French Open 2015: Preview

Tennis stars begin their bid to win the second grand slam of the year on the penultimate Sunday of May. For the very first time in 11 years, Spanish No.1 Rafael Nadal goes into the tournament as the second favorite to win. He is seeded sixth in Paris, his lowest ever since his blockbuster debut in 2005 when he was seeded fourth but hoisted the Coupe des Mousquetaires as a 19-year old teenager. He hasn’t won a title in European clay court swing for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2004. He won only one title this year – on the clay courts of Buenos Aires. World no.1 Novak Djokovic stayed almost invincible on tour over past 8 months. He is on a 22-match winning streak and has lost only twice this year. Experts are already comparing his form in this season being very similar to his outstanding campaign in 2011 when he literally won every big thing out there. His form on clay is very impressive too after winning masters in Monte Carlo and Rome. He clearly steps in as a large favorite to win and complete his career grand slam.

In the women’s section, world no.1 Serena Williams looked absolutely unstoppable this season and looks to add another grand slam in the French capital after emerging victorious at Australian Open in January. Reigning champion and world no.2 Maria Sharapova would be a major threat for Serena’s title hopes as the Russian is in fine form coming into the tournament after winning premier level tournament in Rome last week.

Draw Preview – Men’s Singles

Top Half of the draw is probably one of the toughest section in recent years with the presence of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Ferrer. To the surprise of many, Nadal landed in Djokovic’s quarter making it the most anticipated match in the last eight. Andy Murray has turned around things dramatically last winter when he was almost on the cusp of losing out the top 8 spot to compete at the World Tour Finals. He began the year with a fourth runner up finish at the Australian Open, he was also a runner up at the Miami masters losing to Djokovic on both the occassions. He took a break in April to marry his longtime girlfriend Kim Sears and returned to tour in a low key clay court event in Munich. He went on to win his first ever title on the surface edging the local favorite Kohlschreiber in the final. His amazing run continued in Madrid masters where he thumped Nadal to win Madrid masters marking his first ever victory over Spaniard on clay. He withdrew from Rome masters after winning his first match to stay fit for the French Open. Murray is on a 10-match winning streak on clay since he bid farewell to bachelorhood.

There are strong contenders including Ferrer who can never be counted out in the clay court major, along with youngsters Dimitrov and Kyrgios who could make a deep run. Big servers like Cilic, Isner and Anderson pose a big threat to the top guys. Emerging stars Borna Coric, David Goffin and Thanasi Kokkinakis are among others to watch out for. If things go as per the seedings, Djokovic would take on Murray in the semifinals. For that to materialize, Djokovic would need to get past the 9-time champion Nadal in the quarterfinals which has proven to be an insurmountable task, in the past.

Bottom half of the men’s section is headed by the 2009-champion Roger Federer, who is seeded second. Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych and Federer’s countryman Wawrinka join him as the remaining top seeds. Federer has had a very good season apart from the disappointment in the third round of Australian Open where he lost to Italian Andreas Seppi in four sets. He won titles in Brisbane, Dubai and Istanbul with runner up finishes in Indian Wells and Rome losing to Djokovic both times. He goes into the tournament with a satisfying preparation on clay with a title in the inaugural Istanbul Open and runner up finish in Rome masters. As the draw favors him more compared to his rivals Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, if he peaks at the right time it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back in final for the first time since 2011.

Youngster Nishikori defended his title in Barcelona but couldn’t really make it count in other masters tournaments leaving him with more than a few questions when the big matches come up. However, his determination and hunger for success would likely see him put on a strong performance to make a deep run. Berdych is consistent this season, being the only player to make quarterfinals or better at every tournament he competed. Getting the better of him in quarterfinals would be a mammoth task for Nishikori.

On the other hand, Stan Wawrinka who recorded his second straight victory over Nadal and first on clay, last week in Rome is riding high on confidence. He would meet Federer in quarterfinals, if the seedings hold the order. Other challengers include Monfils who poses a great threat to Federer in fourth round, Frenchman Gilles Simon, Italian Fabio Fognini who recorded two victories over Nadal on clay this season and young guns like Dominic Thiem and Martin Klizan.

 Draw Preview – Women’s Singles

Top half includes the title favorites Serena Williams alongside Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. Serena’s path looks relatively tough as her quarter consists of a league of former no.1s including her sister Venus and best friend Wozniacki, Azarenka and Jankovic. Serena’s first serious trouble would be in the form of Azarenka who has been drawn to meet her in the third round with the potential match ups against Venus and Wozniacki in the next matches in the lead up to the semis. Other quarter is lead by the fourth seed Kvitova who won the title in Madrid where she beat Serena Williams handing her first loss of the season. She is joined by young American sensation Madison Keys who is coached by former great Lindsay Davenport and sixth seed Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.

Other competitors include 2009-champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Swiss Timea Bacsinszky, 10th seeded German Andrea Petkovic, young Brit Heather Watson and 2012 runner up Sara Errani. Serena Williams would come out on top to meet Kvitova in semifinals, if she manages to survive the tests from her rivals Azarenka, Venus and Wozniacki.

Bottom half of the draw has two-time and defending champion Maria Sharapova as the top seed. Her lone challenge would come from Carla Suarez Navarro in quarterfinals who extended Sharapova to 3 sets in the final of Rome. There is a set of potential competitors in young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza who beat Serena Willaims last year, 11th seed German Angelique Kerber and Lucie Safarova. The other quarter has Simona Halep as the top seed and is joined by 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ekaterina Makarova. French women Alize Cornet and Carolina Garcia would be looking forward to entertain the home crowd with an inspiring performance. With not many big names to challenge, Halep is expected to make it through to the semis and set up a rematch of the last year’s final against the second seeded Russian Sharapova.

Prediction

Though odds are completely in Djokovic’s favor, the Serb may find it difficult to get through his rivals Nadal and Murray in a best of five set matches consecutively. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Federer vs Murray final on 7th of June.

Nadal, who is 66-1 at Roland Garros is a different player altogether in best of five set matches with a staggering 89-1 career record with the lone loss coming to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of 2009 edition. If he manages to win another title here, it would cement his place in the history of grand slams with 15 titles falling marginally behind the 17 of Roger Federer’s.

A Sharapova – Kvitova final is highly likely on women’s side given the form of both the players. However, Williams who lost only one match this year is never to be discounted in grand slams.

Quotable Quotes

Nadal is still a favorite to me, that guy has lost only once there – Roger Federer

Everyone expects so much of Rafa at this time of year. He loses a few matches but to put so many question marks, I think it’s almost disrespectfulMaria Sharapova

-Harish Narahari [Harish Narahari is a Sports Analyst for the Tennis Galaxy at Sportz Cosmos He tweets here]

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