BACK ON CLAY: Rafael Nadal is gunning for his 10th French Open.
BACK ON CLAY: Rafael Nadal is gunning for his 10th French Open. Daniel Ochoa de Olza

Nadal is back chasing win in French lottery

THE King of Clay is back but Rafael Nadal is far from certain to win an unprecedented 10th French Open title.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic haven't exactly been setting the world on fire. .

Young guns Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem have stepped up on the clay, but are they really ready to win a slam?

As for the women's field, pick a number out of a hat. It's that wide open.

This year's edition of Roland Garros looms as one of the most intriguing - and unpredictable - in a long time and that's good news for Australian tennis fans, according to tennis coach and commentator Roger Rasheed.

Nick Kyrgios has endured a disruptive clay court season but can still make his presence felt in the second week in a bid to become the first Australian man to win the French Open since Rod Laver in 1969.

Samantha Stosur loves the red clay of Paris and Daria Gavrilova is in great form. Their tickets in the women's "lottery" look as valuable as any, with world No.1 Angelique Kerber struggling and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both missing.

"There are some great storylines and it's probably the most unpredictable French Open scenario that we've had for a lot of years, on both the men's and women's side," Rasheed told foxsports.com.au.

"There's a lot of inconsistency on both sides of the game - men's and women's - and that's probably the most exciting thing. We've got arguably the most vulnerable Open field we've had in a long time."

Kyrgios spearheads a six-strong Australian men's contingent in Paris but looks the only realistic hope of making the second week, Rasheed says.

The 22-year-old has made encouraging progress since a disappointing Australian Open but his claycourt season has been disrupted by the death of his grandfather, injuries and mixed results.

"Nick is an outsider (to win the tournament) but he's a wildcard as far as someone who can come through and make the second weekend and actually do some damage," Rasheed said.

"He's had an interrupted claycourt season but it's not saying he can't go out there and make things happen because we know he's got the skillset and the weapons, and that competitive nature.

"It really depends on what the draw looks like ... but Nick's got a game that transitions on to every surface.

"I think throughout his career we're going to see some really good results from Nick on the clay and potentially at the French Open."

Kyrgios is joined by countrymen Jordan Thompson, Bernard Tomic, John Millman, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex De Minaur.

Rasheed considers nine-time champion Nadal a clear and deserved favourite after a stellar claycourt campaign featuring 17 straight victories. However the Spaniard is on a three-year grand slam title drought and far from a certainty.

Assessing his biggest threats is tricky considering world No.1 Murray's form slump, and the fact Djokovic is only starting to rediscover his best form.

"Nadal's the obvious favourite for mine. He didn't win in Rome (last week) but you can see he's got his movement back," Rasheed said.

"The work ethic and what's he's put out on the court has always been a constant, but his movement's back which helps him to no end.

"Then there's Dominic Thiem, who has been the next-best clay courter throughout this season. He's young and has got a lot of belief.

"It's a grand slam and really hard to predict but you probably have to lean with the guys that have got the experience over two weeks, seven matches, five sets, on a gruelling surface like clay where it can grab hold of you.

"That's why Rafa starts an outright favourite and then as the first week unfolds we'll get more of a gauge of what Novak and Andy are going to do."

News Corp Australia


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