Roland Garros ATP preview: Rafael Nadal fitness and Novak Djokovic form the key questions

Roland Garros has a reputation for being the most demanding Grand Slam there is, so which of the ATP's big names are most likely to come through it victoriously?

Where the ATP Tour is concerned, Roland Garros has definitely become the most predictable of the four Grand Slams.

There is one man to blame for that, of course: Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has dominated the tournament like no one has ever dominated before.

That said, this year does look a lot more interesting than usual, so we take a look at what to expect at the 2022 French Open.

What's new at Roland Garros?

There are two major differences at the 2022 French Open and both will likely have an impact on results somewhere along the line.

Firstly, there will be tiebreaks in the final set. Super-tiebreaks, to be exact. This year the four Grand Slams have decided they will all adopt the same rule, which will mean a first-to-ten (rather than first-to-seven) tiebreak to settle any deciding sets if required.

The second change is night sessions. Technically, that is not a change as they had them last season too. However, there were no fans allowed last year, so expect them to have a very different feel this time around.

Is Rafael Nadal injury-free?

Rafael Nadal injury concern

It is the French Open, and that means all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal. The Spanish star has won the tournament an astonishing 13 times and, simply put, if he is in the draw he will be the favourite.

This year people may be tempted to promote Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz above him, and it's easy to see why.

Nadal missed much of last season with a degenerative foot condition and he was visibly struggling with it during his defeat to Denis Shapovalov in Rome last week. This is the first time in more than 15 years that he heads to Roland Garros without winning a clay event beforehand, so there are certainly question marks surrounding him.

However, it should never be forgotten that we are talking about Rafael Nadal here. He has been written off plenty before yet always seem to find a way to defy his critics. He did it at the Australian Open earlier this year when he won it after months out injured, and if he can do it there he can absolutely do it at Roland Garros.

He himself claims he is "not injured", adding that he "lives with an injury". It's hard to know whether that is better or worse to be honest, but if there is one man who knows how to find a way to win at Roland Garros, it's Rafa.

Is Novak Djokovic back to his best?

Novak Djokovic - favourite for Roland Garros

In a word: yes.

Everyone knows that Djokovic endured a tumultuous start to the season. He was deported from Australia with his refusal to be vaccinated seen as a danger to public health.

He was able to squeeze in a brief appearance at Doha, but his vaccination status prevented him from playing the Sunshine Double in America.

That left him desperately short of match fitness going into the European clay season, although the more relaxed rules around vaccinations were always going to give him a chance to change that.

After a very iffy start in Monte Carlo, Djokovic has gradually returned to his best, culminating in him winning the Rome Masters last week. The man he beat in the final there, world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, claimed afterwards that Djokovic was looking "close to perfection" on the other side of the net.

The Carlos Alcaraz factor

Carlos Alcaraz

The ATP has rarely thrown up genuine wildcard factors in the last 15 years due to the dominance of the Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer, but it genuinely has one now.

Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spaniard, has taken the Tour by storm this year and has already won four titles, including two Masters.

Even more impressively, at the Madrid Masters he beat both Nadal and Djokovic in back-to-back games to win the title, and then thrashed world number three Alexander Zverev in the final.

Roland Garros may be tougher for him than Madrid, though. Madrid is played at altitude, meaning the ball moved faster through the air and suited his power game more. In the slower, moister conditions in Paris, Alcaraz will need to prove he can construct points patiently as well as win them explosively.

That said, he is world number six now so he should get favourable draws until the quarter-finals where he will be a genuine danger.

If Nadal or Djokovic don't win it, it will surely be Alcaraz given he is the only man you can really see besting either over five sets.

Don't back Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev at the Miami Open being played at Hard Rock Stadium

There is little doubt that Daniil Medvedev is a genuine powerhouse of a player in 2022. He has reached the final of the last two Grand Slams, winning one of them, and had a spell as world number one this year too.

However, he will go into Roland Garros as a genuine outsider.

The fact of the matter is that Medvedev hates playing on clay and clay seems to hate his game right back.

The red dirt tends to favour players who are able to generate a lot of action on the ball, with top spin an especially potent weapon.

Medvedev, though, is all about flat power hitting with great accuracy. That is incredibly effective on hardcourts, but easily nullified on clay.

He doesn't seem to have much motivation to add a clay variation to his game either, with him likening it in the past to "playing in the dirt like a dog".

Will Roger Federer play Roland Garros?

No. Roger Federer tended to skip the clay season when he was fit and firing, so there was no chance he was ever going to play it while recovering from injury.

Indeed, Federer's agent has recently suggested we won't see the 40-year-old back again until the Laver Cup in September, so it's looking like he won't make it for Wimbledon either.

Other contenders

Stefanos Tsitsipas forehand

Stefanos Tsitsipas will really fancy his chances. Clay is probably his best surface and he reached the final of the French Open last season before losing in three sets to Novak Djokovic.

He comes into the tournament in solid form too after reaching the Rome Masters final.

Alexander Zverev, the world number three, will fancy his chances too like he always does, but just like Medvedev the conditions will likely work against his game.

One real outsider to keep an eye on may be world number eight Casper Ruud. The Norwegian is a very astute clay court player and no one will relish facing him.

Dominic Thiem is usually a massive danger at Roland Garros, but he is just returning from a serious injury and is showing no signs that he is ready for a deep run in a major right now.

The British hopefuls

Cameron Norrie

Cameron Norrie goes into the tournament ranked world number 11, and left-handers can often be a little more awkward on clay.

Realistically, though, a run to the quarter-final would be a huge success for the 26-year-old.

Dan Evans' backhand slice will make him a tricky customer for most on clay, but tricky is about as good as it gets for Evans.

Andy Murray has decided to skip the French Open to concentrate on the grass season instead. On the day the second week of Roland Garros starts, Murray will be playing a grass court Challenger event in the UK instead.

READ MORE: Carlos Alcaraz: 'It hurts me to see Rafael Nadal suffer while playing the sport he loves'

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