Men’s dark horses poised to pounce

 - Dan Imhoff

Outside big names among the title favourites sits a capable and dangerous group

Jan-Lennard Struff, Madrid, final© Antoine Couvercelle/FFT

It is already dubbed the most open men’s Roland-Garros for title contenders in years given 14-time champion Rafael Nadal’s absence.

A hungry bunch of outsiders from beyond the top 20 also sense a chance and stands ready to shake up the top order this fortnight.

Jan-Lennard Struff

Big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff’s 33rd birthday took a turn for the better when he had all but packed his bags in Madrid earlier this month.

Following his defeat to Aslan Karatsev in qualifying he was handed a welcome second chance as a lucky loser in the main draw.

The German had gone on a giant-killing run as a qualifier in Monte-Carlo a month earlier, when he comfortably saw off seeds Alex de Minaur and Casper Ruud before eventual champion Rublev stopped him in the quarter-finals.

Few though could have imagined he was about to go even further to become the first lucky loser to reach a Masters 1000 final.

Struff – who beat Rublev and Carlos Alcaraz in the Spaniard’s main draw debut in Paris two years ago – battled through six straight three-set matches in the Spanish capital.

He pushed Alcaraz only to come up just shy of his maiden tour title but it was enough to catapult him back into the top 30 in time for Paris.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

A name that could well be mentioned in the same vein as Struff as among the best on tour yet to have landed a title, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has shown most promise on the terre battue.

He reached his sole career final to date in the Monte Carlo Masters last year with victories over the likes of Taylor Fritz, David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov and Novak Djokovic before he came up short against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

This year, the 23-year-old again summoned his best on the red dirt, this time on home soil, as he upended the in-form Holger Rune in Madrid to reach the round of 16, following a quarter-final appearance in Barcelona where he tested world No.1 Alcaraz.

The world No.34’s first major quarter-final came in Paris two years ago, so he is certain to harbour ambitions of an even deeper run this time round.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2022©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Francisco Cerundolo

Argentine No.1 Franciso Cerundolo surprised all when he turned up the heat in Miami last year to reach a maiden Masters 1000 semi-final on debut.

While that may have come as a bolt from the blue, the 24-year-old has since consolidated his breakout result, having set up camp in the top 30.

Cerundolo put on a show in Rome this month, when he thwarted eighth seed and home hope Jannik Sinner to reach the quarter-finals.

It marked his third straight top-10 win this season, having also beaten Felix Auger-Aliassime in Miami and Ruud in Barcelona.

Following Juan Manuel Cerundolo’s exit in qualifying, it will be up to big brother to fly the family flag in search of a first main draw win at Roland-Garros.

Francisco Cerundolo, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT