The Defending Champs compare notes. AP Photo/Michel Eule via Daylife
The day is here! Defending Champs Rafael Nadal and Li Na took part in the Roland Garros draw ceremony on Friday, helping seal the fates of their tennis compadres. Here’s the long and short of it.
In case you were wondering who the favorite is, Roger Federer wants to set you straight: “I think Rafael is playing for his seventh title, so no discussion. We’re crazy to even talk about this.” (via The Star Phoenix)
Nole’s take (via RolandGarros.com):
“I believe that I’m at the peak of my career at this moment. I definitely want to use this confidence that I have and try to make a good result here in Roland Garros. But for me, Rafa is always favourite for this tournament. He even was last year. Always No. 1 favourite because he’s just what he is on clay courts, you know.”
Though I haven’t seen any quotes yet from The Favorite, who could overtake the record he currently holds with Bjorn Borg if he wins his seventh title at Roland Garros, I think it’s safe to assume he’d say something like: “I have great feelings about this tournament in the past and I want to play well here but first I must play the first round and Nole is number one so he is probably the favorite, too, no?”
The Short View: Djokovic vs. Federer and Ferrer vs. Nadal in the semifinals
Top Half – The Long View: Deja vu all over again. Djokovic and Federer are once again on a collision course for the semifinals. As a Fed Fan, it’s hard not to look back at Roger’s recent week at No. 2 and start daydreaming of a Murray vs. Federer semifinal (actually, I should say: a Nadal vs. Djokovic semifinal.) But a rematch of last year’s Fed vs. Nole drama isn’t a bad alternative. The question is, will we get it?
I’ve had trouble understanding Nole’s game lately, because last year it was so simple: pure domination. Since the Australian Open, there have been more nuances and hiccups, more patches of poor play and perhaps a smidgen less confidence. But he showed enough ferocity in Rome to convince me that he still has what it takes to win the title in Paris. And all of his comments going into the tournament have projected the cool confidence of someone who hasn’t revealed his entire hand. He probably won’t need a pocket ace to make it through to the semis, he’s got Potito Starace in the first round, Hewitt (a wildcard) in the second, Melzer in the fourth and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Jo told reporters in Rome that “there is no chance that a French(man) win(s) Roland Garros. There is no inevitability in my comments. It’s just an observation.” Not exactly fighting words.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. AP Photo/Michel Euler via Daylife
I have a feeling Roger got the one guy he didn’t want to meet in the quarters and that’s Tomas Berdych. Tomas has been a beast on the clay this season – he’s even playing in the final round of the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf this weekend – and Roger had to pull out all the stops to top him in Madrid. Before that dreaded date with Berdych, Roger may be playing ghosts from his past: David Nalbandian in the second round and – less likely and less threatening – a struggling Andy Roddick in the third. Feliciano Lopez is Roger’s seeded round of 16, though that entire section is wide open. Hey, it could even be my French Qualifier Watch! entry, Arnaud “the originale kerchief” Clement. Now all we need are Santoro and Grojean and we’ve got ourselves a real French Open. (Monfils, alas, has disqualified himself due to a knee injury.)
Look out for: Simon vs. Harrison, Mahut vs. Roddick and Del Potro vs. Montanes in the first round, Simon vs. Wawrinka and Del Potro vs. Ferrero in the third and Simon vs. Tsonga in the round of 16. Shout outs go to the dashing Pablo Andujar of Spain, who can actually play great tennis on the clay, and to American wildcard and former French Open boys finalist Brian Baker, who is currently mounting an astounding comeback from injury obscurity. The 216-ranked Baker is playing Almagro in the Nice finals tomorrow. Click here for more on Baker.
Don’t play coy, Andy. Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images via Daylife
Bottom Half – The Long View: Let’s start with Murray for once, the guy I keep seeing in draws and thinking “How is he still No. 4?” No offense intended to Murray, he’s just had a tough season since the Australian Open, losing much of that “I almost beat Nole” momentum that he’d gained Down Under. Now he’s coming off a loss to Gasquet in Rome, working through a pesky back injury, and preparing without Coach Lendl this weekend because of a seniors’ event in Franfurt (which Lendl will probably win, just to prove who’s boss.) Just when you think the Scot is due to catch a break, he gets dumped in the lower section with Rafael Nadal – for the seventh time in the last eight Majors.
A semi-finalist last year, I just don’t think Murray has the mojo right now to make it past David Ferrer in the quarters. Until his date with the Spanish No. 2, Murray’s draw is as comfortable as he could hope for. If he finds any semblance of his normal form, it could be fun to see him wrestle with Tomic in the third round and get revenge on Gasquet in the round of 16.
