  Most guys hit 10 to 20 winners on a really good day. However, in a three-set match, Alcaraz can rack up 30 to 40 winners easily. By attacking the net as often as possible, drop shots and winners in the corners.

This is rare, and so far most of the “NextGen” players who are a bit older have been unable to match his intensity. Alcaraz beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back in Madrid, another rarity. As for the French Open, the hype will be there but we have to be patient and wait and see if he is ready. He reached the quarterfinal of the US Open last year, beating Tsitsipas along the way. He will feel he is on the right path.

With the guidance of former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz can be a force at this year’s French Open. It may be too early this year as Alcaraz can still his improve, such as his serve, but watch out!

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Tstisipas must feel in a strange place. This time last year, Tsitsipas was set to be French Open champion with a two sets lead over Djokovic in the final. He was set to be the first “next gen” player to break through. However, it went badly wrong. Tsitsipas surrendered the next three sets rather meekly and I would argue has not really recovered.

Having lost the Italian Open final to Dkokovic last weekend will not have helped. Tstisipas did win Monte Carlo in April, his first win in a year. As for the French Open, Tsitsipas will be one of the contenders but there are reservations. A natural clay court player but he has some technical flaws which are becoming insurmountable. This is now affecting his mental game. Those flaws include the serve, shanking the backhand and his volleys. They are all very good shots but when scoreboard pressure is on they can break down, always a sign of technical hitches.

Tsitsipas has also not resolved the coaching situation satisfactorily. He appears to be still travelling with his dad as coach, mum and his family.  Not sure where Thomas Enqvist stands or if he is involved in the set up. Alcaraz has shown the way by getting the best coaches around him at an early age. Tsitsipas needs an elite full time coach to get him to the next level. An example would be Andy Murray who went from Mark Petchey to Ivan Lendl and we saw the results.

If Tsitsipas can pull off the French Open with such stiff competition, it will be his biggest achievement.

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Alexander Zverev

Like Tsitsipas, Zverev has lost his only Major final so far in five sets. This was at the 2020 US Open to Dominic Thiem. The setbacks have not put off Zverev. He continually puts himself in contention at the business end of major tournaments.

At 2 metres tall (6 ft 7 inches) Zverev is the tallest player on this list. He moves very well for a tall guy but like Tsitsipas has technical issues which affects his game and confidence. Zverev’s biggest issue by far is his 2nd serve and double faults. They come at bad moments and can be very ugly. Some 2nd serves come in at 200kph, others are 115kph in the middle of the service box, this affects the rest of his game. Last year Zverev reached the semfinal and came from two sets down against Tsitsipas, only to lose the fifth set…

Zverev will be a contender this year as always but will find it difficult unless he solves the double faults. Zverev can also take a leaf out of Alcaraz’s book, he needs to play more aggressive and go for his shots.

Outsiders

Lorenzo Musetti

He has the shots, the guile and ability to be a champion one day. He is still in development phase but took two sets off Djokovic last year in the Round of 16 but lost tamely in five sets in the end. Good experience for him.

Jannik Sinner

Another Italian who’s earmarked to be a future Top 5 player. The transition is taking place a bit slowly and his current game is a bit too basic. He needs to develop some killer shots if he wants to get to the next level.

Main Photo from Getty.