From the blog

French Open preview

  • muller.balazs
  • 16 May 2011
  • 04:05

And so we have arrived to the second huge tennis event of 2011 - Roland Garros. The red clay of Paris has always produced exciting matches, great epic battles and quiet a few surprises.

 

During the past few years, this event was owned by one man, though - Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has literally lifted clay tennis to a whole new level. As Andre Agassi puts it, the game of tennis is all about getting the right angles, and Nadal's monstrous spin creates exactly that - such angles that it is no longer the same sport as it used to be.

 

Rafa's playing style is indeed tailor-made for clay, as his spinning shots get outrageous bounces on the surface, while, because of the slower and higher bounce, he can get to most incoming shots on his own, even those that would be outright winners on other surfaces.

 

His five victories on the red dust in Paris puts him a class apart from all other players of his generation - even the great Roger Federer must feel a great relief that he managed to win the tournament in 2009, after Robin Söderling's shock defeat of Nadal in the quarterfinals.

 

However, 2011 might be very different. Novak Djokovic has now beaten Rafa in four straight finals, two on hard and two on clay. The remarkable thing here is - apart from Novak's incredible winning streak - that he outplayed the Spaniard in both clay finals in Madrid and Rome, winning in straight sets.

 

Despite Nadal's history at Roland Garros, this must make Nole the favourite to the title, and yes, this is valid even if the matches are best of five sets in Paris - simply because of his outstanding mental and fitness level.

 

After the past two encounters, it's difficult to see just how Nadal could overcome the Serb, who seems to have an answer to anything he comes up with. His powerful spins are returned with ease, with power and with depth. His otherwise hugely effective top-spin changes of pace are not only handled well, but also turned into counter-attack.

 

Djokovic also gets back a remarkable amount of his serves, meaning that he doesn't get any cheap points in his own service games. And maybe the worst news of all - he doesn't win the majority of the long baseline duels.

 

This all means that Novak is now the main favourite in Paris, with Rafa just behind him on any bookmaker's list. The chance of possibly obtaining the Nr. 1 ranking with a win must give the Serb a further motivational boost.

 

Roger Federer is a bit of a questionmark this year - as we saw in Madrid, he obviously still has the game to beat anybody, and (as usual) it is all about consistency and motivation for his part. I don't think that he will win Roland Garros this year, but he must still be considered as the third favourite to the title.

 

Andy Murray showed a great game and a great heart in his semifinal in Rome against Novak Djokovic, being only two points away from ending the Serb's winning streak. In fact, he was more impressive than Rafa Nadal, making him a really dangerous outsider in Paris.

 

As for the rest, there's not much room for any surprises. Juan Martin del Potro is on his way back to the top but is once again struggling with injury. Robin Söderling is playing well, but seems to lack that little extra to win against the very top players. Andy Roddick looks unfortunately more and more as a spent force, especially on clay.

 

On the women's side, it is not very easy to make any picks. The Williams sisters will not play, and, most probably, neither will Kim Clijsters, which leaves things even more open.

 

Caroline Wozniacki is of course the most consistent player of the year, but still without any Grand Slam wins. Maria Sharapova has also impressed lately by winning the tournament in Rome last week, beating Wozniacki and Sam Stosur on the way. Caroline and Maria should be the main favourites, but in the present state of women's tennis, let's just say that nothing is impossible.

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