Stefanos Tsitsipas one of three nearly men emerging as big French Open contenders

Kevin Palmer
Taylor Fritz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev impressing on clay
Taylor Fritz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev impressing on clay

Another chaotic day at the Italian Open confirmed the upcoming French Open is the most open Grand Slam on the men’s side for more than two decades, with stories breaking on and off the court that suggest the upcoming festival of tennis Roland Garros could throw up a new winner.

Novak Djokovic’s shock exit at the hands of Alejandro Tabilo fueled the impression that the 24-time Grand Slam-winning legend has run out of gas at the end of his remarkable career.

The same is clearly true for Rafael Nadal, who was forced to admit he would not be a serious contender to win a 15th title at Roland Garros if he decides to play in Paris.

While Djokovic is more than capable of flicking the switch and bouncing back from his troubles in time to make his mark in the French capital, the two players tipped to take over from him as the dominant players in men’s tennis are also missing in action.

Footage of world No 3 Carlos Alcaraz trying to practice with the injured right forearm that ruled him out of the Italian Open heavily bandaged did little to inspire belief that the reigning Wimbledon champion will be ready to perform at the height of his powers at Roland Garros.

Now there are growing rumours that Italy’s world No 2 Jannik Sinner won’t even be able to take to the court in Paris, as he continues to nurse a hip injury that forced him to pull out of the Madrid Open and miss this week’s ATP 1000 Masters event in Rome.

Now the doubts over the form and fitness of world No 4 Daniil Medvedev, after he was well beaten by America’s Tommy Paul on Tuesday.

The 6-1 6-4 win for the American over defending Rome champion Medvedev was more comprehensive than anyone expected, with Medvedev struggling to explain his flat performance.

READ MORE: Jannik Sinner may be facing an extended break from tennis as French Open decision looms

“Mentally I had to be much better,” said Medvedev. “I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.

“In the beginning of the match, different court, different conditions, balls flying out. I didn’t manage to compose myself fast enough, and that cost me the match. I have to do better in this aspect.

“It’s disappointing, to be honest. I wanted to do better here. I was not even close. What can I say? The more titles I win, the more chances I have to defend.

“So the more tournaments in a year I’m going to play where I already won, maybe not defend, but at least win twice the same tournament, that’s what I’m going to try to do.

“When I’m not good mentally like I was today, cannot win. That’s what I had to do much better.

“Disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.”

Medvedev’s honest words were also backed up by his predictions looking ahead to the French Open, where players who have knocked on the door of major titles are suddenly daring to believe their moment has arrived to go one better.

Top of that list has to be the rampant Stefanos Tsitsipas, who breezed past Alex de Minaur with 6-1 6-2 demolition of the Aussie.

The Greek star who won the Monte Carlo Masters on clay last month cemented his status as a real contender for glory at the French Open, with the confidence he is showing right now moving him into the list of potential champions.

Another big contender has to be Alexander Zverev.

The German giant eased into another Masters quarter-final as he beat the tricky Nuno Borges 6-2 7-5, with his power and athleticism now back to where it was prior to the ankle injury he suffered when he was threatening to beat Rafael Nadal in the 2022 French Open semi-finals.

Then there is the surprise package of this clay court season, with America’s Taylor Fritz winning against as he beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-7(11) 6-1 in a match that contained an epic second set tie-break.

Medvedev was asked who he believed was favourite heading into Roland Garros and he offered up this verdict.

“I think we should go by the ranking: Novak. Jannik, if he plays. I don’t know. Carlos, if he plays. I don’t know,” he added.

“Then it’s me, No. 4. Who won Monte-Carlo? Stef. If he wins here, could be a big favourite, for sure. If he wins two Masters 1000s, he’s one of the favourites, too.

“I think if Novak and Carlos play, they’re two big favourites. They like the surface. They can win Grand Slams.

“But now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before. Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

Medvedev will not be alone in believing his time as a potential winner at Roland Garros has arrived, despite his heavy defeat in Rome.

The truth must be that a dozen or more players now believe they could be lifting the trophy as a Grand Slam champion in Paris next month.

It’s a long time since that was the story heading into the second major of the tennis year.