The first week of play has come to a conclusion at the French Open. While Andy Murray, the fourth seed, going out in the fourth round to Tomas Berdych was a shock. The biggest eye popper was David Ferrer, the ninth seed, a definite threat to Rafael Nadal in the bottom half, being ousted in the third round in three sets by Jurgen Melzer. With both Roger Federer and Nadal methodically working through their sections, the possibility of a final between these two is very much alive.
Despite stumbling at times, Federer, the defending champion, has pulled through all four matches in straight sets. Robyn Soderling, the 2009 finalist, has played steady ball. Soderling had no difficulty with Albert Montanes in the third round nor Marin Cilic in the fourth round. Now, Soderling faces Federer in the quarterfinals and will get the opportunity to seek revenge for last year’s defeat. Although Federer has an ATP 12-0 record against him, Soderling prevailed in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi this January. Therefore, Soderling will not be intimidated.
The French will have to wait for their homegrown champion yet another year. In the first round, Richard Gasquet went down to Murray in a thrilling five setter. Then, in the second round, Gael Monfils was sent packing in a marathon two day drama. Lastly, in the fourth round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was compelled to retire against Mikhail Youzhny due to a back injury. Youzhny battles Berdych as the other quarterfinalist in the top half of the draw.
In the bottom half, after outlasting Mardy Fish in a five set brawl, Ivan Ljubicic could not withstand another assault from 22 year old Thomaz Bellucci. Yet, in reaching the fourth round for the first time at a major, Bellucci’s prize is Nadal.
At the start of the tournament, Americans with authentic possibilities were likely Andy Roddick, John Isner and Sam Querrey. The greatest hope was for Isner and Querrey, the latter had prevailed over the former in the finals in Serbia. With no prior clay court competition, for Roddick, it was going to be an uphill battle to make it deep into the draw. In the third round, Roddick was outplayed by qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili and went out in straight sets. Similarly, in the third round, Berdych expedited Isner. Still, there is a Stars and Stripes bearer into the second week, he is Bobby Ginepri ranked 98th. After beating Querrey in the first round, Ginepri outfoxed former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round. In the fourth round, Ginepri battles Novak Djokovic. Djokovic has not been performing at his peak, needing four sets in the first round against Evgeny Korolev, had a tough second round match versus Kei Nishikori and another four setter against Victor Hanescu. If that pattern continues, Ginepri has a good shot at an upset.
Speaking of not being sharp, Fernando Verdasco is in need of a tune-up. Verdasco had to claw his way out of trouble in the third round against Philipp Kohlschreiber. In the fourth round, Verdasco meets countryman Nicolas Almagro who has been impressive thus far. Thus, Almagro will be a challenge for the seventh seed as he attempts to reach his first quarterfinal in Paris.
For Federer, there’s something else at stake other than the trophy. This past week, he collected his 700th career victory. Moreover, in Paris, by getting to the semifinals, Federer has the opportunity to equal Pete Sampras’ record, at 286, of most weeks at number one. However, should Federer be dethroned prior to that stage, he could surrender that coveted spot to Nadal. As one who is acutely aware of his place in the history of the game and takes pride in possessing the top ranking, one has the sense that such a factor will motivate Federer to the point of assuring that he sees Nadal on that final Sunday.
Like pack-man, Nadal has been systematically gobbling up the field. Bellucci and Nadal have played only once, ironically at Roland Garros in 2008. Since then, Bellucci’s game has matured a great deal. Perhaps as an un-jaded commodity, he could be an obstacle for Nadal. Still, his prospects look bleak. Considering Nadal’s record against the rest of the field, when all is said, the ball appears squarely in his corner to carry his fifth French Open.