As for Rafa, well, at least there are some interesting, if not threatening, match-ups in the works. He could get Karlovic in the third round and Raonic or Monaco in the round of 16. I’d like to see Almagro have a go at his countryman in the quarters, though I suspect Nico won’t be going anywhere but back to Spain when it’s over. Tipsarevic is the top seed in Almagro’s section but I think the Serb would be the less competitive quarterfinal match-up on this surface for the defending champ.
Look out for: Blake vs. Youzhny (for old time’s sake), Young vs. Dimitrov and Tipsarevic vs. Querrey in the first round. Qualifier (!) Tommy Haas vs. Dolgopolov and Dimitrov vs. Gasquet (one-hander fun) in the second round. Speaking of great one-handers, how about Kohlschreiber vs. Almagro in the third? John Isner is in Ferrer’s section, and a possible Round of 16 opponent for the Spanish No. 2.
French Qualifier Watch! Who doesn’t have a soft spot for the permanently dejected Paul Henri-Mathieu? (In the Isner/Ferrer section)
It’s harder to take a short view of the Ladies draw, except to say that Serena Williams has looked very strong on clay this season. But she’s won on the slightly faster tracks in Charleston and Madrid, pulling out of Rome before we could see how she’d do on the heavier red stuff vs. the likes of a Li or Sharapova. So there’s hope for the lesser No. 1s and even the mere mortals in the draw.
The Short View: Azarenka vs. Bartoli or Radwanska and Li vs. Serena or Sharapova in the semifinals.
That wasn’t easy to type, and I still have my doubts. There are as many questions as there are contenders in this draw. One thing’s for sure: The bottom half is TOUGH.
LADIES’ BOTTOM HALF
The bottom quarter is so tough, that I’m going to start there first. I think this is the quarter from which the French Open champ is most likely to emerge. Maria Sharapova, seeded second and going for her career slam, is the anchor and Serena Williams is the gravitas. The two divas of tennis are poised to meet in the quarterfinals and I dearly hope they both make it. Serena will take on Caroline Wozniacki, the only player to give her much trouble in Madrid, taking her to three sets. Sharapova has a possible round of sixteen vs. Pavlyuchenkova or Kirilenko. There’s always drama when the Russians play one another in big matches. I’d also look out for the great enigma, Kaia Kanepi, in this section.
The top quarter of the bottom half stars defending champion Li Na, who should be just fine until the quarters (Zvonareva is her round of 16), if only she keeps her head on straight. Her seeded quarterfinal opponent is Petra Kvitova, though I’m holding out for sentimental favorite Francesca Schiavone, who could face the Czech lefty in the round of 16.
Look out for: Li Na vs. Cirstea and Schiavone vs. Date-Krumm (golden girls’ special!) in the first round, Jankovic vs. Schiavone and Kanepi vs. Wozniacki in the third.
LADIES’ TOP HALF
This half belongs to Azarenka, fair and square. I’ve developed a soft spot for her ever since I learned she’s brought one of my all time faves, Amelie Mauresmo, onto her team. (I wonder if that will work for the French crowds, who have never taken to the shrieky Vika.) This is clay and anything can happen, like Sam Stosur. Sam Stosur is a Roland Garros finalist and has perhaps shaken the whole “I won the US Open!” thing off by now, allowing her to mount a real challenge vs. Vika in the quarterfinals.
Keep calm and carry on, says Agnieszka. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir via Daylife
The bottom quarter of the top half is pretty fascinating stuff, with this weekend’s Brussel’s finalist, third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the top seed in the section. Agnieszka has just tied Vika for most match wins this season with 35. Her reward: a murderer’s row at Roland Garros, including the bad luck of playing Venus Williams in the second round. Venus may not be at her best, but she beat Sam Stosur in straights in Rome along with Simona Halep, the woman Radwanska will face in tomorrow’s Brussel’s final. I don’t care who you are, you don’t relish playing Venus Williams in the second round of a major. Assuming she gets through Venus, Radwanska could face Svetlana Kuznetsova int the third round (Sveta enoys a 9-3 head to head vs. Radwanska) and an improving Ana Ivanovic in the round of 16. Marion Bartoli awaits in the quarters. All this to face Vika in the semis? Tennis isn’t for the faint of heart.
Look out for: Lisicki vs. Mattek-Sands in the first round, Stosur vs. Petrova in the third, Kerber vs. Pennetta in the third round, Kerber vs. Bartoli in the round of 16.
And, finally, some random thoughts before I’m off into the wilderness for Memorial Day.
Fave photo of the tournament so far here (Too bad Kim pulled out.)
(Thanks, Judy, for pointing out the great photos at RolandGarros.com)
And finally, in the “So bad it’s good category” this year’s French Open poster gets a trophy of its own for fugly. (Seriously, I kind of love it!)