Is this finally Novak Djokovic’s year? That’s the question on every tennis aficionado’s mind ahead of the year’s second Slam in Roland Garros. The hallowed clay tournament which had been in the stranglehold of Spanish matador Rafael Nadal suddenly has the most open men’s draw this year, thanks to Nadal’s vulnerability.
For the first time in a decade, Rafa has headed to the French Open without a single European clay title and his recent indifferent results have contributed to him being seeded sixth in Paris. The lower seeding unfortunately has pitted him against the most in-form man of the season, Novak Djokovic.
How are Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the rest of the contenders placed? We find out in our French Open draw analysis –
SI.com’s Jon Wertheim says about Rafa Nadal, “But he’s The King until he’s officially dethroned.” Be it lack of momentum or his forehand losing its sting or doubts in his mind, when it comes to the French Open, one simply cannot discount nine-time champion Rafa Nadal’s past records in Paris.
The Spaniard has always managed to thrive in the best-of-five format. Will the Paris clay inspire confidence in the man once again? Only time will tell. But one thing that doesn’t bode well for Rafa is that he is a rhythm player and he takes his time to reach his peak. Last couple of years, Nadal started off his campaign in a not-so-convincing fashion but finished looking as invincible as ever.
Having to face top seed Novak Djokovic who is already on a 22-match winning streak as early as the quarters, might not be the most welcome scenario if Rafa is to find his feet on clay. On the other hand, it might turn out the greatest opportunity for the Serb if he is to complete his much-awaited Career Slam. Needless to say, all eyes are on that particular match.
But before that, Novak has to contend with Jarkko Nieminen, 20th seed Richard Gasquet and one from a pair of Aussies – 27th seed Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Rafa begins against French wild card Quentin Halys, then has countryman Nicolas Almagro and the talented 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov who can push him hard.
Semi-finalist: Novak Djokovic
First round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov v Jack Sock
Third seed Andy Murray’s clay game suddenly looks promising after back-to-back triumphs in Munich and Madrid. But what doesn’t look very bright is his spot in his first ever Roland Garros final as his path is littered with threats.
The Scot has the energetic and ever-dangerous 29th seed Nick Kyrgios and the big-serving 16th seed John Isner in his quarter of the draw. Both can test him but Andy should come through.
The challenge becomes even stiffer with seventh seed David Ferrer looming in his quarter-final. The 2013 French Open runner-up should pose a big threat with his exceptional defense. However, after the performance Murray put up in the Madrid Open final where he stunned Nadal, one would expect the Scot to make it to the semis.
David Ferrer, meanwhile, has 31st seed Victor Troicki, 23rd seed Leonardo Mayer, 9th seed Marin Cilic and young gun Jiri Vesely in his quarter of the draw.
Semi-finalist: Andy Murray
First round matches to watch: John Isner v Andreas Seppi, Vasek Pospisil v Joao Sousa
Two players who have been doing well this season – fourth seed Tomas Berdych and fifth seed Kei Nishikori – have been placed in this part. For many experts including two-time former French Open champion Jim Courier, the Japanese has the biggest chance after Djokovic. Nishikori has raised those hopes after a consistent season that saw him defend his title at Barcelona and make the semis in Madrid.
That has surely boosted his confidence but he has a couple of players who can upset the applecart. Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci and Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco are tough customers on clay and Nishikori needs to be at the top of his game to move past them.
Czech Tomas Berdych has made at least the quarter-finals of all 9 events that he played this year. He arrives in Paris brimming with confidence and should get past 28th seed Fabio Fognini, 22nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber and 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
However, Nishikori might be a different challenge altogether with his speed, precision and his blistering backhand.
Semi-finalist: Kei Nishikori
First round match to watch: Juan Monaco v Federico Delbonis
“Clearly having Rafa in Novak’s section is the biggest news,” Roger Federer in his media conference.
With two of the biggest contenders for the title stacked in the other half of the draw, the 2009 winner Roger Federer’s route to the final certainly looks smoother. The man who has failed to reach the final for the past three years, would surely like to make amends this time.
Lurking in his part, however, is 13th seed Gael Monfils – a player perhaps second-seeded Federer would to like to best avoid. He has upset Roger in their last two meetings which included a Round of 16 contest at Monte Carlo this season. Monfils definitely gets a new lease of life performing in front of his countrymen at Roland Garros but would the Swiss ace give up this big opportunity? Perhaps not.
With Marcel Granollers, Marcos Baghdatis, youngster Dominic Thiem as the rest of the players in his path, a quarter-final place looks highly achievable.
Compatriot Stan Wawrinka is the man he could meet in the last-eight stage. The eighth seed started his season in grand fashion with two titles but since then has faded away until upsetting Nadal in Rome. Slated to meet 26th seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, his conqueror last year in Paris, Wawrinka should be aiming for redemption this time.
Semi-finalist: Roger Federer
First round match to watch: Ivo Karlovic v Marcos Baghdatis, Dominic Thiem v Aljaz Bedene
Semi-finals: Novak Djokovic def Andy Murray, Roger Federer def Kei Nishikori
Final: Novak Djokovic def Roger Federer