Roland Garros : ATP Preview

The beginning of the end is here, end to the clay court swing for the year 2014 in our beautiful sport, Tennis. And this end will be marked by the most exciting of tournaments in Tennis – a Grand slam, The French Open, held in the wonderful city of Paris. The tournament begins on 26th May’14 at the Stade Roland Garros and the final for the Men’s singles format will be on 7th June’14.

This is the second of the four major tournaments held over the year in different cities namely Melbourne, Paris, London and New York City. Now beckons the turn of Paris to host the best men’s tennis players on the earth and contest for the winner’s trophy called Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Briefing up about the tournament it was first played in 1891 but was only open for the players of French clubs. But in 1925 it became open for all amateurs over the world and became a major tournament in the same year. And since 1968 it became open for professionals as well. The men’s singles draw consists of 128 sweating it out to win the elusive trophy.

Previous performances at the French Open by the current top 10 players:

Current World no.1 and Rafael Nadal has won this tournament eight times since 2005. The King of clay failed to win it in 2009 as he was beaten by the Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round who went on to the final that year but had to taste defeat through the masterclass of Roger Federer. World no.4 Federer, himself an owner of a record number of men’s singles 17 Grand slam titles and owns just one Coupe Des Mousquetaires trophy and has lost in 4 finals here to Nadal, and last year lost to Jo Wilfried Tsonga at the quarterfinal stage.

World no.2 Novak Djokovic, has won every other Grand Slam on the Tennis calendar except the Grand Slam on clay. He reached the final in 2012 and is a four time semi-finalist here. World no.8 Andy Murray missed the tournament last year due to injury and had reached quarterfinal in 2012. His best result here is a semifinalist appearance in 2011. World No.3 Stan Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion was thrashed by Nadal last year in quarterfinals which was his best result of the tournament. World No.5 and the 2013 Runner up David Ferrer produced his best result at the French open last year, losing to Nadal in straight sets.

World No.6 Tomas Berdych was ousted by Frenchman Gael Monfils in round 1 last year. His best result is a semifinal appearance four years ago. 9thranked Milos Raonic has shown some fine form on the red clay this year. Last year he was beaten in round 3 which is also his best performance for this tournament. 10th ranked Kei Nishikori lost in round 4 of this tournament to Nadal last year which was his best result at the French Open. World no.7 Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro will not be contesting at this year’s French Open just like the last year. He is recovering from a wrist injury which he suffered earlier this year.

Year in Review for the current top 10 players who will be contesting at the French open 2014 

Rafael Nadal: Nadal began his year winning at the Qatar Open. He lost to Stan Wawrinka in the finals of the Australian Open and failed to capture his 14th Grand Slam title – a match in which Nadal was bothered by a back injury. He then played the inaugural Rio Open which is played on clay and won it as well. After winning the title no. 2 of 2014, he marched towards the Indian Wells open where he was beaten by Alexandr Dolgopolov who revenged the Rio Open final loss to the Spaniard. After failing to defend his title at Indian wells, Nadal then played at the Miami Masters where he made it to the finals and lost to Djokovic. Then he started his European clay court at the Monte Carlo Open where he was stunned in Quarterfinals by fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in straight sets. Nadal’s woes were compounded when he lost to Nico Almagro in the Quarterfinals.

Nadal won the Madrid Masters when Kei Nishikori retired in the finals. Nishikori who was up a set and a break before Nadal took control of the match, was hampered by an injury towards the end of the 2nd set which ended up costing the Japanese No.1 the match and the title. Nadal then played the Rome Masters and lost to Djokovic in the finals, blowing away his lead to the Serbian and failed to defend his crown. Rafa seems to have lost his dominating form on clay and seems a little weaker than ever, but you can never count the King out of his kingdom. He will be desperate to capture his 9th French open trophy but will have to recapture some of his best form.

Novak Djokovic: The Serbian had a slow start to the 2014 campaign. After appointing Boris Becker as his coach at the start of the year, he lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian open to Wawrinka and failed to defend his crown. He then played Dubai Open where he lost to Federer after blowing away a one set lead and failed to defend again. But the Serbinator then played some brilliant tennis and reached the finals of Indian Wells where he beat Federer in the finals after coming back from one set deficit and winning it in a third set tiebreaker. In doing so, Novak proved to his legions of fans and tennis fans around the world that he might be one of the best at shaking off losses.

He was then on fire and clinched the Miami Masters after beating Nadal in the finals. He joined Federer as the only men to complete the Indian wells-Miami feat twice (2011 and 2014). Djokovic then played some fine tennis at the Monte Carlo Masters. He lost against Federer in straight sets as he played with a heavily strapped hand and eventually failed to defend his crown again. The soon to be father then withdrew from Madrid Masters due to his nagging injury but confirmed that it wasn’t anything serious. Then he made a comeback at the Rome open and won the tournament by beating his arch-rival Nadal in the finals. He showed his sensitivity towards his home country and donated 500$ out of the prize money he won to the victims of the Serbia-Bosnia floods. The French Open holds a big attraction for him because if he is to win the trophy, he will complete a grand slam and will also snatch back the status of World No.1 from Nadal. Djokovic’s chances of winning this tournament look brighter than ever.

Stan Wawrinka: Wawrinka catapulted off to a big start this year. He won the Chennai Open and then stunned the tennis world by winning the Australian Open. Wawrinka’s super achievement was followed by a lukewarm performance as he was grounded by the towering South African Kevin Anderson at Indian Wells at the pre quarterfinal stage. He was then beaten by a surging Alexandr Dolgopolov at the Miami Masters. Wawrinka recaptured his Australian Open form to win his first ever masters series trophy by beating good friend and fellow Swiss Roger Federer in the finals where he stormed back from a one set deficit. Wawrinka then hoped to carry the same form through the rest of the clay court swing but such hopes unexpectedly came to an end as he was beaten in his opening match at Madrid. Dominic Thiem outclassed him in three sets. Wawrinka followed that loss by another early exit at the Rome Masters as he was beaten by Tommy Haas in round 3. Wawrinka however is still unbeaten by the top 10 men on tour. He will be keen to perform better on a big platform, just like he did a few months ago.

Roger Federer: Former World No.1 Federer had a formidable start to his 16th year on the ATP tour after appointing Stefan Edberg as his coach and switching to a new racquet. He reached the finals at Brisbane losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the final. He then played some inspiring tennis at the Australian Open beating Tsonga and Murray in Round 4 and Quarterfinals respectively before falling in the semi-finals against Rafael Nadal. He then played the Dubai open where he left people awestruck by some sublime level of tennis. He beat Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych in the semifinal and final respectively. Interesting enough, the 32 year old was down one set in both the matches and turned the tables on his opponents.

Federer then continued to play some great tennis at Indian wells, but he was stopped in the finals by Djokovic who outdid Federer on the biggest points of the match. Federer then played Miami after skipping the tournament a year ago. There he bowed down to the challenge of Kei Nishikori in the quarters. Then a confident Federer decided to make the best out of his clay court season. He accepted a wildcard for Monte Carlo. He yet again played some exceptional tennis to beat Tsonga in the Quarterfinals where he was just two points away from defeat to set a semifinal clash with Djokovic whom he defeated in straight sets. Federer lost in the finals to Wawrinka where he blew away one set lead and had to satisfy himself with the status of being a runner up.

Federer skipped the Madrid Masters to be with his wife, Mirka who was expecting , as it turned out – another pair of twins named Leo and Lenny. He then made a last minute decision to play at the Rome Masters where he lost in the opening round to Jeremy Chardy who saved a match point in registering the best win of his career. Federer will however be motivated to give all he has despite his French Open preparations being far from ideal. He will be eager to show his experience and the love for sport still fresh and sizzling in him and prove that age is just a number to him.

David Ferrer:  Ferrer has played quite a few tournaments in the first five months of the year. He began by playing the Doha and Auckland where he lost in the Round of 16 and Semifinals respectively. He then lost in the Quarterfinals of the Australian Open, losing to Berdych. He then won at the Buenos Aires. After that he lost to Dolgopolov at the Rio open. At Indian Wells and Miami, the Spaniard lost at the Quarterfinal and per- quarterfinal stage. But success was waiting ahead for him. Ferrer beat Nadal at the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Open, which can probably be called as one of the greatest victories of his career. His run however came to an end in the Semis. At the Barcelona Open he was beaten in the opening round. At the Madrid masters, Ferrer reached the semis but was troubled by Nishikori. He then went to the Rome Open losing to Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Ferrer still has some good tennis to be played on the clay and one shouldn’t forget that he was a finalist last year and can trouble his opponents.

Tomas Berdych: The Czech Berdych began 2014 by playing Doha where he lost in his opening match but he still made a good semifinal run to the Australian Open where he pushed Wawrinka to 5 grueling sets. He was then on a roll when he won at Rotterdam. He followed that with some good tennis at Dubai. He made it to the finals where he was just one set away from victory but was beaten by Federer. He then lost in the opening round of Indian Wells, followed by semis of Miami where he withdrew from his match against Nadal. At the Monte Carlo masters, Berdych lost at the pre quarterfinal stage. Then at the Portugal open he blew away a one set lead in the final match and lost to Berlocq. At the Madrid Masters, he was beaten by Dimitrov in Round of 16 and was knocked out by Nadal at the Rome Masters in the quarterfinals. Berdych will be expected to find back his formidable form which will help him to cause some upsets at the big stage and help him claim some good results

