For almost two decades, putting together a list of candidates for Roland Garros It was not a complex task. Yeah Rafael Nadal appeared in the draw, even without being in his best shape, he was automatically positioned as the undisputed favorite (luck only a handful of times proved that prediction wrong). And if he wasn’t the Mallorcan, they were his companions from the Big 3, some player who arrived on a roll, with a great season, or, in recent years, those young stars who took the top by storm. But in 2024, with just under a week to go before the main draw starts, choosing a possible champion – or even a finalist – in advance seems somewhat risky.

With Rafa nothing more than hanging up his racket, and far from that level that led him to win the tournament 14 times. Musketeers Cup; with Novak Djokovic in an unstable season, still without titles or finals; and with Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, the brightest talents of the new generation, returning from injuries; The edition that will begin on Sunday will be the most unpredictable in recent times. The four of them will start with more chances than their rivals for reasons that do not need to be enumerated, but it has been a long time since the tournament appeared so open to surprises in the preview.

Nadal seems to have overcome the various physical problems that prevented him from having continuity in the last and current seasons. And although his mere presence in Paris is exciting, since he said that he would not travel if he did not have “0.01 percent chance of being competitive”. But the truth is that there is no guarantee that he will be able to fight for the trophy.

The Mallorcan arrives with very little load of matches and the uncertainty of how he will respond in five-set duels. On the European tour of slow courts he played Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, with some good performances and positive feelings, but without completely feeling full. In the last two seasons he played only two “big ones”, the US Open 2022 (lost in the round of 16) and Australia 2023 (in second round). And his last participation in Roland Garros It was in 2022, when, with his left foot completely anesthetized, he defeated Casper Ruud. Two years without stepping on the Parisian clay is a long time, even for Nadal, who always felt at home on those courts.

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In addition, he will not start as seeded, since he is 276th (he entered the tournament thanks to the protected ranking). So, He could meet any rival, even Djokovic, in those first rounds which are usually used to finish acclimatizing the body and the racket.

From those around them they were optimistic in recent days. “There has been an evolution since Barcelona on a physical, mental level and, above all, when it comes to having certain guarantees of enduring five-set matches,” analyzed his coach. Carlos Moya in a note with Catalan television. Although he pointed out the obvious: “He will lack competition rhythm.”

By history, Nadal should never be ruled out, but this year (perhaps the one that will mark his retirement) he is less of a candidate than ever.

Something similar can be said of Djokovic. The Serbian is going through a strange season by his standards. Irregular, with ups and downs and without the forcefulness that he had, without going any further, in a 2023 close to perfection, in which he won three of the four “big ones”, he was a finalist in the other (Wimbledon), and closed with the title of Teacher and the number 1 in his possession.

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This year he chose to limit his calendar to balance his private and professional agenda and changed almost his entire work team; and the results did not accompany him. He has played six tournaments: the United Cuphe Australian Open (fell in the semifinals against Sinner), Indian Wells (in the second round against Luca Nardi123rd in the world), Monte Carlo (in semis against Ruud) and Rome (third round before Alejandro Tabilo, days after receiving an accidental bottle blow to the head that, he said, would have conditioned him for that match). He won twelve games and lost five; and he didn’t even play in a final.

His poor 2024 (at least by what he is used to) and his fleeting time in Rome, which left little taste, opened questions about his chances for Roland Garros. But Nole will play this week in Geneva (he accepted a wild card and will debut against Andy Murray either Yannick Hanfmann). And with several games ahead of him, if he does well on Swiss soil, the Serbian has plenty of time to clear up doubts and reach Paris, where he defends the title, more of a candidate than anyone else.

Alcaraz It tops, for many, the list of favorites. He is even the one who pays the best in the betting houses, ahead of Djokovic, Sinner, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nadal. So what Carlitos He also comes from weeks full of uncertainty due to an injury that made him absent from Monte Carlo, Barcelona and, after passing through Madrid, Rome. After falling in the quarterfinals in the Magic Box in view of Andrey Rublevthe Murcian said that he had felt pain in his right arm again and a study showed muscle edema in the pronator teres.

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The world number three and champion this year in Indian Wells took his time to recover and only last Monday he picked up a racket again. In training at his coach’s academy Juan Carlos Ferrero He seemed to hit the ball without problems (and with a lot of power), although he continued with his affected arm completely bandaged, perhaps as a precaution.

Those weeks without competition will also mean that Alcaraz, a semi-finalist in Paris last year, will disembark in the French capital without rhythm and with barely one tournament played on the European clay tour, Madrid, which with its altitude presents very different conditions to those of the “great” French.

The Italian reached the quarterfinals in Madrid, but left the tournament before playing with Felix Auger-Aliassime in that instance. Then he announced that he would not play Rome and in Italy there began to be talk that he would also miss Roland Garros, because his doctors advised him not to rush his return to prevent the injury (an inflammation with edema in the hip joint) from becoming a serious condition. something chronic. Although according to La Gazzetta dello Sportthe latest studies showed that “the edema was reabsorbed” and at the weekend, the number two in the ranking returned to training intensely in Monte Carlo.

Sinner, likewise, is facing a scenario similar to that of Alcaraz. Will he have enough time for a week (plus a few days) to get ready for an extremely demanding tournament like Roland Garros? In Paris he will go for a double prize, because he could win his second “great” and climb to the top of the world rankings for the first time.

Those present from that quartet enhance the candidacy of the three winners of this year’s clay Masters 1000, with Michael Zverev one step forward. The German, fourth in the world, has just been crowned in Rome and reached the semifinals in the last three editions of the French Grand Slam. Stefanos Tsitsipas, winner of Monte Carlo and ninth in the ranking, was a finalist in the tournament in 2021, but since then he has not gone past the quarterfinals again. AND Rublevchampion in Madrid and sixth in the ATP, was never able to reach the semis.

With this panorama, we should not completely rule out, for example, the Norwegian’s chances. Ruud, who won the title in Barcelona and was a finalist in the Principality in 2024 and played the last two finals in Paris; or from Russian Daniil Medvedevfifth in the ranking and champion last year in Rome, although always unpredictable on brick dust.

Peculiar setting for an indecipherable and unforgettable Roland Garros, which will start its 2024 edition without huge favorites and with more chances of surprises than ever.

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