None is an outright favourite
The Roland Garros Grand Slam event (colloquially and more commonly known as the French Open) begins today and this one offers all kinds of interesting possibilities for the world’s top three men — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Nadal already has a jointly-held record six titles on the Paris dirt, and will look to go one ahead of Bjorn Borg, who won his titles in the 70s and early 80s. Djokovic is looking to complete a career Grand Slam by adding the French trophy to his collection of three Australian, one Wimbledon and one US Open win. One the other hand, Federer is aiming to add to his already 17 titles and his first in two years in Paris.
The French Open marks the end of the claycourt leg of the ATP World Tour, which is based primarily in Europe, and for over half a decade, it has been the part of the tour where Nadal rises head and shoulders above the rest. This year has been no exception.
After the four Grand Slams, and possibly the year end World Tour Finals, the nine Masters Series events are the most prestigious events in tennis. Three of those — Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome — are played on clay as lead-ups to the French Open. Nadal claimed titles at Monte Carlo and Rome recently, as well as at a less prestigious event in Barcelona and has a 16-1 record going into the tournament. His only loss came on the controversial blue claycourts of Madrid.
Djokovic’s only dalliances on clay this year has been at the three masters events (season record 10-3). He finished runner-up to Nadal in Monte Carlo and Rome — reversing the results of the previous year’s tourneys — and like Nadal, failed on the blue clay. The Serb has his own possible date with destiny in Paris. He currently holds the Australian Open, the US Open and the Wimbledon crown, and victory at the French will make him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles simultaneously, as well as the only man to do so on more than two surfaces.
Federer’s record on clay for the season reads 8-2. He skipped Monte Carlo, triumphed on blue Madrid, and fell convincingly to Djokovic in Rome (his other loss came to John Isner in a Davis Cup rubber).
How are things likely to play out?
Nadal, ranked two in the world, starts as the favourite. 2011 marked the first time since 2004 that he did not lift at least two of the three Masters events held on clay, courtesy of Djokovic, who was in the process of building a seven match winning streak against the Spaniard. Nonetheless, he triumphed in Paris. This year, he is back to winning ways, has stopped the rot against the World No. 1 with successive straight-sets wins in the finals of Monte Carlo (record 7th title) and Rome (record 6th title). Having been beaten in the last three Grand Slam finals, he will be particularly keen to nail his supremacy on clay.
Djokovic lost just one match on clay in 2011, to Federer in the semifinal stage in Paris. This year, he has been a clear number two behind Nadal, but the relative ease with which the Spaniard dispatched him in Rome and Monte Carlo does not inspire confidence in the world No. 1’s prospects of reigning supreme over all the Grand Slams. The clinical way that he has overcome all others however, bode well for his chances of reaching the finals. Federer is a possible semifinal opponent, but Nadal lies in the opposite half of the draw.
Federer’s chances are the poorest among the big three. Victory on Madrid’s blue clay speaks to his superb ability to adapt, but the surface has little in common to the clay of Roland Garros. A good head-to-head record against Djokovic stands in his favour, but a win over Nadal in the final will go against both history and current trends.
-With The Daily Star input