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3 challengers who Rafael Nadal should be wary of in the French Open this year

Rafael Nadal is the defending French Open champion and has won a record 12 titles in Paris

With a record 12 French Open titles to his name, Rafael Nadal is currently the only male tennis player in the Open Era to win the highest number of singles titles in the Grand Slam event in Paris.

Nadal is the reigning French Open champion and has been consecutively winning the major for the past 3 years (2017, 2018, and 2019). Except in the years 2009, 2015 and 2016, Nadal has won the Roland Garros every single time he has played there since making his French Open debut in 2005.

An ecstatic Rafael Nadal after winning the 2019 French Open. (Getty Images)

With the Australian Open having concluded recently, the next big thing to look out for players and fans alike is the French Open, which is scheduled to start in May.

Now let’s take a look at 3 challengers who Nadal should be wary of in the upcoming French Open.

Dominic Thiem

26-year-old Dominic Thiem recently hogged the limelight when he finished runner-up in the Australian Open which concluded recently. Thiem is the current World No.4 and has been slowly making big strides, posing threats to the ‘Big Three’, which includes Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.

Champion Rafael Nadal congratulates runner-up Dominic Thiem after their summit clash at the 2019 French Open. (Getty Images)

However, what sets him apart as a big threat for Nadal is the fact that he has been the French Open runner-up on the past two occasions. Both of Nadal’s victory in 2018 and 2019 Roland Garros finals have come against Thiem, who has of late shown a meteoric rise in his performances in the clay court.

At present, Nadal leads Thiem 9-5 head to head but the latter was the winner in their recent meeting at the Australian Open where he knocked off the Spaniard in the quarter-final. However, it remains to be seen if Thiem, who has dominated Nadal in other clay court tournaments, will finally be able to overcome the ‘King of Clay’ at his sacred hunting ground.

Novak Djokovic

32-year-old Djokovic seems to be in great form, winning his 8th title at the Australian Open recently. This further saw him climb the ATP ranking tables and claim the No.1 spot, pushing aside Nadal to second spot.

Novak Djokovic after winning the 2016 French Open title. (Getty Images)

Djokovic is not someone new at the French Open, having won there in 2016 and emerging as runner-up on three occasions (2012, 2014, 2015). He even reached the semi-finals of the tournament last year, losing out to eventual runner-up Thiem.

Djokovic and Nadal have met in Open Era a record 55 times and the Serbian leads the Spaniard 29-26. However, Nadal has a 17-7 advantage over Djokovic on clay courts. Moreover, Djokovic holds the record for being the second man in history to beat Rafael Nadal in the French Open (2015 quarterfinals) after Robin Soderling achieved the feat back in 2009.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer has time and again proved that it’s never too easy to write him off early. Despite being 38 years old, he is currently 3rd in the ATP rankings. One thing that has always been a black mark in Federer’s long and illustrious career is his inability to dominate at the clay court in Paris due to which he has been criticized.

Roger Federer with his first and only-ever French Open title, back in 2009. (Getty Images)

This is not true as he has won the French Open in 2009 and has reached the finals on four occasions. It was just due to Nadal’s sheer dominance at the Roland Garros that Federer missed out on a few more titles there, especially during his prime years.

Also, despite a sabbatical from the tournament for 3 consecutive years in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Federer returned strongly last year and reached the semi-finals, ultimately losing to champion Nadal again.

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