With the fourth round of the French Open in the books, it's time to highlight which players are on the rise and which ones look most vulnerable heading into the next round. Players who have been eliminated are of little interest to fantasy players as the tournament unfolds, so this column is meant to take a look ahead based on what's happened so far rather than reflect on the past.
The top players took care of business on the men's side, with the exception of Roger Federer, who withdrew from the tournament to preserve his health for the grass court season, knowing that he has little chance of toppling the top contenders on clay. Seven of the 10 players in the men's quarterfinals are ranked in the top 10, led by the King of Clay as he searches for his 14th French Open crown. Conversely, the upsets just kept pouring in on the women's side, as four of the six top-20 seeds that made it to the fourth round lost, and one of the two winners was No. 17 Maria Sakkari, who upset No. 4 Sofia Kenin. Just like Federer on the men's side, 39-year-old icon Serena Williams bowed out of the women's draw, though her exit came courtesy of a defeat on the court. We've grown accustomed to Rafael Nadal dominating this tournament on the men's side, but eighth-seeded Iga Swiatek is starting to enter similarly stratified air, as neither 2020 singles champion has dropped a set through four rounds at the 2021 French Open. They're the players to beat as we enter the stretch run.
Rafael Nadal - When Jannik Sinner held a 5-3 lead in the opening set, Nadal was in danger of dropping a set at Roland Garros for the first time since Dominic Thiem took the second set of the 2019 final off him, but the Spaniard promptly reeled off seven consecutive games and ultimately cruised to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 win in what had been billed as a tricky fourth-round matchup against one of the game's brightest young stars. The Spaniard beat Sinner, Diego Schwartzman and Novak Djokovic in his last three matches of the 2020 French Open to capture his 13th Roland Garros crown. He'll likely have to repeat that feat plus win one more match for his 14th title, as a Schwartzman rematch is on deck in the quarterfinals followed by a likely showdown with Djokovic in the semis. Nothing about Nadal's performance so far suggests he won't be up to the task.
Stefanos Tsitsipas - Tsitsipas has looked like the favorite to emerge from the bottom half of the men's draw all tournament, and he's done nothing to dispel that notion ahead of a quarterfinal showdown with rival Daniil Medvedev, as the No. 5 seed has dropped just one set all tournament. There were questions about whether the second-seeded Medvedev would even get to this stage given his previous struggles on clay, but he's found a new gear on the surface in this tournament, setting up what could be one of the best matches of the year. Considering it took Djokovic five sets to eliminate Tsitsipas in the semifinals last year while Medvedev's just 4-4 at the French Open after winning his first four matches this year, Tsitsipas should be viewed as the favorite in this one despite Medvedev's 6-1 edge in their career head-to-head.
Novak Djokovic - Djokovic got through the Round of 16, but he looked much more human compared to the first three rounds, dropping the first two sets to 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti in a 6-7 (7), 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 ret. win. It's unclear whether Musetti's level dropped due to the undisclosed injury that prompted his retirement or Djokovic simply took it up to a notch the young Italian couldn't handle – probably a little column A and a little column B – but it was unnerving for Djokovic fans to see the top seed have to dig out of a two-set hole. He'll face well-rested No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini, who got a walkover in the fourth round after Federer pulled out, in the quarterfinals. Djokovic will be favored to get through that one, but there's little doubt that Nadal has looked like the best player in the draw thus far, and Djokovic still has a significant gap to close on clay after losing 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to Rafa in last year's championship match.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina - Davidovich Fokina has won some grueling battles to get to this stage, needing five sets in the second and third rounds before beating Federico Delbonis 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the Round of 16. The young Spaniard – who just turned 22 Saturday – will be looking to continue his Cinderella run against No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev, who has suffered his fair share of upset defeats in Grand Slams and is looking to advance past the quarterfinals of Roland Garros for the first time himself. Zverev beat Davidovich Fokina in both of their meetings last year, but both of those wins came on hard courts, where the German's offensive abilities play up. The Spaniard's returning prowess and frequent use of the drop shot should help Davidovich Fokina give Zverev more trouble on clay.
Iga Swiatek - Swiatek's 6-3, 6-4 win over Marta Kostyuk in the Round of 16 was the first French Open match in which the reigning champ lost more than six games since her Round of 16 defeat at the hands of Simona Halep here in 2019, as Swiatek has dominated all 11 of her subsequent matches at Roland Garros. She's the only top-16 seed left after Sakkari denied Kenin a chance at setting up a rematch of last year's final against Swiatek. The 17th-seeded Sakkari's playing great tennis right now and could test the 20-year-old Pole in the quarterfinals, but Swiatek looks like a strong choice to win the title vs. the field, let alone in any individual match.
Elena Rybakina - Rybakina's yet to drop a set in this tournament and is coming off a 6-3, 7-5 upset win over Serena Williams. The No. 21 seed seems to have established herself as the player to beat in the bottom half of the draw, and she's the highest-ranked player left in her half. Quarterfinal opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is also having an excellent tournament, but Rybakina won their only head-to-head meeting since 2017, which came on the clay courts of Rome in 2020. The two are playing doubles together at this tournament, so they know each other's game well.
Paula Badosa - Badosa beat 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the Round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal showdown with Tamara Zidansek. The 85th-ranked Zidansek is enjoying the tournament of her life thus far, but Badosa's well positioned to end Zidansek's run here given Badosa's outstanding form at Roland Garros and leading up to the French Open. The Spaniard won the Serbia Open without dropping a set in her last tournament prior to Roland Garros, and she was a semifinalist in both Madrid and Charleston before that, giving Badosa a 17-2 clay-court record in 2021. Like Rybakina, Badosa also has the advantage of being in the bottom half of the draw, meaning she can't face Swiatek until the final.
Barbora Krejcikova - Coco Gauff's into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and hasn't dropped a set, but all the pressure will be on the 17-year-old American in the quarterfinals against the unseeded Krejcikova. Krejcikova has gotten better with each match in this tournament and just decimated Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-0 in the fourth round after beating No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-2 in the third round. While nerves could certainly be a factor for Gauff, Krejcikova's a two-time Grand Slam champion in women's doubles and has added three Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles, so she's much less likely to be overwhelmed by the moment.