One door closes, and another open(s). For those wondering how to fill that vacant (IPL) time slot every evening after they come back from work, look no further. A simple switch of Channels will tell you that the Second Grand Slam of the year has begun. A post-IPL hangover can be cured within a whirlwind 14 days of Grand Slam Tennis- the game at its very highest level.
The French Open 2012 is a tournament many sports aficionados have eagerly been awaiting since that Epic Australian Open final match between Djokovic and Nadal. Under normal circumstances, clay court season is a bit of a drag for most viewers- with there being a foregone winner over the two hardcore, physically brutal months across Europe, even before the season begins. Rafa Nadal has ruled the red courts for as long as one can remember, and apart from the occasional hiccup (2009), he shows no signs of tiring. His domination on the red clay is yet to ease up, despite his chronic knee problems- though Blue Clay (at Madrid this year) turned out to be quite a different affair. Entering the tournament with a negative mindset did not win him many fans, and turned the tide in favour of the all-court eternal favorite, Roger Federer.
Monte Carlo saw routine business- with Djokovic hoping to repeat his rare dominance over the clay surface from last year. But Nadal, who has had an ordinary season so far by his lofty standards, is determined not to be stuck with the ‘Bunny’ tag for the rest of his career. He seems to have found a way to beat his nemesis again, though the surface favours him as usual. The Monte Carlo win put him back at 2 in the world after Roger Federer’s temporary ascent- and the seedings for the French Open seem to have favored Nadal far more than the other three contenders. Paris’ favorite Spanish son will be aching to add yet another trophy to his cabinet after a barren year of heartbreakingly close losses.
Despite Djokovic’s Australian Open victory this year, the in-form player and arguably the most consistent has remained Roger Federer. With four tournament victories, and sufficient rest heading into the Clay season, Federer remains a threat until the semi-final- where he bumps into Novak Djokovic. Few would bet against Federer not being able to reach the last four, even at this stage in his career, even against physically-superior players who love burning the courts with their brutal styles.
Let us take a look at the favorites, and the dark horses for this year-
Rafael Nadal (2)
Seeded 2 as he enters his favorite Slam, the draw has worked in his favour- and on current form, he will most probably face Brit Andy Murray in the last four. It may not make much of a difference to the Spaniard, because these obstacles look all the more irrelevant given his World Domination through the months of April and May. Easily the favorite once again, despite Djokovic’s recent success over him, the courts at Roland Garros pose a completely different challenge to his opponents- how do you outrun Nadal on the slowest courts in the world, over five sets?
Prediction: Winner. He will, as he always does, use this win as a confidence-booster ahead of Wimbledon and the Olympics, in order to get his season back on track.
Novak Djokovic (1)
A favorite to reach the final, Novak Djokovic has had a relatively quiet year by his 2011 standards. By this stage last year, he was on a 43 win-run, a world record, until he ran into Roger Federer in the semis. Winner of just two tournaments so far in 2012 (one being the Grand Slam), one has a feeling that this is the calm before the storm- and even the two final losses to Nadal so far in Masters events, may not give us the real picture. He is pacing himself for the mother of all scalps- a victory against Nadal at Roland Garros, apart from being desperate enough to be the holder of all four slams for the first time in the Open Era. He has lofty ambitions this year, and his form so far may just be a red herring- because he seems to have mastered the art of playing his best in Grand Slam Tennis- something that Federer did for so long, so consistently.
Prediction: Runner Up.
The Grand Slam Man
Roger Federer (3)
Federer entered the 2011 French Open, far from favorite, only to play the best match of the year against Djokovic in the semis. He snapped the Serb’s 43-match streak with a display of masterful tennis, witnessed ever so rarely nowadays, and duly went on to lose to Nadal in the final. He is still capable of pulling off a few surprises, big matches, and Djokovic will have learned that from last year. Still, Federer is favorite to cruise through to the final four- despite a tough draw that might have him face Ferrero, Del Potro on the way.
Prediction: Semi Finals
Andy Murray (4)
Far from being the favorite, Murray is not even one of the dark horses this time. His sudden fall from form has seen him lose to mere qualifiers in his favorite Masters tournaments- and he still seems to be warming up to the change in coaching staff. Evidently working on a new strategy on clay, as seen in his first-round game, Murray looked a lot like a right-handed Nadal, top spin, grunts et al, albeit a lot fitter than previous years. He will have to play out of his skin to even reach the semis- and might have to beat clay court specialists like Almagro on the way.
Prediction: Fourth Round
Juan Martin Del Potro (10)
Still to return back to the top of his game after a wrist surgery two years ago, Del Potro is slowly but steadily clawing his way back against the best in the game. No major victories or telling signs of improvement apart, the lanky Argentinian is still capable of producing moments of breathtaking brilliance that makes him the only other Grand-Slam Winner capable of puncturing the top four.
Prediction: Quarter Finals
Tomas Berdych (8)
Berdych, fresh from a relatively decent Clay run, will have to contend with Del Potro in the fourth round in order to face Federer in the quarters. He is a player who has consistently fallen short of expectations over the years, and this could just be his opportunity to make a statement- a La Soderling in 2009 and 2010.
Prediction: Fourth Round
There we have it, then, with there being no MAJOR upsets in the first round, other than two Americans- Andy Roddick and Serena Williams. While Roddick’s dislike and inability at Roland Garros is well-known (like many other American Tennis players), Serena suffered a shock exit to Italian Victoria Razzano, less than a week after destroying World Number 1 Victoria Azarenka at Monte Carlo. Lleyton Hewitt’s exit, first round, doesn’t count as an upset anymore- because he was given a wild card after a hip replacement surgery, and playing on dirt isn’t the best solution.
Some things never change, and American temperaments (along with European dominance) is just one of those things.