The French Open draw was pretty kind to Rafael Nadal, allowing him to avoid a number of dangerous opponents in the early rounds.
It’s not like Nadal needs protection, as he has been virtually unbeatable at Roland Garros for his entire career. However, it doesn’t hurt that he will be able to ease into the tournament.
Who are the trickiest opponents on Nadal’s side of the draw?
Marin Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Denis Shapovalov, Tomas Berdych, Kyle Edmund, Kevin Anderson, Fabio Fognini, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and John Isner.
Only one of these players has ever beaten Nadal on clay–Fabio Fognini. Three of them hold a win over the Spaniard on either hard or grass courts, but Nadal has a dominant head-to-head record against all of them.
Likely route to the final?
Nadal’s first major test may come in the fourth round against either Richard Gasquet or Denis Shapvalov. Should he make it to the quarterfinals, he will likely face Jack Sock, Diego Schartzman, or Philipp Kohlschreiber. Marin Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Kyle Edmund, Kevin Anderson, Fabio Fognini, and John Isner are all in the bottom half of Nadal’s bracket, so he will likely face one of them in the semifinals.
The structure of the draw means that many of the best players in Nadal’s bracket will eliminate each other in the earlier rounds. However, if he faces a Cilic or a Del Potro, it won’t be a foregone conclusion.
Players on the opposite side of the draw
Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer.
Only seven players of the competing at this year’s French open have defeated Nadal on clay. Five of them are on the opposite side of the draw. That said, Ferrer and Verdasco are aging compeititors and Wawrinka is unlikely to pose a major threat after struggling for most of the year with injuries.
Thiem and Djokovic have been the Spaniard’s greatest threats on the red dirt for some time. Thiem defeated him a few weeks ago in Madrid, while Djokovic pushed him all the way in Rome. However, both have found it much more difficult to overcome the World No. 1 in Paris. Djokovic did it once against a clearly diminished Nadal. The Serbian has been inconsistent since his return from injury and it remains to be seen if he can regain the form that made him the most dominant player on the tour.
Nadal will also avoid a number of high-profile players who haven’t defeated him on clay, but pose a reasonable threat. Zverev, Dimitrov, Goffin, Carreno Busta, and Bautista Agut are all quality players capable of pushing the King of Clay. Zverev has had an exceptional clay court season and arrives at Roland Garros in red hot form.
His biggest test will come later in the tournament
Whoever reaches the final from the opposite side of the draw will have battled past the best in the game. If Nadal beats that player in the final, he will certainly have earned it.
French Open Final Prediction: Nadal vs Zverev