13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal is, as always, the heavy favorite in the men's field. The 34-year-old Spaniard's success on the red clay of Paris has been downright absurd over the course of his career, and he's won the title in each of the last four seasons. If he wins again this season, Nadal will also surpass Roger Federer's all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles and further his argument as potentially the greatest player ever. Last season, he obliterated Novak Djokovic in the final by a scoreline of 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, making a statement that his dominance at Roland Garros isn't apparently close to being over. Nadal could face Djokovic in the semifinals this season as the two wound up in the same half of the draw.
It would be surprising if Nadal didn't cruise to the semifinals, but some of his toughest competition in his quarter could come from No. 18 seed Jannik Sinner (2-0 H2H), No. 10 seed Diego Schwartzman (10-1 H2H) and No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev (2-1 H2H). Rublev did manage to beat Nadal in Monte Carlo early in the clay-court season and the two could meet again in the quarters.
After he steamrolled to another Australian Open title to open the season, Djokovic enters the French Open as the second-favorite in the men's field. The No. 1-ranked Serbian hasn't been at his most dominant during the clay-court season so far, but he's had plenty of success at the year's second major over the years with one title and three runner-up finishes. His potential quarterfinal opponents include none other than No. 8 seed Roger Federer (27-23 H2H), who has struggled in limited matches so far in 2021, and No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini (1-0 H2H). Djokovic hasn't defeated Nadal on clay since 2016, so he'd be a fairly significant underdog if the two were to meet in the semis.
The 39-year-old Federer will be competing at the French Open for just the second time since 2015. In 2019, the Swiss all-timer made it all the way to the semifinals, but his form this season (1-2 in two events) doesn't exactly indicate that he's ready to go deep again. That said, the 20-time major winner has four runner-up finishes and one title in Paris in his career, so a special run can't totally be ruled out.
The bottom half of the draw includes zero members of the Big 3, which could potentially open up a path for a new major finalist such as No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 22-year-old Greek reached the semifinals in 2020 before falling in five sets to Djokovic and he captured his first Masters 1000 title during the clay-court swing in Monte Carlo, so a compelling case could be made that he's the favorite in the bottom half.
No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev has also had a strong clay-court campaign with a Masters 1000 title in Madrid in which he defeated three top-10 opponents, including Rafael Nadal in straight sets en route to the trophy. The 24-year-old German had another title run earlier in the season in Acapulco, in which he defeated Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final.
Two-two French Open finalist Dominic Thiem is also present in the bottom half, but he's not been his usual dominant self during 2021 with a completely average 9-7 record. The No. 4-seeded Austrian has reached at least the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in each of his last five appearances, but that type of run doesn't seem quite as likely this year.
No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev is just plain bad on clay, with an 11-20 record in his career and a 1-2 record this season. However, he lucked into the easiest section of the draw. If he's able to find some love for the dirt, this could be a good opportunity for him to make a bit of a run. The 25-year-old Russian could face No. 16 seed Grigor Dimitrov (2-1 H2H) or No. 22 seed Cristian Garin (1-1 H2H) in Round 4 if he's able to string a few wins together.
No. 15 seed Casper Ruud is a potential dark horse candidate to go extremely deep in the bottom half. The 22-year-old Norwegian has been on fire in 2021 with a 20-6 record and a recent title in Geneva. He's reached the quarterfinals or better in each of his last six tournaments but hasn't advanced past the fourth round of any major early in his career. He could face Thiem in Round 4, who he lost to in straight sets at the French Open last season.
Round 1 matches to watch
This match has the potential for some wacky rallies, bizarre strategic decisions and also a significant upset (in terms of ranking). Bublik, ranked No. 37, is one of the toughest Round 1 opponents in the draw for a seeded player, and he's been pretty good in 2021 with a 19-13 record. The 23-year-old could certainly take out the No. 2 seed, but he's extremely unpredictable from point to point.
Goffin comes into the French Open with three losses in his last four matches and an average 14-11 record on the season. The 19-year-old Italian has actually posted a better record on the season so far at 12-7, which includes a 7-5 record on clay. Goffin reached the quarterfinals in Paris in 2016, so he's certainly capable on clay, but he also lost in Round 1 in 2020.
Ramos-Vinolas has been stellar in 2021 with an 18-9 record and one title on clay in Estoril. The 33-year-old Spaniard has also won two of his last three meetings with Monfils, who has struggled to the tune of a 1-4 record this season. The 34-year-old Frenchman has four trips to at least the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in his career, but the most recent one came in 2014. Ramos-Vinolas is the favorite in this matchup.
Quarterfinals: Djokovic d. Berrettini, Nadal d. Rublev, Thiem d. Zverev, Tsitsipas d. Garin
Semifinals: Nadal d. Djokovic, Tsitsipas d. Thiem
Final: Nadal d. Tsitsipas