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Wednesday, 23 May 2018 09:12 AM BST
Who can stop Nadal at Roland-Garros? takes a look at the question on everyone's lips ahead of Roland-Garros 2018... READ MORE

Who can deny Rafael Nadal his 11th Roland-Garros title?

With the second Grand Slam of the season upon us, there is only one question on everyone’s minds in the men’s game: can anyone stop Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros?

The Spaniard, who turns 32 next month, has been in ominous form this clay court season, winning titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and losing only once.

When it comes to Nadal on clay, the numbers are simply mind-boggling: he’s won a record 56 clay-court titles, including ten Roland-Garros championships. His win-loss percentage of 0.827 on the dirt is the highest among active players.

Although the King of Clay is the odds-on favourite to clinch “La Undécima”, Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015 have shown it is possible to beat Nadal in Paris.

With 2009 champion Roger Federer and 2016 runner-up Andy Murray both absent from Paris, who are the pretenders to his throne this season?

Dominic Thiem

Conventional wisdom dictates no right-handed player with a single-handed backhand will beat the left-handed Nadal on clay, but Thiem has done just that in three of their nine matches.

In fact, Thiem is the only man to have defeated Nadal on clay this season, ending the Spaniard’s record run of 50 straight sets on the red dirt in the quarter-final of Madrid.

A semi-finalist in Paris in the past two years, the player nicknamed “The Dominator” has a lot in common with the ten-time Roland Garros winner. Both are hard workers on the court who love nothing more than grinding their opponents down.

The two have met twice in Paris, in the second round in 2014 and in last year’s semi-final, with Nadal winning both matches in straight sets.

Will it be third time lucky for Thiem?

Novak Djokovic

Out of a main draw of 128 men in Paris, 2016 champion Djokovic is probably the only player Nadal really fears.

After all, the former top-ranked Serb has a winning record over the Spaniard (26-25). And perhaps more importantly, he handed him a straight-sets defeat in the 2015 Roland-Garros quarter-final.

A 12-time Grand Slam champion who reigned supreme in his prime, Djokovic has struggled with his form and confidence in his comeback to the Tour from elbow surgery this season, losing to opponents he used to swat aside.

Something had to be done, and at the start of the clay court swing he ended his arrangement with Andre Agassi and reunited with his old long-time coach, Marian Vajda.

He has played himself into form in recent weeks and if his close defeat to Nadal in Rome is anything to go by, we could be in for an interesting Roland-Garros.

Talking to reporters after his semi-final loss, Djokovic said his time in Rome had been “the best I’ve felt on the court,” all season.

Nadal is warned.

Alexander Zverev

Widely seen as a future world No 1 and Grand Slam champion by most, this 21-year-old German has been one of the most in-form players this season, winning clay court titles in Munich and Madrid.

In the Rome final last weekend, Zverev came close to beating Nadal for the first time in five meetings as he led by a break in the deciding set. But two rain delays changed the momentum around and once again Nadal came out on top.

With great champions often comes an aura of invincibility that can win matches in the locker room. Right now, Nadal seems to have it in spades.

“We lost to Rafa, so that’s somewhat OK,” Zverev said after losing in Rome.

Kei Nishikori

A fearless shotmaker with superb all-court coverage who is capable of beating anyone on a good day, the former US Open finalist from Japan has had his fair share of injury woes.

Having missed the latter stages of the 2017 season with a wrist injury, Nishikori started the clay season with a bang with a final spot in Monte Carlo, where he lost to Nadal.

Although Nishikori has beaten Nadal twice in twelve meetings, he’s never got the better of him on clay. He did come close in the final of Madrid four years ago, where he ended up having to retire with a bad back.

Still, the now 21st-ranked Nishikori is a player Nadal would want to avoid in the early rounds of Roland-Garros.

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