On Sunday, the 2010 French Open gets underway. Before the first ball is struck at Roland Garros, here’s a taste of how the proceedings may unravel on the gentlemen’s side.
Since 2006, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had made it a habit of contesting for the trophy on the final Sunday. Last year, Robin Soderling interrupted that cycle by ousting Nadal in the fourth round. After descending a wee bit in the rankings, with a record three Masters clay court titles, Nadal returned to his familiar spot at number two this week. Therefore, this sets up the possibility of a final featuring defending champion Federer and his old nemesis Nadal.
By far, Nadal has been the best clay court player this season. As such, it’s almost a given penciling his name as a finalist. In examining the draw, Nadal, the top seed in the bottom section, appears to have a green line through the round of 16. In the quarterfinals, the Spaniard could see slight resistance from fellow countrymen Fernando Versdasco and Nicolas Almagro. The latter in particular competed well against Nadal in Madrid. Still, Nadal should pull through.
Also in the bottom half are Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic, potential semifinal adversaries for Nadal. Last year, Roddick had a career best showing in Paris by reaching the round of 16. In the first round, Roddick takes on veteran Jarkko Nieminen, then, a possible third round match with Juan Monaco. Hence, the American may say his goodbyes to Paris early. Assuming Roddick advances to the quarters, he could face the second best performer on clay this year, David Ferrer. Considering that Roddick has not competed since the Sony Ericsson Open and with clay being his least successful surface, it hard to imagine Roddick progressing to the second week.
Despite a clay title and two other finals, Djokovic went down in the third round in 2009. This year, Djokovic withdrew early in Serbia and his best result was the semifinals in Monte-Carlo. Consequently, for Djokovic, resting may be a blessing. On the other hand, it could be a curse, not allowing the Serb to be clay fit. With former French Open winner Juan Carlos Ferrero potentially as a third round opponent and Ferrer in the quarterfinals, the third seed could have his hands full before getting a crack at Nadal.
For the top seeds in the top half of the draw, Federer and Andy Murray, struggling has been the operative word lately. Federer seems to have shaken off some of the cobwebs by advancing to the finals in Madrid. Still, the proof will be how Federer fares against potential third round rivals Gael Monfils or Stanislas Wawrinka. In the quarters, Federer may battle Robin Soderling over whom he triumphed in the finals last year. Additionally, Ernests Gulbis and Albert Montanes brimming with belief after their victories over Federer in Rome and Estoril respectively as well as Marin Cilic, a youngster excelling with each major, could cause Federer’s downfall in the quarters. In the semifinals, Federer may see the always dangerous Murray itching to avenge his Australian Open final defeat. Alternate possibilities in the semis include Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who will have the home crowd behind him or Tomas Berdych who stopped Federer in Miami. Needless to say, the world number one has a journey fraught with peril to the finals.
In the first round, Murray clashes with hometown favorite Richard Gasquet. For Gasquet, it’s a golden opportunity to regain loss ground by vanquishing a vulnerable Murray. Moreover, Murray’s round of 16 counterpart may be John Isner, a finalist in Serbia or Tomas Berdych a formidable rival especially after his great run in Miami. Furthermore, in the quarters, both Mikhail Youzhny and Tsonga may present serious challenges for the Scot.
An impediment for Tsonga in the third round may be Thiemo De Bakker who stunned the Frenchman in Barcelona. Later, in the round of 16, Tsonga could play either Tommy Robredo or Youzhny who are quite proficient on the red dust.
No matter how one dissects the draw, the outcome is advantage Nadal. It’s simply difficult to conceive how Federer, Djokovic, Verdasco or Ferrer can halt the four time champion from capturing his fifth French title.