Bonjour, Paris! After a whirlwind clay court season, packed with surprises and champions. The biggest shocker, of course, has been the variety on the men’s side. Last year, Rafael Nadal won Barcelona, Madrid and Rome on his way to his eighth Roland Garros title (his one notable loss coming to Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final). This year, it wasn’t just Nole that beat him (in the Rome final), but David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro (who was previously 0-10 vs. Rafa) in the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo and Barcelona, respectively. As for his Masters title in Madrid, which he won after going down a set and a break in the final versus an injured Kei Nishikori, his coach Uncle Toni had this less than inspiring assement: “We don’t deserve the victory, (Nishikori) deserves it, he played better than us the whole time. . .We had a lot of luck today. We didn’t really come back, he was hurt.” (via USA Today)
Nishikori, who is recovering from the hip injury that took him out of the Madrid final, is on the other side of the draw from Rafa in Paris, but Almagro is a possible fourth round and Ferrer lurks in the quarters Stan Wawrinka, who memorably denied Rafa the Australian Open title this year, is seeded to meet him in the semis (unless Murray continues to improve.)
So, Rafa’s still the heavy favorite, no?
He’s the top seed going for his ninth (mind boggling!) title at Roland Garros, a tournament where he has a 59-1 win-loss record. He also likes nothing better than going into a big tournament with something to prove. Still, it says quite a lot about Rafa’s previous stranglehold on clay court titles and the hunger non-Rafa partisans have for a new champion, that this year’s Roland Garros field feels wide open, meaning, the door’s cracked open an inch or two. Stan Wawrinka’s unexpected Australian Open title has set the tone this season, and to his credit, Stan, now ranked No. 3 (!) has set himself up as a viable champ here in Paris.
Novak Djokovic, I feel, has this title in his grasp, as long as that wrist stays healthy. With all that he’s achieved over the past seasons, a baby on the way and a win over Rafa in the Rome final, I imagine he’s thinking this is the time to score that career slam. Roger Federer is Nole’s seeded semifinal opponent, a match-up I always find intriguing. After losing to his countryman in the title match in Monte Carlo, Roger’s been on paternity leave (at least mentally) since then, though I think my fellow Fed fans will join me in believing that his game will be buoyed by his seemingly unlimited supplies of proud papa optimism and confidence as of late. Roger’s riding a good vibes high this season. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Rafa’s on the other side of the draw.
As for the women, it’s hard to see past Serena Williams, given the nagging feeling that she’s the one to beat – especially if her leg is feeling okay. Then again, whenever I watch her play in Roland Garros, I feel like a NASCAR lookee-loo waiting for the fiery wreck. I don’t see any fireballs in her possible third round match up versus sister Venus or quarterfinal versus Sharapova (unless Stosur takes out Maria in the third, which could lead to something intriguing). But the fun thing about the French is that it feels almost as exciting to watch Serena play, say, Mona Barthel or Roberta Vinci (possible Round of 16s) as it does a top seed. With Azarenka still out and injured, I’m glad Li Na is on the other side of the draw, setting up a nice possible final. I’m also keeping an eye on the variety of youngsters – newly minted champs Puig and Bouchard on Serena’s side and Halep, Keys and Stephens on Li’s – that could make some noise, and some fans, in Paris. Ana Ivanovic, who is enjoying a positive clay court season with a runner-up effort in Stuttgart vs. Sharapova and a three set loss to Serena Williams in the semis of Rome, is a fun dark horse and possible semifinal opponent for Li.
Match play starts on Sunday (just hours away!) and features the likes of Radwanska, Federer, Williams and Tsonga on Chatrier.
So, what’s everyone looking forward to in Paris?