Juan Martin Del Potro and Kei Nishikori among French Open dark horses

French Open
Juan Martin del Potro backhand

Having placed the “big three” along with Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitispas as the five contenders for the French Open crown, who are the dark horses attempting to break out of the shadows?

Juan Martin Del Potro

The former US Open champion is still feared as one of the best players in the world. He is good on all surfaces but especially hard-court. Last year he reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros before being outclassed by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal.

With those semi-final ranking points to defend he will be motivated to go deep in this year’s tournament.

He has had little clay-court practice due to a persistent knee injury although he did reach the quarter-finals of the Italian Open, even holding two match points against world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Argentine opens his campaign tomorrow against Chilean Nicolas Garin who is good form right now after his run to the Geneva Open final. Assuming he can get through that match, he could soon face Spain’s Feliciano Lopez or Croatia veteran Ivo Karlovic. He has a clear path to the quarter-finals where Austria’s Dominic Thiem could provide a menacing match up.

Delpo will know that he can beat anyone on his day. His explosive forehand is one of the best in the sport and if that’s firing on all cylinders, then the Tower of Tandil is difficult to stop.

Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev shouting

The young German narrowly missed out on our five French Open contenders. However, his weekend win in Geneva and a first ATP Tour title of 2019 has suddenly shot him into contention.

Still only 21 years-old, Zverev has an enormous amount of confidence that he can one day become not only a Grand Slam champion but a future world number one.

He has so far failed to deliver on the biggest stages. He has had early exits at the Grand Slams with last year’s French Open quarter-final the only exception.

Zverev has been so good at the Masters 1000’s winning three so far in his young career and mastering (forgive the pun) the three-set format, that he has been left overwhelmed at Grand Slam level.

Could this time be different? Well yes, maybe. Considering he has been very much out of form this year up until Geneva, expectations are low. From pundits, viewers and himself.

With that in mind, playing without that pressure or expectation might actually work in his favour. He is a serious dark horse although he is projected to face Djokovic in what could be a make or break quarter-final which could define his season.

 Fabio Fognini

The enigma of Fabio Fognini is a difficult one to fathom. He himself may not even know why his career has been so inconsistent. One day he is sparkling, the next he is dull.

Fognini did come of age in Monte Carlo back in April though, beating both Zverev and defending champion Rafael Nadal to eventually triumph in the Principality. The win secured a first Masters 1000 crown for the now 32-year-old Italian.

He came up through the junior level alongside Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, to whom they all share the same birthday month (May).

On his day he is one of the best clay-court players in the world. He showed that in Naples back in 2014 tearing Andy Murray, then at his peak, to shreds.

The win over Nadal in Monte Carlo, laced with devastating drop shots and baseline finesse, means why can the Italian not produce this form more often?

If he can find that form in Paris, he could be one of the surprises of the tournament.

Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori PA

The Japanese has never been able to make the quantum leap into winning either a Grand Slam or a Masters 1000. Although he did make the 2014 US Open final.

Often struggling for form, consistency and fitness has often been Nishikori’s main downfall.

He has twice won the Barcelona Open in the past and made the final of the 2014 Madrid Masters showing that he is very capable on this surface.

Nishikori opened his campaign convincingly swatting aside French qualifier Quentin Halys, although tougher tests will come. Most notably in the shape of Rafael Nadal who by the quarter-final stage, may very much be in his stride.

Nishikori has nothing to lose though and playing Nadal on clay could be the kind of motivation he needs to excel at this year’s French Open.

Grigor Dimitrov

It was either Stan Wawrinka or Grigor Dimitrov. Ultimately, the latter has been chosen simply because like Zverev, there is no expectation on the Bulgarian whatsoever.

Since winning the Tour Finals at the end of 2017 Dimitrov has been in free fall and currently sits at a shocking 46 in the world.

On his day however, he has a potent one-handed backhand and has the necessary endurance levels to last the distance when it comes to five-sets.

If he can get past Marin Cilic in his second-round clash, that could be the confidence booster he so desperately needs to jump start his season.

James Spencer
@JamesTennis17
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