Who will win the 2024 French Open?

From Nadal to Swiatek, decoding the men’s and women’s singles draw at the 123rd edition of Roland Garros in Paris.

Akhil Arora, an amateur tennis player and avid French Open viewer, who has been writing about sport since 2010. He has reported live from Wembley and Wimbledon.

Rafael Nadal at French Open 2024 practice
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

The 2024 French Open is the most open French Open in years. It’s being billed as the finale for Rafael Nadal—maybe even a swansong, if he can’t make it for the Paris Olympics—but the 14-time champion is nowhere near his best as this clay court season has shown. Then there’s Novak Djokovic’s lack of form. After a brilliant 2023 where he picked up three of the four Grand Slams, the Serb has struggled in 2024 by his lofty standards. He hasn’t won a single title this year and found himself scrounging for match time at the Geneva Open in the run-up to Roland Garros. Three of the top five—Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, and Daniil Medvedev—have been battling injuries, having withdrawn midway through a tournament or pulled out even before it began.

Of course, this is not the case on the women’s side. After back-to-back WTA 1000 wins in Madrid and Rome, Polish world number one Iga Swiatek is the clear favourite in Paris. Add to that her prowess at the French Open in the past—she has three Roland Garros titles in total and is going for a three-peat in 2024. If Swiatek manages to do so, she will be in the same bracket as six other women who have won three French Opens in a row. And the first since former world number one Justine Henin who did so in 2007. Can anyone stop Swiatek at the 2024 French Open?

With the clay court season coming to a head with Roland Garros kicking off on Sunday—on the back of three ATP and two WTA 1000 tournaments in Rome, Madrid, and Monte-Carlo (men-only)—let’s look at the contenders in the men’s and women’s singles section.

Can Djokovic get his fourth French Open and 25th Grand Slam?

Given what he’s delivered this year, it seems unlikely. Since his loss to Sinner in the semi-finals of the 2024 Australian Open—the year’s opening major, where he looked shaky and beaten in the heat of the Melbourne sun—he has been rather mediocre. First came up the upset at the ATP 1000 in Indian Wells where he was knocked out by lowly ranked Luca Nardi in the second round. The Serb was lacklustre in the final set. Djokovic then skipped the second half of the Sunshine Double—the ATP 1000 in Miami—to prepare for the clay season.

Novak Djokovic at Monte-Carlo Masters 2024
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

He got off to a good start at Monte-Carlo but couldn’t get past Casper Ruud in the semis. The match wasn’t of particularly high quality, but the Norwegian did enough to nudge past, giving him his first victory over a world number one player. In response, Djokovic skipped the Madrid Open, claiming it was in preparation for the French Open. The Serb returned to the clay court season in Rome, only to be bundled out by the 29th seed, Alejandro Tabilo, in the second round—again—in straight sets. With his Roland Garros “preparation” plans in the doldrums, Djokovic made a surprise appearance in Geneva. There, he lost to world number 44 Tomas Machac in the semis.

That said, Djokovic is an instantly stronger player in Grand Slams because of the best-of-five sets rule. An upset—on the lines of Nardi, Tabilo, and Machac—is much harder as he can find a path to victory even after losing two sets. He has done it eight times in his career, including twice at this very tournament three years ago. That famously included the 2021 French Open final where Stefanos Tsitsipas took a two-set lead before the world number one clawed his way back.

Is Tsitsipas ready for another run to a French Open final?

Speaking of the Greek, Tsitsipas has the best clay season results of any male player coming into the 2024 French Open. He won in Monte-Carlo—along the way, he handed Sinner only his second loss of the season. The following week, he reached the final in Barcelona. And in Rome, he reached the quarters (where he was vanquished in three sets by a very consistent Nicolas Jarry). The only sticking point of Tsitsipas’ clay court season was a second-round upset in Madrid. (He got a first-round bye, so it was his first match in the Spanish capital.) After back-to-back tournaments in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona where he got to the final, I think fatigue might have played a role.

Stefanos Tsitsipas at French Open 2024 practice
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

On top of that, Tsitsipas has experience of making a deep run at the French Open—as evinced by his appearance in the 2021 final. But if we’re looking to past Roland Garros form, Ruud might have a better shout. A losing finalist twice in a row, the Norwegian was bundled away quite easily by Nadal (with a third-set bagel) in 2022 and couldn’t put up a fight against Djokovic in 2023. Ruud had a strong start to this year’s clay season—he was in the Monte-Carlo final against Tsitsipas and then avenged that loss in Barcelona the following Sunday. But it’s been on the downhill since. He lost to the eventual finalist Felix Auger-Aliassime in Madrid and had a poor outing in Rome where he lost in his first match.

But Ruud has shown that he’s better than most clay court players when it comes to best-of-five. Can the confidence of beating Djokovic in Monte-Carlo propel him to another French Open final? And maybe the crown this time?

Can Nadal win the 2024 French Open?

After all, Ruud may not have to worry about facing Nadal again. The Spaniard hasn’t been at a major since the Australian Open last year (where he was a defending champion and was knocked out in the second round). Moreover, he’s been dealt a tough first-round encounter against world number four Alexander Zverev. And his 2024 comeback tour has been far from smooth. Hoping to play in Melbourne this year, Nadal began his year in Brisbane. But he had problems with his hip and thigh, squandered three match points, and fell in the quarters. A couple of days later, Nadal pulled out of the Australian Open.

The much-awaited comeback was further halted after he withdrew on the eve of his Indian Wells match, having played just days before against Alcaraz in the Netflix Slam—an exhibition match—in Las Vegas. Nadal wouldn’t be seen until Barcelona (where he played in the arena that’s named after him). After an opening-round win, he fell to fourth-seed Alex de Minaur. The champion displayed his mettle the following week in Madrid when he avenged his loss to de Minaur and strung together three straight victories. But then Jiri Lehecka proved to be too much for him.

