It may seem foolish not to consider Rafael Nadal the favourite for the French Open, which begins on Sunday May 24, but this would seem like Novak Djokovic’s best chance to complete the career grand slam, especially as the Serbian enters the tournament on a 22-match winning streak.
Nadal’s defeat against Stan Wawrinka in the Italian Open quarterfinal means he will be seeded no higher than seventh at Roland-Garros, and it will be the first time he has competed in the year’s second major without winning one of the preceding European clay court events. The Spaniard’s likely tougher than usual draw and recent struggles with fitness raise the real possibility Djokovic might not even need to beat the nine-time champion to win in Paris.
However, given Djokovic is the opponent Nadal has recorded most French Open wins against (6), the Serbian will be keen to get the opportunity to redress that particular statistic, and become just the second man to beat Nadal at Roland-Garros, after Robin Soderling’s shock fourth round success in 2009.
That sole defeat in Nadal’s 67 previous matches at the French Open paved the way for Roger Federer’s only title on the Parisian clay. The Swiss has produced fleeting glimpses of his old magic but maintaining that form for a full fortnight has proved tougher in recent years. Since his defeat to Nadal in the 2011 French Open final, he has reached only two of the next 15 grand slam finals, and both of them were on the grass of Wimbledon.
With doubts over the form, fitness and durability of Nadal and Federer, could this be the year Andy Murray makes a serious tilt at the only major he has failed to reach the final in? Having been demolished, while winning only six games, by Nadal in last year’s semifinal, the Scot has shown his best clay court form in the past month, winning his first two titles on the surface. The second of those victories, the Madrid Masters, was secured with his first clay court victory against Nadal.
Last year saw two first-time major winners in Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. Neither player has showed much form at Roland-Garros to suggest they will come close to adding to their breakthrough major wins. Wawrinka reached the quarterfinal in 2013, but was knocked out by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in round one last year. Cilic has never made it past round four and is only just back from the shoulder injury that forced him to miss the Australian Open in January.
Of the other players in the top 10 of the world rankings, David Ferrer will be hoping for another solid run at the French Open. In the last three years, he has reached a final, a semifinal and a quarterfinal, but has run into Nadal on each occasion. It would be a surprise to see Tomas Berdych or Kei Nishikori go any further than the last eight, and Milos Raonic requiring foot surgery just 10 days before the tournament is likely to curtail his efforts to improve on last year’s run to the quarterfinal.
It would take something special not to be watching the completion of a Djokovic career grand slam or title number 10 for Nadal come June 7.
BY: GRANT FISKEN