It’s time for that part of the season when all players head to the French Capital for the second Grand Slam of the season, but there is a glaring absence – that of the 17 time major champion Roger Federer. Federer, unfortunately for his fans, had to withdraw citing lack of fitness to compete, thus ending his record run of 65 consecutive Grandslam appearances.
It has been an even clay court Season so far with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all winning Masters 1000 titles in Montecarlo, Madrid and Rome respectively. Nadal’s Monte Carlo title means that he was capturing his first Masters 1000 title since Madrid 2014. Andy Murray made back to back Masters 1000 finals for the first time in his career. Djokovic captured a record 29th Masters title and a 2nd Madrid Title.
The Brit will be brimming with confidence after winning a 2nd Masters title on clay in as many years and posting wins over Nadal and Djokovic over the course of the European clay court swing. The two time Grandslam Champion would be looking to carry forward the momentum and capture a 1st French Open and a 1st Grandslam title since an emotional Triumph at Wimbledon in 2013.
Djokovic would be vying to put aside his frustration with his shortcoming over the years at the biggest venue on clay and would be determined to cross the final hurdle. His biggest challenge would be casting aside his disappointment from last year when he came up short against an inspired Stan Wawrinka.
Nadal would be looking to complete LA DECIMA in Paris. Wawrinka, on the other hand, after having a subpar Clay season thus far, would be hoping to set the stage alight in Paris for a 2nd year in a row. With the field trying to catch up with the Fab 5, could we have a surprise winner? With so many storylines to follow it is going to be one of the most intriguing Roland Garros in a long time.
With the all important draw released, let’s go through the four quarters to see how the 2016 Roland Garros men’s draw shakes out.
Djokovic headlines the first quarter of the draw, as he has been for the better part of last 5 years. He opens his campaign against Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei with a qualifier awaiting him in the second round. The first test of this campaign in the form of Federico Delbonis or Pablo Carreno Busta could await Djokovic in the Round of 32.
The underrated Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut or rising star Borna Coric could offer Djokovic some resistance in the 4th Round. In the Quarter Final Novak could run into a familiar foe in the form of Tomas Berdych, against whom he has been utterly dominant winning 23 of 25 meetings. Berdych will have to ensure he overcomes some tricky competition, including 2013 French Open finalist David Ferrer. All said and done, a blockbuster semifinal meeting with Nadal is on the cards on the latter’s birthday.
Nadal is the top seed in this quarter and faces big serving Aussie Sam Groth in the opener. This being the most tricky quarter could see Nadal run into Fabio Fognini in Round 3, the Italain has had Nadal’s number in the recent past, most famously remembered for knocking Nadal out of the US Open last year in 5 sets. Despite Nadal having scored a win over him in Barcelona this year, this showdown comes with a lot of edge and Nadal will be wary of the Italian showman.
With a win over Federer and Nadal, already this season, Dominic Thiem who has been finding consistent form, could test Nadal in Round 4. Local hope Tsonga or the diminutive Goffin could be Nadal’s Quarterfinal opponent, with a potential 50th meeting with Djokovic looming ever bigger, on the horizon, in the semis.
Defending Champion Stan Wawrinks opens against Czech Lukas Rosol. A tricky second rounder against Martin Klizan could await him. Wawrinka’s projected third round opponent could be one of the host country’s hopeful – Chardy. Another Frenchman Gilles Simon Could be his fourth Round opponent.
Wawrinka would be looking to reverse his Australian Open result against Raonic in the quarters with Murray lurking in the semis. Along with Nadal’s quarter, this has to be trickier of the quarters. Wawrinka, who has been struggling to find form this season, seems to have found some mojo this week in Geneva and he will be hoping that he can continue that in Paris so that he can put up a formidable defence of his French Open crown.
Murray finds himself in a fairly favourable quarter and opens against a qualifier. Big serving Karlovic could test Murray in the Round of 32. Another Big server in John Isner or mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire would be looking to end Murray,s challenge in Round 4. Japanese No.1 Nishikori would most likely be Andy’s opponent in the last eight. A blockbuster Semi against Wawrinka could await the two time Major Champion.
Murray has had, probably, his strongest clay court season in the run up to Paris with a gradual progress from a semifinal in Monaco to a final in Madrid to being the champion in Italy. In the process, he has shown his ability to work on his mistakes as he reversed his Monaco loss to Nadal in Madrid and followed up his loss to Djokovic in the Madrid final with a straight set win against the Serbian in the eternal city of Rome. He has a draw that will let him work his way through and he’s never been a bigger favourite to claim the mantle of the King of Clay.
Here are my picks for the pre-quarterfinals and beyond.
Djokovic vs Bautista Agut
Berdych vs Ferrer
Nadal vs Thiem
Tsonga vs Goffin
Raonic vs Cilic
Wawrinka vs Simon
Nishikori vs Kyrgios
Murray vs Nishikori
Djokovic vs Ferrer
Nadal vs Goffin
Wawrinka vs Raonic
Murray vs Nishikori
Djokovic vs Nadal
Murray vs Wawrinka
Nadal def. Murray
– Falak Shah [Falak Shah is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]