Since first competing in the French Open in 2005 Rafael Nadal has failed to win the men’s singles title at this tournament just twice. In doing so he has won more titles in a Grand Slam than any other men’s singles player in history. However, his defeat in the 2015 French Open quarterfinals suggested that the Nadal era could be drawing to a close.
With Nadal no longer virtually unbeatable on clay, the prospects of other top men’s singles players at the tournament have improved dramatically. In 2015 Stan Wawrinka used the early elimination of Nadal as an opportunity to claim his first French Open title, and in 2016 the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will be champing at the bit to claim a title at the world’s greatest clay court tournament.
Here’s a look at the main contenders for the 2016 French Open men’s title.
© AP Photo/Michel Spingler
The man most likely to thwart Nadal is Novak Djokovic. The big Serb has reached the French Open final on three occasions without taking the title, and is therefore yet to consolidate his status as an all-time great by claiming a career grand slam. He’ll be haunted by his upset defeat to Stan Wawrinka last season, and has a point to prove in Paris.
He’s got some form on his side too. Djokovic claimed the second Madrid Masters title of his career at the beginning of May, and then reached the final of the Italian Open in Rome a week later, before losing to Andy Murray. With Nadal struggling with his form ahead of the French Open, Djokovic must fancy his chances with Murray appearing to be the only player capable of preventing him from achieving his French Open title ambitions.
Andy Murray isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think about clay court tennis. The Scot has won just three of his 36 singles titles on clay, has made the final of a clay court tournament just four times in his career, and has never progressed beyond the semi-finals of the French Open. This may be about to change, however.
After enduring a frustrating first half of the season which saw him reach just two finals, and lose in both, Murray finally hit some form at the Italian Open. There he powered to the final in Rome where he disposed of Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Murray also finds himself in the opposite half of the draw to Nadal and Djokovic, which means he’ll only have to beat one of the two if he is to take the 2016 French Open title.
© AP Photo/David Vincent
The reigning French Open champion can’t be ruled out as a title contender - especially when you consider his knack for winning big matches when they count. In fact Wawrinka hasn’t lost in a final since 2013, and has never lost in a grand slam final. He’s also beaten both Nadal and Djokovic previously at the highest level, and won’t be overawed if he runs into either player deep into the tournament.
Wawrinka has also found some form ahead of the French Open, taking his third ATP Tour title of the season at the Geneva Open in May. Wawrinka joins Andy Murray in the bottom half of the French Open draw, which means he’ll face only one of the deadly Nadal and Djokovic duo if he makes it all the way to the final. He’ll also avoid having to play Murray in the final – a good omen given his inability to defeat Murray in tournament finals in the past.
© AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
If there’s a major upset at the 2016 French Open, don’t be surprised if it’s produced by newcomer, Dominic Thiem. The 22-year-old played his first season in the ATP Tour in 2014 before enjoying a successful season in 2015, where he claimed three ATP 250 series titles and reached one final – all on clay.
By the 21st of May 2016 the Austrian had already matched that haul, taking two more titles on clay (including his first ATP Tour 500 title in Acapulco) along with his first ATP title on hard courts. Thiem’s potential at the 2016 French Open cannot be underestimated – he’s already beaten Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Roger Federer on clay this season, and eliminated Stan Wawrinka from the Madrid Open in 2015.
© AP Photo/Christophe Ena
First up is the great man himself. Rafael Nadal’s constant injuries have had a real impact on his career. Apart from a brief revival in 2013 when he won two grand slam titles, his successes on surfaces other than clay have come less frequently, and he’s also lost the air of invincibility he once enjoyed on his favourite surface.
This trend has been demonstrated in the course of the 2016 season, where Nadal started off with a bang on clay with wins in the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open before failing to reach the finals of either the Madrid Open or the Italian Open. That loss of form won’t have done much for his morale, and while he’ll no doubt play himself into the semi-finals at Roland Garros, a place in the final is by no means a sure thing.
So, who will win it?
The road to the final is going to be an incredibly tough one for all five of the players we have pulled from the field for this 2016 French Open prediction. Much will depend on whether a top seed gets eliminated from the tournament in the early rounds, greasing the path for his main rivals in his side of the draw.
Nadal's surprise withdrawal from the 2016 French Open in the 3rd round has given Novak Djokovic a relatively straightforward run to the final. Uncertainty lingers over Andy Murray’s abilities on clay and young Dominic Thiem is still a long shot despite being likely to knock out a top seed or two. This leaves Stan Wawrinka as the man most likely to upset Djokovic in the final.
Our money is therefore on Djokovic to win the 2016 French Open. He’ll never have a better opportunity to take the title at Roland Garros and is unlikely to allow the chance to win the French Open slip for a fourth time.