With the 2019 French Open in the books, it's time to look back at some of the biggest storylines on the men's side from the past fortnight in Paris.
Long reign the King of Clay
Rafael Nadal put on yet another dominant performance at Roland Garros, dropping just two sets in taking home the title for a 12th time to improve his lifetime French Open record to 93-2. After struggling by his standards (aka not winning every single match) earlier in the clay-court season, Nadal put it together with a dominant run in the Italian Open and maintained that form throughout the entirety of the French. The gap between Nadal and the field at the French Open doesn't appear to be shrinking, either, though Dominic Thiem went from winning no sets in the 2018 final to winning one set in 2019. As long as he's healthy, Rafa could well remain the prohibitive favorite at this tournament for years to come. In the bigger picture, he's as close as he's been to Roger Federer in the career Grand Slam count since both had at least one on their ledger, now trailing by just two at 20-18.
Djoko oh no
It's hard to view making a Grand Slam semifinal as a disappointment, but such is the case for Novak Djokovic, who came in looking to secure all four Grand Slams at the same time for the second time in his career after winning 2018 Wimbledon, 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open. Battling blustery conditions full of wind gusts and rain, Djokovic fell in a classic five-setter that took parts of two days to complete against Thiem. Djokovic's consolation prize for coming up short in France will be entering Wimbledon as the clear-cut favorite, but this loss was a reminder to the rest of the tour that this guy is still human.
American men and clay haven't mixed particularly well in the past 20 years since Andre Agassi took home the title in 1999, but a mix of injuries to some top guys and poor performances from others made this a particularly brutal tournament for the Red, White and Blue. Of the nine Americans in the main draw, only Taylor Fritz managed to win a single match, and he fell meekly in the second round with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Roberto Bautista Agut. Luckily for American tennis, an upswing should be on the horizon with the grass-court season coming up next, followed by the American hard-court swing. Those faster surfaces are much more conducive to the big-serve, big-forehand formula employed by most of the top players stateside, and a big boost in talent could be here by Wimbledon with John Isner working his way back from a stress fracture in his foot.
Don't doubt the chalk
While there was no shortage of drama in this tournament, chalk ultimately prevailed. The quarterfinals were made up of seven top-10 seeds and one past champion in No. 24 Stan Wawrinka, and the semifinals featured each of the top four seeds for the first time in a Grand Slam since the 2013 Australian Open. Expect Wimbledon to be more wide open in early July. Djokovic is much less of a prohibitive favorite on grass than Nadal is on the red dirt, and the first-strike tennis encouraged by grass helps maximize the impact of breaks of serve, making it tougher for top players to recover from momentary dips in form. There's also less of a clear-cut top four on grass, as Thiem has proven he can hold his own against the Big 3 on clay but not on other surfaces.
The French Connection
There just isn't much punch left at the top of French men's tennis compared to years past, as the so-close-yet-so-far generation of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon is past its collective prime. Despite the lack of top-end talent, France acquitted itself quite well, with the passionate fans helping will five Frenchmen to the third round, including a trio of players ranked outside the top 100. Don't be surprised to see a similar pattern emerge at Wimbledon, as the British faithful will be looking to give the retiring Andy Murray a proper send-off while simultaneously searching for new faces to win English hearts and minds.
Knocking on the door
Having the three greatest players of all time simultaneously active has naturally led to some of the greatest matches of all time in the past decade-plus, but it's also sucked a lot of the air out of the room as far as the rest of the tour is concerned, as Wawrinka and Murray are the only players besides the Big 3 to win multiple Grand Slams since 2004. We had an entire "lost generation" of players, as Thiem just now became the first man born in the 1990s to reach multiple Grand Slam finals. Luckily for tennis fans, it appears that the sport will be in good hands when the Big 3 finally take a step back, with promising youngsters like Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov all breaking into the top 10 at age 23 or younger.
This group of Next Gen stars is still waiting for a true breakthrough on the biggest stage, however, as Tsitsipas' 2019 Australian Open run is the only Grand Slam semifinal result for the trio. They took a collective step in the right direction at this French Open with both Zverev and Khachanov reaching the quarterfinals and Tsitsipas bowing out in an epic fourth-round, five-setter against Wawrinka, but these youngsters are still seeking their first Grand Slam final. This progress looks painstakingly slow when compared to their female counterparts – five of the last nine Grand Slam winners on the WTA tour were 23 or younger, including each of the last three. One of these Next Gen studs is due to make a Grand Slam final soon on the men's side, but who will it be, and when?