It won’t be too long now until spring has sprung, which will lead elite tennis into its clay court season.
All eyes will be on Roland Garros, with both the men’s and women’s draws of the French Open shaping up to be as wide-open as they’ve ever been.
We have no real idea about Rafa Nadal’s conditioning, although we do know that Novak Djokovic – fresh from a hurtful defeat in the Australian Open final – is not always the most comfortable on clay.
There have been eight different winners of the women’s event in the past decade, which alone tells us how difficult it is to win – and retain – the trophy.
So here’s a quintet of dangerous outsiders to watch heading into the clay court campaign.
Those that bet on sports can avail themselves of odds of 11/1 on Alexander Zverev to win the 2024 French Open, which compared to the 23/10 about Djokovic and 3/1 of Nadal could represent excellent value. Sites like Paddy Power News will be keeping close tabs on the Spaniard’s lead-in form on his favourite surface.
Zverev, meanwhile, has reached the semi-finals in three consecutive years at Roland Garros, but has never done himself justice in the game – slow out of the blocks against Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2021, he had to painfully retire against Nadal a year later and
was woeful when tackling Casper Ruud in 2023.
DANIIL MEDVEDEV: THE SURVIVOR ?@DaniilMedwed comes from two sets down and wins
two tiebreaks to remain alive and defeat Alexander Zverev for a spot in the #AusOpen final ?@AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/giHE2YDnnb
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 26, 2024
Two sets to the good in his Australian Open semi against Daniil Medvedev before losing 2-3, Zverev will be looking to end his last four hoodoo at the next available opportunity. His stellar clay court game should allow him to do exactly that.
Tennis players don’t come much more mercurial than Casper Ruud, who since 2017 has only gone past the third round of a Grand Slam three times – reaching the final on each occasion.
Two of those came at Roland Garros, with a close encounter against Djokovic in 2023 perhaps panning out differently for the Norwegian had he won the first set tiebreak.
Last year, Ruud became only the second player born after 1994 to rack up 100 or more clay court wins – Zverev was the first, incidentally. That shows how much the 25-year-old adores the slower surfaces.
Once tipped for the very top, 26-year-old Rublev has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam event – although he has reached that stage on ten separate occasions.
The Russian’s game is improving – he reached two ATP Masters 100 finals in 2023, winning on the clay of Monte Carlo, which enhances Rublev’s career title haul to 15. Silverware in a major, probably the French Open, is the logical next step.
Having won the French Open in 2021, Barbora Krejcikova knows what it takes to prevail in Paris.
— Barbora Krejcikova (@BKrejcikova) June 12,
That was undoubtedly the finest hour of her career to date, although she had a chance to achieve something similar at the Australian Open earlier this year – that is until she ran into a steamroller of a performance from Aryna Sabalenka.
Back on clay, Krejcikova – who has also won the women’s doubles title at Roland Garros – will be far more dangerous.
After having much of 2022 off to give birth, Elina Svitolina has returned to tennis a player reborn.
A quarter-final at the French Open last year was followed by a semi at Wimbledon a few weeks later – confirming that the Ukrainian is very much still a major contender.
Svitolina reached the fourth round of the Australian Open with consummate ease before retiring with a back injury – get that fixed and the 29-year-old will be a force to be reckoned with at the French… as will the other four players listed here.