Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Paris Parse
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The Paris Parse 05/22/2009 - 6:24 PM

Rn Another year, another hotly debated, highly anticipated French Open men’s tournament. And in the end, another foregone conclusion, right? It’s remarkable how much anticipation remains for these two weeks despite the fact that since 2005 they've been controlled, more tightly each year, by one player. Did we look forward this way to Wimbledon during the often-stultifying reign of Pete Sampras? Yeah, I guess we did. The remote but dumbfounding possibility of seeing the king deposed, like the possibility of buying a winning lottery ticket, keeps us coming back for more against our better judgment.

This year, the possibility that Rafael Nadal will not win the French Open feels just about as remote as it has the last few springs, which is to say, distant. But it feels a little more plausible than it did a week ago, before Roger Federer proved that the Spaniard can be beaten on clay. Granted, it took a four-hour match the day before and an altitude he didn’t like, but the point is, it happened. There are 127 players lined up below Nadal on the French Open drawsheet who will try to make it happen again. Who has a chance?

First Quarter

In his presser today, Nadal sounded happy to get back down closer to sea level, where, according to him, the ball doesn’t fly off the strings so haphazardly. Separating Paris and Madrid so distinctly in his mind is probably a good strategy; it will allow him to think of his loss on Sunday as an aberration rather than a harbinger. And instead of rattling him, I think it will make him come out with a fighter’s, rather than a defender’s, mindset. He has a little bit to prove again, which isn’t a bad thing.

Who or what stands out in Nadal’s section of the draw? Actually, kind of a lot, now that I look at it. There’s a Hewitt-Karlovic opener that could provide him with his third-round opponent—neither is a gimme, though neither is as dangerous as he used to be. After that, there’s fellow clay dog Ferrer, who pushed him hard for a set in Barcelona; Davydenko, another dirtballer who has troubled Nadal on the surface and has reached the French semis; Wawrinka, a solid Top 20 kind of guy; Almagro, a flashy but perpetually disillusioning fellow Spaniard who was drubbed here by Nadal in 2008; and Verdasco, a, um, flashy but perpetually disillusioning Spaniard who was drubbed here by Nadal in 2008.

This could be a slog for Rafa, but would he want it any other way?

First-round match to watch: Gulbis vs. Querrey

Semifinalist: Nadal

Second Quarter

With that many strong players migrating to the top of the draw, Andy Murray has been left with, on paper at least, fairly easy pickings. Lopez, Stepanek, Cilic, Gonzalez, Safin, Hanescu (?), and Simon are the other seeds here. Of those, Gonzo is most likely to succeed. This is a positive for Murray, who has shown his lack of total acclimation to clay since Monte Carlo, at which point I thought he might be the biggest threat to Nadal in Paris. Now, just a couple weeks later, his passive game seems to leave him vulnerable to heavy hitters, like Monaco and del Potro, his recent conquerors, who can hit through the court more easily than he can. Murray will face one of those guys, sorta, in the first round when he plays Juan Ignacio Chela.

Wildcard to watch while you can: The last pre-Nadal French champ, Gaston Gaudio

Semifinalist: Gonzalez

Third Quarter

It seems like old times, doesn’t it, wondering which side of the draw Novak Djokovic will fall on? It makes a certain cosmic sense that he and Federer get each other—Djoko and Nadal must be sick of each other’s faces at the moment. The Serb is in high form again and would make a fine sleeper pick to win it all. He believes in his fitness, he’s found that precious and precarious balance of control and aggression, and he realizes that he’s a cut above the pack, a fact that seemed to escape him for a few months there.

Which members of that pack will be chasing him? First there’s del Potro, who I would consider a threat except that he’s never taken a set from Djokovic, or even reached a tiebreaker—the Serb seems to relish facing him. Other than that, we’ve got Tsonga, a home fave who has never won a match at Roland Garros; ex-champ J.C. Ferrero; the savage forehand of Igor Andreev, and, buried far from Djokovic, Monaco, who opens against Marcos Baghdatis.

Player to watch for the last time in Paris: Fabrice Santoro, who opens with C. Rochus

Player to watch for the first time in Paris: Bernard Tomic, who opens with Kohlschreiber

Semifinalist: Djokovic

Fourth Quarter

There are some names to consider in Roger Federer’s quarter—Berdych, Blake, Monfils, Roddick—but are there any threats to the three-time finalist? The only one who sticks out as of now is Berdych, who was up two sets to love against Fed in Australia. So he is a possibility, but they wouldn’t play each other until the fourth round, plenty of time for Federer to find his footing on Chatrier, a court he has had to learn to tolerate over the years.

Federer seems more relaxed in Madrid than he has all year. The racquet-bashing was out of his system for the moment, and I think he feels like he has a shot at the whole thing after not just beating Nadal on clay, but doing it on his terms, and doing it without playing his absolute best. The bottom line? Federer doesn’t lose before the semis, of any Slam.