Andy Murray: The 2013 Wimbledon champion started his year by playing at Doha where he lost at the pre-quarterfinal stage. He then went to Melbourne to defend his status of a finalist at the Australian Open. But he was stopped by Federer in the Quarterfinals. He then played Rotterdam where he was beaten by a rising Marin Cilic at the quarterfinals. He made it to the semifinals of the Acapulco open where he was beaten by another young gun, Dimitrov. Murray then played Indian Wells and Miami where he was fended away at the pre quarterfinals stage by Milos Raonic and in the quarterfinals by Djokovic respectively. At Miami, he announced that he was parting ways with his coach Ivan Lendl. Under Ivan’s leadership Murray won the Olympic Gold medal and his 2 Grand Slams too. Murray then skipped Monte Carlo. In the capital cities of Spain and Italy, Murray had hard time as he was again knocked away in the pre quarterfinal stage at Madrid and in the quarterfinals of the Rome Open by Santiago Giraldo and Nadal respectively. He skipped Roland Garros last year. Murray will be eager to improve his sluggish performance and will look on to dig deep in the tournament and prove that his Wimbledon win was no fluke and that a dip in ranking doesn’t bother the Brit.

Milos Raonic: Raonic began the year by playing at the Australian Open. He was beaten by Dimitrov in the third round. He then took a few weeks off and played at Indian Wells where he made quarterfinals by beating Murray on the way, but he had to taste defeat through Dolgopolov. He then made another quarterfinals stint at the Miami where he troubled Nadal and pushed him to three sets but eventually lost. And by the end of March, the big serving Canadian found himself breaking into the top 10 rankings. He played Monte Carlo and then the Portugal Open where he lost to Wawrinka and Berlocq in the Quarterfinals of both the tournaments. He then played at the Madrid Open where he was beaten by the Japanese Nishikori in the pre quarterfinals. But Raonic proved to be a determined man and then made his first ever Masters Semifinal at Rome where he lost to Djokovic in a very close encounter. Raonic had taken the first set from the Serb but could not stop him from winning. For the first time ever Raonic will enter a Grand slam, being among the top 8 seeds as currently he sits on No.9 and as Del Potro, ranked 7 is not playing. He will be very excited and highly motivated to perform his best on clay and also on a big stage like the French open.

Kei Nishikori:  Nishikori has had a great 2014. However it was plagued with injuries too. To his credit he managed to dig deep at almost every event he played. He started with a Semifinal run at Brisbane where he lost to the eventual Champion Hewitt. He then reached the 4th round of the Australian open and lost to Nadal in three tight sets. Nishikori then played at Memphis and claimed the winner’s trophy. He then played at Delray Beach, where he lost in the 2nd round. At Indian wells, Nishikori lost to Tommy Haas in 3rd round. Then he played some wonderful tennis at Miami, where he beat Ferrer and Federer in a row to reach the semis, but had to withdraw due to an ongoing injury.

Then after recovery Nishikori again claimed the winner’s trophy at Barcelona. Carrying his confidence, Nishikori yet again showed great mettle and made it to his first ever Masters final beating Raonic and Ferrer en route to the final. He faced Nadal in the finals and took away first set from the Spaniard with some breathtaking tennis. But midway through the second set, where Nishikori was just a few games from winning his first ever Masters 1000 trophy, he was troubled by an injury and lost the second set. He fell behind in the third set and withdrew from a match he might have won if he did not get injured. Nishikori had some consolation after the loss as he became the first Japanese to crack into the top 10 rankings. However he skipped the Rome Masters due to the injury. But he has alarmed his opponents in a positive manner that if he is not injured, he can make a deep run at Paris.

Not only the top 10 rank holders but also the men outside top 10 have raised the level of tennis to new heights. John Isner, 2013 Semifinalist and Frenchman Jo- Wilfried Tsonga, the ever improving young Bulgarian and Rome semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov, Fabio Fognini, Tommy Haas and many other players on tour can cause a flutter or two. They will trouble the top guys and present formidable challenges for them and make for some exciting matches.

My Predictions: For the first time ever I feel that Nadal has lost a wee bit of his supreme touch on clay and I think it will be a little difficult than usual for the King of clay to capture his 9thtrophy here. However I don’t count him away from winning the trophy but he will have to firmly withstand the challenge of every opponent right from the first ball he plays. In my view one of the Top 4 seeds – Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka or Federer will win the trophy. They should be able to give us some wonderful matches in the tournament and it will be very shocking and stunning if none of them captures this Slam. However the rest of the players in the draw will definitely cause some knuckles and chuckles here and there. It will be very interesting to see if Djokovic is able to take away the No.1 ranking from Nadal.

The year’s 2nd slam will be very exciting and as usual will mark a great end to the European clay court season for this year.

-Vishakha Khandelwal [Vishakha is a Tennis Analyst for Sportz Cosmos. You can reach her at the gmail id : sportzcosmos]

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