May/10

23

Dog Bites Man: Nadal Will Win French

I’m going to go out on a huge limb and predict that Rafael Nadal wins his fifth French Open in six years.  He’s been dominant on clay so far this year, losing only two sets in the three events he’s played — all Masters 1000 events.

Jim Courier thinks Nadal won’t drop more than two sets at Roland Garros. Who am I to argue with that? Nadal would almost certainly be playing for his sixth straight French title if he hadn’t injured his knee last year. Until then, the field was totally intimidated by him in Paris and has likely returned to that state.

Roger Federer’svictory at Roland Garros last year was an amazing feat, but obviously he received a huge break in avoiding Nadal and barely got through his fourth-round match against Tommy Haas in any case. Federer did beat Nadal in Madrid last year, but that was only after Novak Djokovic exhausted the Spaniard in a grueling semifinal. I watched a bit of Nadal’s victory over Federer in Madrid last week, and Fed found a way to lose while Nadal found a way to win all the big points I saw.

Federer is unwilling to play aggressively against the Spaniard — by attacking his second serve or coming to net for example. It’s no wonder that Nadal’s career record against Federer on clay is 10-2 and 4-0 at the French.

The rest of the field seems almost irrelevant. Third-seeded Novak Djokovic hasn’t reached a semifinal since Feburary, and No. 4 seed Andy Murray hasn’t done anything since losing the final of the Australian Open to Federer. The one thing those two have going for them is that they won’t face any pressure of expectations.

Perhaps Murray could threaten Federer in the semifinals, but the Scot will be lucky to make it that far. He could lose to Gasquet in the first round. Djokovic too will be lucky to make the semis, and if he does Nadal should be waiting there to steamroll him.

There are a few tough seeds in Federer’s quarter of the draw, including Gael Monfils, Marin Cilicand two players who beat Federer on clay earlier in the season: Ernests Gulbis and Albert Montanes. But Federer finds a way to beat players like them in majors. Last year’s finalist Robin Soderling is slated to meet Fed in the quarters, but the pressure of backing up last year’s result will probably drive the Swede out of the tournament long before then.

It almost doesn’t matter who’s on Nadal’s side of the draw. He might play Fernando Verdascoin the quarters, whom he owns 10-0. If the Djoker doesn’t make the semis, it could be David Ferrer, who’s lost to Nadal seven straight times.

Courier says the player who ultimately has the best chance to challenge Nadal is the injured Juan Martin del Potro. That makes sense, as his size and big game neutralize Nadal’s strengths. Hopefully del Potro will be healthy again next year.

As for the Americans, Sam Querrey and John Isner could make a little noise — the fourth round would be a huge achievement for either. Andy Roddick hasn’t played a match all year on clay. He’ll be lucky to play more than one in Paris.

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1 comment

  • Dan Markowitz · May 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Dan,

    I agree with you and Jim Courier, but I don’t even think Nadal will drop two sets. But I do think now that Gasquet has won Nice, and Gulbis beat Federer and then took him to three sets in Madrid, that they have to be considered threats, as well as Djokovic, who grew up on clay. Somehow, I don’t take Murray seriously on clay.

    I think it will be a major disappointment if Querrey does not do well at the French. I haven’t looked at his draw, but he is the best clay court player in America now, and he has been a big disappointment in every Slam except last year’s Wimbledon and the 2008 U.S. Open, so let’s see Big Sam make his mark here.

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