The early Barcelona exit would be complemented by an early Rome exit as Hubert Hurkacz served his way out of trouble. Despite having seven break points, Nadal failed to convert a single one of them.

Rafael Nadal at French Open 2024 practice
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

To be fair, Nadal hasn’t made an early exit at the French Open since 2016. Even that was due to a wrist injury as he withdrew prior to his fourth-round encounter. The last time Nadal was beaten in Paris was by—who else but—Djokovic. The Serb needed four sets in the semi-finals in 2021 and completed the job in three straight sets in the quarterfinals in 2015. The only other man to beat Nadal at Roland Garros was Robin Söderling all the way back in 2009. Remember him?

That’s how immense Nadal has been in Paris. In the 18 editions of the French Open he has participated in, Nadal has won 14 titles. Oof. But everything hangs on whether he can get past Zverev in the first round.

Will Swiatek land her fourth French Open and third in a row?

There’s no one like Nadal, obviously. But if there’s one player who’s poised to deliver clay court dominance this decade, it’s Swiatek. At the age of 22—she turns 23 at the end of May—the Polish player already has three Roland Garros titles to her name. (By the time Nadal was 22, he had won four. His 14th came when he turned 36.) With at least a decade in front of her, Swiatek could very well get into double digits, if she can continue to play on the standard she’s built for herself.

It’s hard to bet against Swiatek given the red-hot form she’s bringing into the 2024 French Open. She didn’t drop a set in Rome and was excellent against Aryna Sabalenka in the final. That match was a repeat of their Madrid encounter—that lasted over three hours—where the world number two had pushed the world number one to the brink but couldn’t close on the match points she had in the final set tiebreak. Sabalenka seems at her best this clay season—and is in the best phase of her Grand Slam performances. Since the 2022 US Open, she has not exited a Slam prior to a semi-final. Sabalenka was in the final for the last two Slams (albeit both hard courts).

Iga Swiatek kissing Italian Open 2024 trophy
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

When it comes to clay courts, the only woman to beat Swiatek this season is Elena Rybakina. That loss came in the semi-final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (or the Stuttgart Open) in what was a topsy-turvy encounter with 33 break points and 12 double faults shared between the two. Rybakina won the title in Germany, before falling to Sabalenka in the Madrid semis on the back of a gruelling 2h 48min quarterfinal. Of course, with Rybakina, a deep French Open run is all dependent on her health. She pulled out of Rome—where she was the defending champion—earlier in May due to an illness.

Can Danielle Collins continue her purple patch into a major?

Amidst the focus on the top-ranked women, it’s easy to miss out on a dark horse. Following a surprise run to the title in Miami—where she beat Rybakina and avenged her loss in Abu Dhabi a month and a half back—Collins has been on quite a run. She then won Charleston the following week, vanquishing three top-10 players in Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari, and Daria Kasatkina.

As for her 2024 clay court season, it took eventual finalist Sabalenka to beat her in both Madrid (in the fourth round) and Rome (in the semis). Even though clay may not be her favoured surface, it’s clear Collins can trouble a lot of players. After being 53 in the world before the start of Miami, the American has now climbed to 12th ahead of the 2024 French Open. It’s been a while since Collins made a deep run at Roland Garros (quarters in 2020) and she will be hoping to match—if not improve—that.

The prospects for the other leading American woman, Coco Gauff, are dubious. The 20-year-old lost in the second round in Stuttgart and the third round in Madrid, before delivering her clay season’s best with a semi-final loss to Swiatek in Rome. But more importantly, she never seemed to bother the world number one. That doesn’t bode well, heading into Roland Garros.

Who else can win the 2024 French Open?

On the women’s front, it’s hard to identify more consistent names. Madison Keys is possibly the only one—she reached the quarters in Rome and the semis in Madrid, losing to Swiatek on both accounts. Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Ostapenko (the 2017 French Open winner), and Qinwen Zheng (this year’s Australian Open finalist) all reached the quarters in Madrid, but they were equally unimpressive in Madrid.

Jannik Sinner at French Open 2024 practice
Photo: Courtesy of Roland-Garros

In the men’s department, there’s no shortage of choices. With his exploits this season, Sinner ought to be a frontrunner. He has just lost twice all year—to Alcaraz in the Indian Wells and Tsitsipas in Monte-Carlo—and won his first Grand Slam in Melbourne in January. That second loss was accentuated by a problem with hip which he carried into Madrid. Despite that, Sinner was solid in his matches, but he withdrew owing to that injury prior to his quarter-final. To ensure his fitness for the French Open, he skipped his home tournament in Italy.

Because of the injuries to the top men’s players, the draw thinned out in Madrid and Rome. In addition to Sinner, Medvedev retired during his Madrid quarter against Lehecka who himself retired during the semi-final. Meanwhile, following his loss to eventual Madrid champion Andrey Rublev, Alcaraz withdrew from Rome. With all of Sinner, Alcaraz, and Medvedev missing from Rome—and thanks to Djokovic’s upset—the controversial Zverev was the only top-10 player left in the semi-finals.

The German lifted the trophy in what was his second triumph in Rome. Having reached the Roland Garros semis three years in a row and the problems of the players ranked higher than him, Zverev is in a shout to do one better at the 2024 French Open. Rudd and Tsitsipas might have something to say about that, though. And so will Djokovic, Sinner, and Alcaraz, if they can find form and fitness. That’s what makes this one of the most open Grand Slams—it could be anybody’s.

Akhil Arora