Semifinalist: Federer

Semifinals: Nadal d. Gonzalez; Djokovic d. Federer

If Federer and Djokovic face each other, it will be a battle of two players who come in with a lot of confidence, and a lot of confidence that they can beat the other guy. Djokovic must feel like he’s figured out a rope-a-dope method of coaxing Fed to self-destruct, while Federer must feel like he’s in good enough form to put their last two matches behind him and exact revenge on a cocky whippersnapper who has always bugged him. But I think the stronger self-belief, as well as the more natural clay-court game, belongs to the Serb. 

Final: Nadal d. Djokovic in straights

***

Ds It took a little while for a central storyline to develop in women’s tennis this year, but it has finally happened, just in time for the Grand Slam season. Through the early part of 2009, there were wins, there were losses, there were a few surprises, a few meltdowns, a few tears, a few absences, a few winners, a few errors, a few shrieks. But the WTA was missing two key ingredients needed for a full-fledged narrative: a conflict, and a compelling new career arc.

Leave it to Serena Williams to put both of those things in motion. As you undoubtedly heard, last month in Rome she stated that she was the “real No. 1,” not Dinara Safina, who had recently ascended to the top ranking for the first time. It was hard to argue with Serena: The most memorable of the aforementioned meltdowns had been provided by Safina in the final of the Australian Open, as she was being given a thorough and at times even casual thrashing by Serena herself. But if losing so badly to the American didn’t stir the competitive fires in the Russian, it seems that her words have. Safina beat Venus Williams on her way to winning in Rome and followed that up with a title at the Premier level event in Madrid last week.

Which means that the French Open, where Safina was runner-up a year ago, will begin as a referendum on her, and on her status as the No. 1 player in the world. If all goes well, this storyline will continue for two long weeks and culminate with a showdown between Safina and Serena to decide who is the real-est No. 1. But two weeks is a long time in women’s tennis. Let’s see how likely it is that our wish comes true.

First Quarter

Before we can begin to speculate about final rounds, of course, we need to consider the first week’s activities. The possible negatives for Safina are: Did she peak a little too early? Will she react badly to the pressure that will come as she tries to win her first Slam and prove once and for all that she’s deserving of her ranking?

The draw hasn’t made it easy; if Safina goes all the way, she’ll have earned it. She begins against Britain’s Anne Keovathong, who has reached the semis this week in Warsaw. More ominously, in this quarter are the defending champion, Ana Ivanovic, who beat Safina in last year’s final, the talented clay-courter Carla Suarez Navarro; the hard-hitting Jie Zheng; the young and also hard-hitting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; and this season’s breakout player, Victoria Azarenka. But while I wouldn’t call Safina a natural clay-court player by any stretch—she’s too tall and gangly to be a ground-hugging dirt devil, a la Justine Henin—she has already proven beyond doubt that she feels at home on the surface. Couple that with her recently added motivation and seeming burst of confidence, and I think she’ll survive this difficult test.

Semifinalist: Safina

Second Quarter

This section is headlined by last year’s finalists at the WTA Championships, Venus William and Vera Zvonareva, neither of whom have had a high a profile during the clay season—the Russian for good reason, since she turned an ankle in Charleston and hasn’t played since. Also, neither of these two has gone deep at Roland Garros recently: Williams lost in the third round each of the last two years while Zvonareva went down in the fourth in 2008 and has only reached the quarters once, back in ’03.

Which means that there’s an opportunity here for someone to sneak through to the semifinals. Who can seize it? Lisicki? She’s strong but not seasoned. Petrova? She was ill in her defeat to Schnyder in Madrid last week, but has been to the semis in Paris before. Mauresmo? She just had a decent run in Madrid, and it would be a nice story if she finally made good in front of the home crowd. But it would require reversing the forces of history.

Wait, I just spotted one more name hidden deep within these brackets: Maria Sharapova. She begins against a French wild card, then might hit Petrova in the third round. All in all, not a bad place for her to be…

Semifinalist: Venus Williams

Third Quarter

Elena Dementieva is No. 4 in the world? That might seem hard to believe until you look at her week-to-week record this year. She’s been steady if not spectacular, and that steadiness has continued on clay. The same cannot be said for the second seed in this section, Jelena Jankovic, who began the year at No. 1 but comes to Roland Garros all the way down at No. 5—exactly the nosedive I predicted JJ would not make in 2009. While she showed a few signs of life early in the European swing, Jankovic has hit a mediocre plateau since, losing to Penetta, Kuznetsova, and Schnyder in the quarters of the last three events.

Trying to threaten Dementieva and Jankovic will be Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, who seems to like the home-court pressure, but who remains underpowered; Caroline Wozniacki, a breakout performer of 2009 who reached the final in Madrid; another Frenchwoman, the always unpredictable Marion Bartoli, owner of a 5-8 career record at Roland Garros; the perhaps dangerous up-and-comer Urszulu Radwanska, little sister of Agneiszka; and the eternally present Daniela Hantuchova. I’m going to take a risk and go with one of the new faces.

Semifinalist: Wozniacki

Fourth Quarter

There are many reasons to doubt Serena Williams’ chances of winning her second French Open. She retired in Madrid with a leg injury. She’s been complaining about over-scheduling. She hasn’t gone past the quarters here since 2003. The problem for the humble forecaster is finding the woman who is going to beat her, or, failing that, finding the player who will take advantage of a loss by her to reach the semifinals.

The women with the best chances of doing the latter are Svetlana Kuznetsova, former finalist here and winner recently in Stuttgart over Safina; Patty Schnyder, who made the semis in Madrid and, like Hantuchova, is always hanging around; and Agnieszka Radwanska, who upset Ivanovic in Rome a couple of weeks ago. I’ll take Kuzzie, who has been better than she has been worse lately, which is about all you can hope for from her.

Semifinalist: Kuznetsova

Semifinals: Safina d. V. Williams; Kuznetsova d. Wozniacki

If the draw does work out this way, which I’m absolutely certain it will, Safina  may face her biggest test against Williams, who she recently beat in Rome in three sets, but whom she had never taken a set from in the past. Here the Russian would have to do it on the major stage. I’m going to say she’s ready.

Final: Safina d. Kuznetsova


 
98
Comments
 

Posted by Fot 05/22/2009 at 06:58 PM

Thanks Steve for not picking Roger again (the money is in the mail) - *wink*...

Seriously, I really do thank Steve for not picking Roger because just about everytime he picks Roger he ends up losing...so I'm glad to know for this tournament, he didn't pick Roger again...just like Madrid! Thanks again Steve! Whoo-hoo!!!!!

Posted by Cotton Jack (Rafa @ RG, Roger @ Wimbledon, The Frowning Scotsman @ USOpen, that'll be all God, thank you) 05/22/2009 at 07:12 PM

And ... ah! ... here's some sanity. Bless. No wacky backy for Steve.

Posted by SufM 05/22/2009 at 07:12 PM

@Fot You hit the nail in the head.

As long as Steve doesn't pick my favorite players to win, they have a good chance of winning. Because most of the time the players he picks to win are the trendy sort of picks who don't always come through. Just look at his record at picking previous slams.

Posted by Master Ace 05/22/2009 at 07:17 PM

ATP picks:
SF - Nadal vs Gonzalez and Djokovic vs Federer
F - Nadal vs Federer
W - Nadal to 5-peat Roland Garros

WTA picks:
SF - Safina vs V Williams and Jankovic vs Kuznetsova
F - Safina vs Jankovic
W - Safina will collect her first Slam and solidify her number 1 ranking

Posted by My Perspective 05/22/2009 at 07:17 PM

"It’s remarkable how much anticipation remains for these two weeks despite the fact that since 2005 they've been controlled, more tightly each year, by one player. Did we look forward this way to Wimbledon during the often-stultifying reign of Pete Sampras?"

The same can be said of Roger's reign in Wimbledon until it was broken by Nadal last year. Except that somehow that has been lost in the light of all his malaises in the last year ...

Anyways, its hard to see Nadal losing a set again this year ...

Posted by calbearo 05/22/2009 at 07:25 PM

These were the same mens semifinalists I came up with when looking at draw this morning. I would pick against Fed before then, but I can't see anybody who I think could beat him in that quarter. I for one am thrilled to see Djokovic and Roger in the same half because I think after 3 years of losing to Rafa before he had a chance to make the finals, the second best clay-courter in the game should get a chance at his first RG final. I do think that some day Novak will get his hands on the Coupe de Mousquetaires. Not this year though.

Posted by CAfan 05/22/2009 at 07:35 PM

Steve, I agree with all your picks but some errors that I caught on the WTA side:
#1: Maria Sharapova could meet Petrova in the 2nd round, not the 3rd round.
#2: It's Urszula, not Urszulu, Radwanska who is the sister of Agnieszka
#3: Serena actually last made the SF in Paris in 2004, losing to Capriati, and 2007, losing to Justine Henin. But I agree with you that she will not be the SFist from that quarter.

I also think that we can't easily predict the winner of the Safina vs. Kuznetsova final so easily....remember, Kuznetsova's actually won a Slam before, while Dinara hasn't, and these two both play so awfully in Slam finals that it's hard to say who will be less awful on that day...interesting Slam coming up on the women's side, that's for sure!!

Posted by CAfan 05/22/2009 at 07:36 PM

Whoops I made an error of my own...I mean Serena made the QF last in 2004 and 2007, losing to Capriati and Henin, respectively, not SF. The last time she made the SF here was in 2003, when she lost to Henin in the infamous "Hand" match.

Posted by afwu1216 05/22/2009 at 07:39 PM

I really don't know what to think about either draws.

Posted by TennisFan2 05/22/2009 at 08:14 PM

I think Safina would like to head to the ball with Rafa (her favorite player on tour) - that would be enough incentive for me to get my head in the right place and win it all!!

Steve, great picks (you've been spot on this year - minus Madrid -just like Rafa). ;-)

Posted by FedFan 05/22/2009 at 08:30 PM

"...more natural clay court belongs to the Serb"

Hmmm.

We are at a point where Fed has tuned his clay court game and no one except Nadal can beat him in a 5 setter.

Fed to beat Djokovic in 4 if not 3 sets.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 05/22/2009 at 08:34 PM

"The bottom line? Federer doesn’t lose before the semis, of any Slam."
And he is not gonna lose this one either.
Fedal final!
I know RAFA is supposed to have this (just call it in) as they say but I going with Fed in 5.

Posted by Tfactor 05/22/2009 at 08:36 PM

it will allow him to think of his loss on Sunday as an aberration rather than a harbinger. And instead of rattling him, I think it will make him come out with a fighter’s, rather than a defender’s, mindset. He has a little bit to prove again, which isn’t a bad thing"

That's exactly what I have been thinking since that final in Madrid. I hope we're both right as I would love to see Rafa to win his fifth RG.

I mostly agree with your predictions, but I am having a hard time figuring out the third quarter. I guess I am still hoping Murray can have a good run in Paris

Posted by Eric 05/22/2009 at 08:37 PM

FoT, you do realize that Steve's picks (or anyone's picks for that matter) don't really jinx what actually happens right? Or are you at home chanting Federer mantras while burning incense at the alter of some brick-red god of clay or something? Perhaps a Rafa voodoo doll in the bedside nook? Anything can happen, but at this point I think Steve picking Federer to even advance to the semis is a pretty optimistic outlook. He, like any other tennis writer, is just one voice of reason. Sure some voices are more resonating than others, but the bottom line is that the players still have to go out and do it. Federer's win in Madrid hasn't really shown us enough, in my opinion. We shall see.

Posted by zolarafa 05/22/2009 at 08:45 PM

FoT,
LoL! for Fed's jinxability!

Steve,
Seriously what happened? After all the praise to fed and "restoration of order and old rivalry", both you and Pete have picked Djoko to play the final!

I have the same pickes for the semis, but for now I have a Rafa-Fed final. I think the key here is that if Djoko cannot win Fed in straights, he may not be fit enough to win in 5. I know the fire is there, but can he really do it? Roger has been numero dos on clay for the past three, four years and RG is a different place. Besides, I think Djoko's game matches up very well with Fed's.

Posted by imjimmy 05/22/2009 at 08:50 PM

Thanks Steve! Agree with your predictions. Except I feel Murray will beat Gonzales and reach the SF.

""This could be a slog for Rafa, but would he want it any other way? ""

I couldn't agree more. He needs time and good matches to play himself into his favorite surface at the Chatrier, so that he can start to peak in the later part of the 2nd week. This is all the more important considering his patchy form in the lead up to RG ( Madrid), and the fact that he's not played his best tennis consistently through the clay season this year.

""He has a little bit to prove again, which isn’t a bad thing. ""

After failing to win even 1 set against Federer in Madrid...yes he does. A LOT.

Which, knowing Rafa, can only be good.

""Final: Nadal d. Djokovic in straights ""

Straights is a little too optimistic unless Djokovic has a marathon against Federer. But I guess the final outcome will be the same.

Posted by frances 05/22/2009 at 09:01 PM

Steve I wish and hope you are right all the way!!!

VAMOS RAFA!!!

Posted by frances 05/22/2009 at 09:03 PM

imjimmy :P what are your thoughts on pete bodo's picks? he actually predict fed to go before quarter finals.. WOW that just seems odd

Posted by imjimmy 05/22/2009 at 09:10 PM

Frances: he he.. I have the top 4 making the SF. (even Muzzah!).. I just don't see Fed getting out before the SF. His draw (before the SF) is one of the easiest draws possible on clay.

Posted by Griff 05/22/2009 at 09:32 PM

Whats this i hear about Djokovic cannot handle a 5 setter against Federer.Did people watch 4 hours of extremely high level play in Madrid Semifinal?

Posted by zolarafa 05/22/2009 at 09:36 PM

Griff,
through those 4 hours, Djoko won just one set and he was cramping. He will need another 3 hours to win two more!

But seriously, has he ever played a 5-setter? he is a great player, but it is true that fitness is still a problem for him, although he seems to be improving.

Posted by Azhdaja 05/22/2009 at 09:36 PM

Final: Nadal vs Djokovic
winner: Djokovic in straights!

Posted by Ivo 05/22/2009 at 09:36 PM

Yeah Pete's picks are neither open for comments nor too reasonable....seems to me, aren't these two related?:)
As for the picks: I have to say that looking at the draw, I just don't see how anything else but this will happen:
SF: Nadal vs. ?
SF: Djokovic vs. Federer.

Murray's quarter, in my opinion, is the most difficult to predict. Especially because Andy Murray is still weak on clay. I said that before the beginning of the clay season that he's unlikely to be winning on that surface and I am happy to see this happen. His game just bores me...it just does (no offense to his fans). In Murray's quaster is also another huge choker...Simon. Has anyone noticed that he hasn't produced any result since 2009? Really looking at that draw Murray draw I have no idea who will get through. It could be easily someone like Youzhny, or Stepanek or Cilic...or any of these lesser players. No kidding this quarter is just a disaster. In a way Murray could not have hoped for better.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/22/2009 at 09:44 PM

Djoko has defeated Fed in a five setter before, and he is on form.

But Federer seems to be playing more freely and positively. It all depends on all his early rounds and apparently playing Roddick. If he gets confident...he can be dangerous.

Also, sure Djoko has a more natural clay court game, but who knows if Fed is going to allow him to play it?

On the other hand, being a headcase, the exact opposite may happen.

Lets hope Fed takes the GS seriously and his back is straight enough...Djoko - Fed should be one match to see!

Posted by gertrude 05/22/2009 at 09:54 PM

steve

love ur predicts altho not necessarily agree entirely

i think the winner of the women's title will come out of the safina-venus match. both are extremely motivated, safina cuz she's wants to be a real no 1, and venus (who played very well in rome) in fact i think venus who has been playing increasingly intelligent tennis will win this time and only kuznet sova will stand in her way in the final.

would absolutely love a rafa-nole final and if both are fit that's the most likely.

dark horses : gonzalez, berdych & montanes

Posted by zolarafa 05/22/2009 at 09:55 PM

ladyjulia

***Djoko has defeated Fed in a five setter before, and he is on form.***

Are you sure?

The only time Djoko has won fed in a GS was AO 08 and I think it was in straights.

Posted by gertrude 05/22/2009 at 09:58 PM

if venus wins paris she will be no 1 and it will be her clay breakthrough. watching venus in rome tells me she's got big clay ambition this season.

somethin tells me berdych will finally get fed after missing out by a set in australia.

Posted by skip1515 05/22/2009 at 10:00 PM

Murray's "passive game seems to leave him vulnerable to heavy hitters, like Monaco and del Potro, his recent conquerors, who can hit through the court more easily than he can."

I'd have to agree with the tactical end result, but I happen to think the origin is more Murray's perspective on how to play than his technical ability. He can crack it, but he flirts too often and too long with passivity and/or cuteness, especially in this year's tourneys so far.

Posted by Hajduk Stana 05/22/2009 at 10:43 PM

Wow, you didn't even bother to mention Ana when analyzing her quarter?
This the same as forgetting to mention Nole vs. Rafa match when giving props to Fed for the victory. Wow, Serbs must be really high on your hatelist.
But hey, there is always tomorrow for another prediction ;-)

Anyhoo, just wanted to say: discount Ana at your own peril.

Posted by Hajduk Stana 05/22/2009 at 10:45 PM

But, of course, more of a threat are Venus and Masha. One cannot pick which one of them sucks more on clay.

Posted by Hajduk Stana 05/22/2009 at 10:49 PM

Huh, sorry, I thought this was Pete's blog.


Posted by Azhdaja 05/22/2009 at 11:31 PM

Posted by zolarafa 05/22/2009 @ 9:36 PM

But seriously, has he ever played a 5-setter?
??????????????????

Seriously, have you ever watched/read the tennis at all?? Djoker has positive score in his 5 sets matches!

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie and Free Matt Zemek!) 05/23/2009 at 12:21 AM

Fed is a Top 5 claycourter for sure in the last two generations, but overall, this clay court era is weak, weak, weak, i mean there isnt a dirtballer other than Nadal in the game at all!

amazing how the game has changed since the 90s ...

Posted by tennisconnected 05/23/2009 at 12:38 AM

Nice pics Steve, check out mine when you get a chance. Cheers.

http://tennisconnected.com/home/2009/05/23/2009-mens-french-open-draw-preview-and-analysis-may-24-june-7-2009-paris-france/

Posted by tennisconnected 05/23/2009 at 12:38 AM

Nice pics Steve, check out mine when you get a chance. Cheers.

http://tennisconnected.com/home/2009/05/23/2009-mens-french-open-draw-preview-and-analysis-may-24-june-7-2009-paris-france/

Posted by tennisconnected 05/23/2009 at 12:38 AM

Nice pics Steve, check out mine when you get a chance. Cheers.

http://tennisconnected.com/home/2009/05/23/2009-mens-french-open-draw-preview-and-analysis-may-24-june-7-2009-paris-france/

Posted by SRao 05/23/2009 at 01:18 AM

Steve,

I'm glad you did not pick Fed.[U made the same mistake twice] but I'm happy,bcoz,the chances of Fed winning is huge,now.

MA,Fed-Rafa,a 5setter?it's a 50-50 chance for both!

Posted by zolarafa 05/23/2009 at 01:56 AM

Steve,
Seems your predictions have a lot of power!

azhdaja,
***
Seriously, have you ever watched/read the tennis at all?? Djoker has positive score in his 5 sets matches!
****

No, I started watching tennis yesterday!
You could have just given some examples. I don't remember the results of each and every match Djoko has played!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war 05/23/2009 at 01:57 AM

Djokovic, Tim???

or are you just playing the wind-up toy again? LOL.

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie and Free Matt Zemek!) 05/23/2009 at 02:54 AM

Djoker a dirtballer?/?

im saying, there arent the group of clay court specialists anymore tha excellend on the surface first and foremost, certainly Djoker is a better player on a hardcourt than claycourt...

Only Nadal is better on clay than other surfaces, every other guy is worst on clay...it a terrible weak era whih is why Rafa has had it so easy...id love to see another grinder like Chang or Courier or Lendl around...

Posted by zolarafa 05/23/2009 at 03:24 AM

Tim,
yes, no good dirtballers. Then what kept Federer from winning RG before 2005?

Where there aby good hard court players when Fed was dominating?

Posted by d'alba 05/23/2009 at 04:20 AM

"... Enough already, Rafa, you made your point. Let’s get Roger out of there and give somebody else a chance...."

Pete, your post is alarmingly unfair, and your pick is a vision that I simply do not share! As stated by another reader (post which has already been erased... not nice to keep only posts that suit your ego...), you have an "almost pathological dislike of Federer".

Yes I concur, a Nadal vs Federer final in 2009 after 3 consecutive Federer vs Nadal at the french open is not appealing. But the reason why it is not appealing is not because Nadal made his point denying for ever that trophy to Federer. No, the reason why it is not appealing to me starts with the very actual fact that Nadal is suffering from OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is surprisingly common and affects about two or three people out of every 100. Many tennis players suffer from this disease, to a certain degree (a brilliant example is Ivan Lendl). But the one who is #1 in showing signs of severe OCD is Rafael Nadal, to the point that actually it is becoming embarrassing.

Yes, Nadal is a great champion, but I simply don't like his game, even if I respect his phenomenal fighting spirit, and his tennis skills which are just superb.
To see him pintch his anus every 30 sec or so, his mimics during serve, his hideous gruntings, his maniac prematch preparations, his constant attempts to slow the game, his obvious violation of the 25 sec rule, etc etc... the list is so long ... I am in no mood to talk about it in length...
On the other hand, Roger has his stubbornness, his magical touch, his dancing tennis. Yes he is a dandy, and yes being #1 for so long and having to give that many interviews has rendered him a bit "boring". But what a magnificent player he is.
Furthermore, Roger on clay has a fantastic record, on not only because he is the only player who has beated Nadal 2 times on this surface.

For a "journalist" to deny Roger the right to attempt another final, just because he dislikes him, and to avoid a Nadal vs Federer final ... how pathetic!
If it is just the combination of those two names that you want to avoid, then may I suggest you to pick another name on the upper draw?

My prediction: final Verdasco vs Federer (winner: the best of the two)

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. Rafa and JJ for FO Champions 2009!!! 05/23/2009 at 04:37 AM

"I am in no mood to talk about it in length..."

LOL - really?

WHY does everything that doesn't automatically elevate Federer to the Godhead immediately have to be answered with an attack on Rafa - as if that somehow makes Federer look better?

It's not exactly unreasonable to question Roger getting to the FO final or winning the whole thing, given recent form.

Posted by d'alba 05/23/2009 at 04:52 AM

which form are you talking about? Nadal or Roger's?

There are many things that "do not elevate RF to the Godhead", and guess what, I don't care. My attack on Rafa has strictly nothing to do with Roger's present form, or even his quest to win that gd frech open.
No, my "attacks" as you state, are based on the fact that he is pinching his butt more than any other athlete world wide, and possibly more than any other human being on this planet, to the point where it is becoming embarrassing. And this ass pinching is just one of his numerous OCD.

Now, as far as Pete's "article" is concerned, I have nothing when someone does not like Federer (or other player), as long as they do not pretend the opposite, and as long as they remain fair in their comments. In his present pick, he clearly reveals his true feelings about Roger, and he is being unfair in his comments (not for not picking Roger as a finalist or a winner, just through some of his "analysis").

vamos rafa, stop pinching your butt, stop grunting so loudly, stop delaying the game, and respect the 25 sec rule, and I will become one of your supporter.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. Rafa and JJ for FO Champions 2009!!! 05/23/2009 at 05:24 AM

I was talking about Roger's general form since the AO, and yes, I do realise that he played well for his last three games in Madrid, and beat Rafa comprehensively in the final.

I just don't see where Pete is being unfair to Roger - all I thought he was saying that the unpredictable brilliance of, say, Monfils or Berdych - both of whom have given Roger tough matches before, could conceivably take him out, given Roger's general patchy form.

You could equally well argue though that Roger has been playing into form culminating in Madrid.

Personally I think Roger will be there in the FO final, fwiw.

I suppose I was wondering why there was the need to attack Rafa at all - what sparked that little lot off.

Posted by Ray T. 05/23/2009 at 05:28 AM

There's no need to "hate" the Serbs to discount Ivanovic this year, Hajduk Stana, and you remarks demonstrate once again how ignorant some Serbian fans are about tennis and their own players. To compare her to Nole's current form on clay really goes to show how this is only about chauvinism. FYI, Ivanovic has currently nose dived from #1 to #8 and hasn't won a title this year. She lost in the 3rd round at the AO after being in the final last year, and lost again in the 3rd round in her only clay tournament in Rome just 2 weeks ago. Sorry, but Ivanovic is hardly a threat in her quarter, especially when Azarenka who reached the SF in Rome is on course to meet her in the 4th round. Get it now ? Of course you don't...

As for Venus "sucking" on clay, let me inform you that that former #1 and 7 Slams winner actually won the French Open Doubles back in 1999 and actually reached the French Open singles final in 2002, long before Ivanovic was even a professional tennis player, OK kiddo?

The ignorance on this site will never cease to amaze me when all the history and stats of each players are available all over the Internet. Case in point, as wrongly claimed by ladyJulia previously, Federer and Djokovic have never played a 5 setters, but only one 4 setters which Federer won at he 2008 US Open.

Please educate yourselves kids at:

http://www.atpworldtour.com
http://www.sonyericssonwtatour.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/tennis

Posted by cmoore 05/23/2009 at 05:32 AM

Actually, Rafa does not need your support! Nor does he have to change to meet your requirements to be the best in the world! Sounds to me like you have a problem yourself.....control freak! I had a friend like you....if you do as I want I will like you! Ha Ha.....No matter what you say....Rafa Nadal is the greatest player today with or without your support!
Vamos Rafa!....and btw what a nice ass to pick lol

Posted by lilscot 05/23/2009 at 06:08 AM

d'alba: 4:20 a.m.

Wow, someone sure peed in your Corn Flakes. You surely need to relax a bit and stop attacking Pete so disrespectfully. Have an opinion for sure. Share it with all of us here for sure. But don't put air quotes when you type journalist when referring to Pete because he IS a journalist.

You might not agree with his points, a lot of don't sometimes, but that is what his job is. To create discussions, hopefully intelligent ones, about the sport we all love so much.

Disliking a player because you deem him to have OCD is akin to disliking a rock star because they wear funny shoes. Makes no sense at all. Besides, most players, professional or amateur, have some level of OCD. Most competitive athletes in any sport have some. Hell, even fans have it. I know myself and many others on here have certain "superstitious" things we do like make sure we're sitting in the right chair or whatever.

Lighten up a bit. Life's better that way...

Posted by luxsword 05/23/2009 at 06:19 AM

I love your picks and hope you're right. :)

Posted by lilscot 05/23/2009 at 06:25 AM

6:08 a.m.

Oops, I meant to refer to Steve, not Pete. Jumping back and forth between posts and got my names mixed up there. Mind you, they are both journalists anyway and should be accorded the respect they work hard for and deserve...

Posted by TennisFan2 05/23/2009 at 06:27 AM

"Lighten up a bit..." Well said Lilscot!

Lets enjoy the players, matches and writers without personal attacks.

Really, d'Alba - what's the big deal with Rafa adjusting his shorts? Roger tucks his hair behind his ears (as does Maria - my 8 year old daughter would mimic Maria's serve routine at the age of 6 whenever we hit balls or watched her on tv) - the point is every player has habits - some avoid stepping on lines, some play with their hair, some need to look at all the balls before choosing one or two, etc...does it matter? It doesn't necessarily mean the player has OCD.

Perhaps others here have seen it with Rafa off court but I haven't noticed any odd behaviors in his pressers or practices...perhaps his on court rituals are just that - something that focuses him on the task at hand (doesn't mean he has OCD).

