Saturday, 24 May 2014

Roland Garros 2014 - Men's Singles Preview

It is usually as simple as inscribing the Nadal name on the trophy, even before a ball is hit in Paris for any French Open.  However, 2014 may be cause for some doubt, at least from the Serbian front.  We thankfully do not have a repeat of the 2013 farce which saw Nadal seeded low enough to draw Djokovic in a semi final.  The worlds best two players played the match of the tournament, which deserved to be the final, and Novak was a mere breath from his first win over Rafa at Roland Garros.

If the two meet this year it will be the final, and if Rome is any guide this should come to pass and be another classic.

Of course the clay season proper has not been a bed of roses for either Nadal or Djokovic.  Before they landed in Monaco, it was two others, Garcia-Lopez and Verdasco, who won minor titles in Casablanca and Houston respectively, but the big guns were hauled out for the Masters in Monte Carlo.  Here we saw the champ of Melbourne, Stanislas Wawrinka, once again assert his power in a high level tournament, knocking over Raonic in the quarters and significantly Ferrer in the semis.  Ferrer had himself upset Nadal in the quarters to rip that side of the draw wide open.
Roger Federer , meanwhile had notched another win over Tsonga in the quarters before prevailing over Djokovic for the second time in 2014, albeit a clearly injury affected second seed who had taken the first set and had looked in charge.

An all Swiss final was not the pre-tournament pick and Stanislas managed to find a way past his more renowned countryman in three gripping sets to take home the chocolates.

Barcelona was next, and Nadal never loses there - until 2014 that is.  Almagro did the dirty on his fellow Spaniard in the quarters, and the other top ten player in the tournament, David Ferrer was sent packing by unheralded Gabashvili in the second round (Ferrer's first match).  Kei Nishikori won the title, along the way defeating Cilic and Gulbis before overcoming Giraldo in the final.

Before the key Masters double of Madrid then Rome, three other clay court tournaments resulted in titles for Dimitrov in Bucharest, Berlocq in Oeiras and Klizan in Munich.  The form of these players augurs well for Roland Garros but would not scare the top guys too much, although the egos of Berdych and Raonic may have taken a bit of a hit, given that Berlocq's form outside of the Portugal performance has been hardly stellar.

Madrid was memorable more for the efforts of the runner-up.  Unfortunately for the tournament, Djokovic was unavailable, still nursing the injured wrist, and Federer was home with the new twins.  When Wawrinka was dumped by a qualifier in his first outing since triumphing in Monte Carlo, it seemed that Rafa only had to turn up to win the trophy.  Murray also left early, courtesy of Giraldo's continued good form, and it was Nishikori, who surprised Ferrer in the semis, left to argue over the winnings with Nadal.

After winning the first set, the Japanese soon to be top ten player eventually retired in the deciding third set.

Rome was the final important lead in tournament and Novak's first since the Monte Carlo injury.  The world number two had some tough matches but managed to win through to the final, taking out Ferrer and Raonic to reach it.  Rafa.dispensed with Murray and Dimitrov to ensure that the best players would fight out their second Masters final for 2014.  After dropping the opening set,  Djokovic, in a performance drawing many superlatives, overcame Nadal for the fourth straight time.

So what does all this give us in terms of predicting events at Roland Garros over the next fortnight?
It would be foolish to go past the top two players in the world, who are even further ahead of the rest when it comes to clay.  However, it is interesting to note that of the potential quarter final match ups,  both Rafa and Novak have potentially the toughest - Nadal seeded to play Ferrer and Djokovic, while seeded to play Raonic, may find he meets Nishikori.

Federer will probably make it through to the semis given the soft draw he has, on paper at least,  and I think Murray's effort in Rome against Nadal, although a loss, just might be the confidence booster to see him challenge Wawrinka for the other spot in the semis.

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