French Open 2012: Men’s draw preview and analysis
May 25, 2012 · Print This Article
On the cusp of breaking a tie with Bjorn Borg for most ever French Open titles won, world No. 2 Rafael Nadal enters this year’s second major as the odds on favorite to win it all.
Arriving at the historic grounds of Roland Garros with three clay titles in 2012, Nadal hasn’t lost a set on clay this year except for his early exit in Madrid. If winning tournament after tournament wasn’t enough, the Spaniard also gained confidence from two recent wins against his chief rival Novak Djokovic; Nadal entered the French last year with two straight clay loses to the Serb. With his game air-tight and immortality on the terre bateau within his sights, Nadal should be engaged and in fifth gear from his opening match.
The Mallorcan will be tested along the way of course; presumably by likes of Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.
Pulling in great results since the US Open, Federer won in Madrid and reached the semis in Rome to boost his chances in France. The quicker Babolat balls aided Federer greatly during last year’s finals run; a tournament which saw him snap Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak. There’s no doubt that Federer’s ultimate goal this season revolves around winning a gold medal in London and then securing a seventh title at Wimbledon. But if the soon-to-be 31-year-old has any plans of getting back to No. 1, then a strong showing in Paris is required.
How about Murray and Ferrer? We know Murray’s favorite surface has never been clay and to make matters worse for the Scot, he’s currently battling a back injury. Murray did reach the semis here last year, but I’d be truly surprised if he duplicates that feat this year. By contrast, Ferrer continues to thrive on any surface that stains his socks. Winning in Acapulco and Buenos Aires in February, Ferrer also reached the finals in Barcelona and the semis in Rome. The exuberant Spaniard has never made it out of the quarters in Paris, but with experience on his side and Murray ailing, this could finally be the year Ferru reaches the final four.
A more plausible and puzzling pick to take the title is Berdych. He reached the quarters or better of every Masters event on clay this year and continued his fine form in Dusseldorf last week. Berdych, as we all know, can create easy power like it’s nobody business, but when expectations run high he usually falters. My other concern for Berdych is that he could have peaked too soon. Playing almost every week leading into Paris, the skyscraper Czech could be burnt out.
We’ll also keep an eye on Juan Martin del Potro, John Isner and Juan Monaco throughout the fortnight, but before I give away my picks for the tournament winner, let’s dive into each quarter and analyze the respective participants.
Changing clothing sponsors, selling his home tournament and losing a loved one earlier this year have left top seeded Djokovic with a heap of distractions prior to his potential fourth straight major. Nole’s been playing well—not as well as last year—and if he’s to survive this quarter he’ll have to bounce a cast including Potito Starace, Lleyton Hewiit, Jurgen Melzer, Fernando Verdasco, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Willy Tsonga. Of all those players, the most worrisome for Djokovic could be Wawrinka. Possessing a killer one-hander and a knack for cruising around the dirt, Wawrinka could make the quarters here, but likely won’t pass that position.
All in all, when Wawrinka is your toughest challenge in a quarter, life ain’t so bad.
Playing top notch ball these days, Federer still has to prove that his game is good enough to beat the very best in three out of five sets. Not winning a slam since the 2010 Australian Open, Federer’s last trip to a major final was right here one year ago. The quicker balls (courtesy of Nadal’s sponsor) helped Federer tremendously in 2011 and if the conditions are the same this time around, then there’s no reason why the living legend can’t make slam final No. 24.
Starting things off against Tobias Kamke, Federer’s could face long-time nemesis David Nalbandian in round-two, with Roddick or Feliciano Lopez in the round of sixteen.
Del Potro will be a player to keep track of in this section; the former semifinalist did have a minor injury scare in Rome, but has been close to his top form all season. The real concern for Federer here could be Berdych. Facing off in the Madrid final, Berdych has what it takes to defeat Federer at a major (Wimbledon 2010) and seems to have finally toughened up his fragile mental state.
With that being said, Federer has a far tougher quarter than Djokovic, and if he’s looking to reach another slam semi, he’ll have to do it the hard way.
I’m thinking that he still can.
With his fitness questionable, Murray’s chances at French glory are uncertain at the moment. He’ll start against Tatsuma Ito, before the likes of Andreev, Tomic, or Gasquet could be on deck. If fit, Murray can do some damage here, but with a long grass season ahead, the Scot may be looking to save his best for the lawns of London.
Ferrer checks in as the No. 6 seed here, and on paper appears to be the favorite in this section. Given a workable draw, Ferrer should beat lower ranked foes and then lose to a big 3 member if he reaches the semis.
Isner and Dolgopolov also lurk in this section, but it’s hard for me to bet against anyone not named Ferrer.
With a lot to lose and even more to gain, Nadal will look to kick start an important summer season with a title here. Finally used to his heavier racket, Nadal erased his third-round defeat in Madrid with a convincing victory in Rome. Granted a cakewalk draw as he inches towards history, Nadal opens against Simone Bolelli, before a potential tricky third-round encounter with Florian Mayer. Milos Raonic is also present and so is the second seed’s good friend Juan Monaco. On clay, in Paris, Nadal has been virtually unbeatable, and there just isn’t one standout clay wizard or power-striker (apart from Raonic) that should trouble him in anyway.
Let’s hope for Nadal’s sake that he doesn’t get any flashbacks of his loss to Soderling in 2009 when he wore pink. He’s scheduled to wear a reddish-pink top at this year’s tournament.
That could very well be his biggest concern in Paris.
Thomaz Bellucci: Unseeded and sometimes unmotivated, this Brazilian can play on clay.
Fabio Fognini: Last year’s quarter-finalist is full of personality and a deceptively sneaky game.
Albert Ramos: Poised to join the Armada at the top of the rankings, Ramos could become a factor if he gets by Ferrer in round two.
Quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka; Federer vs. Berdych; Ferrer vs. Dolgopolov; Nadal vs. Almagro.
Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Federer; Nadal vs. Ferrer
Finals: Nadal d. Djokovic (four sets)
Enjoy all the action from Paris and make sure to join us on Twitter for commentary throughout the tournament.