Rafael Nadal's coach Francisco Roig says Novak Djokovic and the Spaniard are still the favourites going into the French Open despite the emergence of the younger players during the 2021 clay court swing.

The 20-time men's singles Grand Slam champion has won two titles – the Barcelona Open and the Italian Open – on his favourite surface this season. But Nadal was beaten in the quarterfinals at the Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Madrid.

Djokovic, on the other hand, has yet to claim a title on clay this season. The Serbian world No.1 lost in the round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters, in the semifinals at the Belgrade Open and in the final to Nadal in Rome. He is currently playing an ATP 250 event in Serbia to prepare for the French Open later this month.

Roig, who has been part of Nadal's coaching set-up since 2005, acknowledges the emergence of the younger players like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem. All the aforementioned players have won major titles in the past year and are slowly but surely trying to break the dominance of the Big Three – Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

"In the [ATP] Masters 1000s it has spread out a little more and it's clear that they're getting closer. But in the five-set Grand Slam matches, I still see those two as favourites," Roig said during an interview with the ATP Tour website.

Roig was asked about which player could cause Nadal trouble going into the French Open. The Spanish coach believes Djokovic still poses the biggest threat but heaped praise on former Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem.

The Austrian, who won the 2020 US Open, has gone off the boil since his maiden Grand Slam triumph and is yet to find his best form on his favourite surface. But Roig is certain that he will be playing at a good level in Paris and is certain that on his day he can pose a serious threat to Nadal, who is seeking a record 14th French Open title.

"Djokovic is probably the opponent that can cause the most problems, along with Tsitsipas, Zverev and Thiem. However, if Thiem recovers the tempo and confidence he normally shows on clay, I would say I can't see any difference between him and Djokovic," Roig said.

Rafael Nadal
Spain's Rafael Nadal won a 10th title in Rome Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP