Several fascinating storylines loom ahead of the 2024 French Open, the year’s second tennis grand slam.

Rafael Nadal is slated to make his last appearance at the major he has made his own – but he’s favoured to be sent packing in the first round. Meanwhile, injuries are hanging over the top contenders to unseat Novak Djokovic.

Iga Swiatek is the runaway favourite to triumph at Roland Garros again, despite the quality in the women’s field.

Alex de Minaur appears the only hope of a deep run by an Aussie this time around.

Rafa’s last Roland Garros ride clouded by horror draw

No player has dominated a major like Rafael Nadal has the French Open – and the 14-time champion’s 20th visit to Roland Garros is likely to be his last.

‘The King of Clay’ missed the French Open for the first time in 2023 (after taking out the event in five of the previous six years) with injury. He returned briefly at the start of 2024 before battling injury again before finally getting some regular tennis under his belt during the current clay swing.

But does the 37-year-old – on the seventh line of French Open title betting at $26 – still have enough in the tank to win at this level?

Nadal’s results over the past month have been mixed. He lost to Alex de Minaur in Barcelona but turned the tables on the Aussie on the way to the last 16 at the Madrid Masters, also beating Pedro Cachin before losing in straight sets to 30th seed Jiri Lehecka.

In his last hit-out in Rome, Nadal battled past Zizou Bergs in three sets but crashed 6-1 6-3 to Hubert Hurkacz.

The draw has not been kind: he lines up against fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the first round when he really needed some easier fixtures early on to find his rhythm. Get past that acid test, though, and Nadal has a seemingly straightforward run to a potential Round of 16 date with 13th seed Holger Rune.

But it’s a fairytale that seems destined to be snuffed out at the first hurdle, with Zverev a $1.25 favourite to eliminate the living legend.

Top contenders fight injury issues

Young guns Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner would appear to be on an uncomplicated semi-final collision course. But both superstars are under injury clouds with current Wimbledon champ Alcaraz (arm) and 2024 Australian Open winner Sinner (hip) both pulling out of the Rome Masters.

World No.2 Sinner reached the Monte-Carlo Masters semis before withdrawing from his quarter-final fixture in Madrid. The only clay matches third-ranked Alcaraz, who won the Indian Wells title, has played on this swing were at the Madrid Masters, eventually losing in the quarters to Andrey Rublev.

Nevertheless, Alcaraz – the ‘King of Clay’ heir apparent whose best French Open performance was reaching the semis last year – is the $3.75 tournament favourite. Sinner is on the third line at $5.50.

Wedged in between them at $4.00 is defending champion Novak Djokovic, the ageless world No.1 who has taken out two of the last three French Opens. Playing Pierre-Hughes Herbert in the first round, Djkovic’s doesn’t appear to have too many landmines before he gets to the quarters.

Djokovic made the semis in Monte-Carlo before suffering a shock loss to Alejandro Tabilo in Rome, but he’s chalked up some solid wins in Geneva this week. The 24-time slam winner has amazingly reached the final of 15 of the last 20 majors he has competed in, winning 12.

The next tier of contenders features Zverev ($7.00), whose toughest test on the way to a possible semi-final date with Djokovic is likely to be a vociferous pro-Nadal crowd in the first round. But the German, a three-time French Open semi-finalist, is coming of a big win at the Rome Masters.

Stefanos Tsitsipas ($9.50), the 2021 French Open runner-up, won the Monte-Carlo Masters and Andrey Rublev ($29) won the Madrid Masters. The pair are headed for a fourth-round showdown at Roland Garros.

Casper Ruud ($13) lost to Nadal in the 2022 final and Djokovic in the 2023 decider. He reached the Monte-Carlo final then returned the favour on Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open final, but his form has tapered since.

Dark horses include Daniil Medvedev ($29), Rune ($41), in-form Taylor Fritz ($81) and Hurkacz ($101).

Swiatek flexes before pursuit of fourth French Open crown

Iga Swiatek is aiming to become the third player in the Open Era – after Monica Seles (1990-92) and Justin Henin (2005-07) to win three straight French Open women’s titles. Her only blip at Roland Garros since storming to the 2020 title was a quarter-final loss in 2021.

The world No.1 is an astonishingly short $1.67 to achieve the hat-trick after firing off a deafening warning by winning the Madrid Masters and Rome Masters back-to-back.

Swiatek beat second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in both finals, saving three match points in Madrid before dropping only five games in the return bout in Rome.

Two-time Australian Open champ Sabalenka ($6.00) shapes as Swiatek’s biggest French Open threat. She was upset in the semis last year by Karolina Muchova after beating Swiatek for the Madrid crown.

The player who could potentially trouble Swiatek most, however, is fourth seed Elena Rybakina ($11). The former Wimbledon champ has a 4-2 record against Swiatek, including wins in both clay-court encounters – on her way to the 2023 Rome Masters title and in the Stuttgart Open semis last month.

But illness again cloud’s Rybakina’s Roland Garros bid. She reached the semis in Madrid – losing a three-setter to Sabalenka, her potential semi-final opponent in Paris – but was forced to withdraw from her Rome title defence.

US Open champ Coco Gauff ($11) reached the French Open final in 2022 but a 1-9 record against Swiatek – including a 6-4 6-3 loss in the recent Rome semis – does not bode well.

Resurgent Danielle Collins ($21) has been in sensational form, winning the Miami Masters and Charleston Open before getting to the semis in Rome.

Collins could face out-of-sorts Wimbledon champ and 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova ($81) in the fourth round before a quarter-final showdown with Swiatek.

Few others are given a chance, with 2017 champ Jelena Ostapenko, enigmatic sixth seed Maria Sakkari and 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva on the next line of betting at $41.

Smokies to reach the final from the bottom half of the draw if Sabalenka and Rybakina stumble include in-form Madison Keys ($51) and Elina Svitolina ($67), who sensationally made the semis last year less than two months after returning from a maternity break.

‘Demon’ to lead Aussie charge

Clay courts are not traditionally Australian players’ strong suit: no men from this country have featured in a French Open final since Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver faced one another in the 1968-69 finals, winning one apiece.

Australian women have fared much better, with Ash Barty achieving grand slam glory at Roland Garros in 2019 and Sam Stosur reaching the final in 2010. Prior to that, 1979 runner-up Wendy Turnbull was the last to feature in a tournament decider.

World No.11 Alex de Minaur ($126) is the pick of the Aussie contingent in 2024. He’s never been past the second round at the French Open but has lifted his clay-court game over the past 12 months.

‘Demon’ split two recent encounters with the great Rafael Nadal, while he beat Madrid runner-up Felix Auger-Aliassime in Rome before going down to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Round of 16.

The 24-year-old livewire plays Alex Michelsen in the first round and cannot face a higher-ranked player until the fourth round, where Daniil Medvedev potentially looms.

Elsewhere in the draw, Christopher O’Connell and Max Purcell will meet qualifiers in the first round, Alexei Popyrin and Thanasi Kokkinakis square off first up, Adam Walton plays Arthur Rinderknech, Rinky Hijikata meets rising star Luciano Darderi, and Aleksandar Vukic faces Zhizhen Zhang.

Jordan Thompson, the second-ranked Aussie at No.37, is eyeing off possible matches against 24th seed Alejandro Tabilo and 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov if he gets past Maximilian Marterer in the first round.

All except de Minaur are listed as $501 longshots.

The only confirmed Aussie women main draw entrants as of Friday are Daria Saville (protected ranking) and injury-ravaged wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic, who are both in the $501 bracket.

Saville could go on a run if she upsets 12th seed Jasmine Paolini in the first round of the softest section of the draw. Tomljanovic, who has completed just one match since January, lines up against 30th seed Dayana Yastremska first up.