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Roland Garros men's preview: Alcaraz and Djokovic are the top contenders, but does Medvedev have an inside track?
Is the clay-court Grand Slam really as wide open as we think? We break down the bracket.
Published May 26, 2023
Line Calls, presented by FanDuel: French Open Men’s Futures
Paris is where we come for lopsided men’s draws these days. Last year, the three favorites for the title, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, were all in the same half. This year something similar, if not quite so extreme, has happened: Alcaraz, Djokovic and 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas are all on the same side.
How will that affect the ultimate results? Which player in the slightly weaker lower half might take advantage of the opportunity, the way Casper Ruud did when he made the final in 2022? Here’s a look ahead.
Last year Alcaraz came to Paris after blazing his way to the title in Madrid, with wins over Nadal and Djokovic. This year he comes in having his lost his last match to 135th-ranked Fabian Marozsan in Rome. Will that bubble-bursting stunner have any lasting effect on his confidence?
The top seed, who has yet to make a semifinal in Paris, will start against a qualifier; the first seed he could face is No. 26 Denis Shapovalov; and his projected quarterfinal opponent is Tsitsipas. The Greek is obviously a formidable clay-courter, but Alcaraz has won all four of their previous encounters.
First-round matches to watch:
- Denis Shapovalov vs. Brandon Nakashima
- Lorenzo Musetti vs. Mikael Ymer
- Cameron Norrie vs. Benoit Paire
- Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Fabio Fognini
- Sebastian Korda vs. Mackenzie McDonald
This would seem to be the opening that Djokovic has been waiting for his entire career: A chance to overtake Nadal in the Grand Slam title chase at Roland Garros, without Nadal in the draw. But so far this clay season, Djokovic hasn’t played like a man on a mission. He’s 5-3 on dirt, and is coming off a subpar performance against Holger Rune in Rome. Best-of-five will help him, but he’ll have to up his level considerably to claim his 23rd major title.
Djokovic’s quarter should give him a chance to find his game. He’ll start against 114th-ranked Aleksandar Kovacevic; the first seed he could face is No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina; and his mostly likely quarterfinal opponent will be either Andrey Rublev or Karen Khachanov.
Davidovich Fokina, who beat Djokovic on clay in Monte Carlo last year, could give him a test in the third round. Rublev might be a threat on clay, but Djokovic easily handled him when they met in the Australian Open quarters earlier this year.
First-round matches to watch:
- Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs. Arthur Fils
- Hubert Hurkacz vs. David Goffin
- Ben Shelton vs. Lorenzo Sonego
- Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Wu Yibing
Rune and Ruud, the Scantagonists, are the top two seeds in this section. When they met in the quarters here last year, Ruud won in four sets. Since then, though, the 20-year-old Rune has caught up to him. After a title in Munich, runner-up finishes in Monte Carlo and Rome, and a win over Ruud last week, Rune comes in as one of the favorites to make the final four—or go beyond—in Paris.
Is there anyone who can get in the way of another Rune-Ruud quarter? Taylor Fritz is the next highest seed; after a fast start on clay this spring, the European grind seems to have worn him down a bit. His countryman Tommy Paul is also here; he made the semifinals in Australia, but hasn’t had a breakout performance on dirt yet. Jan-Lennard Struff and Francisco Cerundolo, the 21st and 23rd seeds, have had strong results over the past month, and are dark-horse candidates to reach the semifinals.
First-round match to watch:
- Gael Monfils vs. Sebastian Baez
Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner are the two highest seeds in the bottom quarter, and each is an intriguing figure right now. Medvedev, who just won his first clay-court title, in Rome, will come in with as much or more confidence in his overall game as anyone in the draw. Sinner hasn’t had a great clay season, but he has spent the past year steadily improving, and making himself into a serious future rival of Alcaraz’s.
Medvedev in particular has to like his draw, and his chances. Alcaraz, Djokovic and Tsitsipas are in the other half; the seeds nearest him are Yoshihito Nishioka, Alex De Minaur and Borna Coric; and he’s 6-0 against Sinner.
Also here: Alexander Zverev. The German looked like a potential Roland Garros champion last year, after he beat Alcaraz in the quarters and split sets with Nadal in the semis. Then he caught the wrong piece of clay, tore ligaments in his leg, and was out for most of the rest of 2022. Now he’s close to his top level again, and should give Sinner a good run if they meet in the fourth round. The one guy he can’t seem to beat, though, is Medvedev.
First-round matches to watch:
- Frances Tiafoe vs. Filip Krajinovic
- Dominic Thiem vs. Pedro Cachin