It has been a slow start to the clay-court season for both Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem. While Rafael Nadal did have a shaky start as well after losing in the quarterfinals of Monte-Carlo and Madrid, the Spaniard bounced back to win titles in Barcelona and Rome. After claiming his 10th title in Rome, Nadal will be the favorite heading into Roland Garros.
Things have not been the same for Thiem since his maiden US Open title last year. The Austrian has struggled for form and confidence ever since. Poor showings in Rome and Lyon cast serious doubts over his match fitness one week before the French Open.
While things have been different for Novak Djokovic. After suffering disappointing losses in Monte-Carlo and Belgrade, the Serb has shown signs of improvement. As the World no. 1 takes part in another tournament in Belgrade, it will be interesting to see if Djokovic can lift his first title clay-court title of the season before Roland Garros.
However, Francisco Roig, Nadal’s longtime coach, believes there is ‘no difference’ between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem on clay.
“Djokovic is probably the opponent that can cause him the most problems along with Tsitsipas, Zverev and Thiem. If Thiem were to go back to the first on earth, I don’t see any difference between him and Novak. He’s down a bit since he won the US Open, but I’m sure he will be a tough opponent at Roland Garros.”
He continued: “He is a complete player, demanding a lot from every shot. If he plays too short a ball against him, the point is lost. And also from a physical point of view he is a very demanding opponent.”
Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem are Rafael Nadal’s biggest threats at the French Open
As usual with Roland Garros, the question is who can stop Nadal. Djokovic and Thiem may not be at their best right now, but they are the only two players that could rival the 13-time French Open champion on the red dirt.
Thiem boasts four wins over Nadal on clay. While all four victories have been in best-of-three matches, there is no denying that the Austrian has all the tools to trouble Nadal in Paris.
While Djokovic is the only player to have defeated Nadal in four clay-court finals. The Serb is also only one of the two players to have ever defeated Nadal in Paris.
Rafael Nadal may be the overwhelming favorite heading into the second Grand Slam of the year, but as Roig said, if there is anyone who can stop Nadal from lifting his 21st Grand Slam title, it is either Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem.
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