Regarding his "time violations" - if he's taking too much time then he should be called on it. I think he isn't called on it b/c he is consistent. Rafa doesn't select opportunities to slow down play now and then; he is consistenly slow.

Posted by Mike DC 05/23/2009 at 07:41 AM

As a someone who doesn't cheer for Nadal, I'd say he faced top notch clay court competition over the term of his reign. Every one knows that Federer is as impressive on clay as some of the "grinders" of the past were (Change, Courier esp, and probably Wilander, Lendl as well). Similiar to Fed, but more often overlooked, Djokovic has basically been unbeatable at Roland Garros, except for when facing Nadal. And he may have run the table on the clay Masters Series this year in the alternate universe where there is no Nadal.

Who knows, maybe in the non-Nadal universe we'd be salivating over the prospect of Fed and Djokovic round III or IV coming up and their great clay court rivalry.

Rafa's dominance has just skewed our perspective of the era, just like Fed possibly diminished our historical appreciation of Roddick/Hewitt.

Posted by Tfactor 05/23/2009 at 08:18 AM

I posted this over at Pete's preview thread, but I will re-post here, for whatever is worth.

I think some of us are overreacting (?)
Predictions are just that, predictions. People have different perspectives, ideas and feelings on which to base them.
I personally feel Roger will get to the semis, but I understand not everyone may agree.
As a Rafa fan, I long for a tournament where Rafa is not the clear favorite. It takes away the tremendous pressure and allows me as a fan to really rejoice if he actually wins the title.
When my favorite is expeced to win, the victory in the end (if it happens) feels more like a relief: phew he lived up to all those high expectations!
Anything can happen and of course Roger could end up winning his first French Open, just think how sweet it would be!

Posted by Joe 05/23/2009 at 08:28 AM

d'alba, you have a very serius problem against Nadal. You are the kind of Federer fanatic that don't accept another player can beat him
Yes, Rafa pull a little bit his pant, meanwhile Roger is picking his nose, have you seen that?

Posted by Aussiemarg{Madame President in Comma Rehab in 2009} 05/23/2009 at 09:54 AM

Steve Thanks for your thoughts on both the ATP and WTA predications for Roland Garos 09.

I agree with your predication Rafa V Novak in the final.I believe these are the two best clay courts players at present.

Winner Rafa Nadal to make tennis history at RG09 to become the first player to win 5 straight titles.Vamos Rafa.

In the WTA well Safina has found form winning 2 out of the last 3 clay tournaments she has played in.

I believe Kuzzy has also showed good form.JJ I feel this is her best surace she Could be the surprise Dark Horse here.

Azerenka another good clay player,I love her mindset.

Amelie one of my fav players also being French has never had great results here.

I being a long time Safina fan believes if she can just take one match at a time here take undue pressure off herself she will win her first Grand Slam title in 2009. Fingers crossed Safina.

Posted by streams 05/23/2009 at 10:01 AM

What does "stultifying" mean? Different from 'stupifying' I hope lol!

Ok Ok I have google, I'll look it up myself ...

1archaic : to allege or prove to be of unsound mind and hence not responsible
2: to cause to appear or be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical
3 a: to impair, invalidate, or make ineffective : negate b: to have a dulling or inhibiting effect on

hmm, is that the effect the Pete reign had on tennis fans in that era, or is that the effect Pete had on other players? (to impair them, cause them to look foolish etc).... wow, thanks for the English lesson Steve!

Posted by streams 05/23/2009 at 10:40 AM

BTW, Steve, love your predictions ... I don't know how to predict the winners by your predictions are in line with my hopes and to tell you the truth I don't care how they get there, if Rafa and Safina are holding (biting?) trophies 2 weeks from now that will be fantastic. But, tennis is tennis, anything can happen and I (try) not to be shocked by anything. After all I watch cos love the game, not because 'my players' have to win.

Allez!

Posted by etheralx23crisis 05/23/2009 at 11:20 AM

Federer is under a false sense of security, he beat nadal in hamburg 2 years ago only to lose in the french final again, he was a better player in 2007 too winning 3 of 4 slams, but this year he has 1 title and 1 win against nadal while failing at the other clay master series, its not about one match ppl, its about the long run. In the long run THIS YEAR nadal has been the best clay court player and over all he is king at RG

Nadal d. Djokovic in 4 sets.
Im a Djokovic fan too, but im realistic.

Posted by almu 05/23/2009 at 11:40 AM

my picks:

nadal vs murray

federer vs del potro

nadal vs federer

obviously: nadal wins

as for the women, the only thing im sure of is ivanovic won reign again in paris...

Posted by Valevapor 05/23/2009 at 11:53 AM

There are still plenty of good dirtballers around, it's just that their one-dimensional games are no match for the versatile elite these days. They've been transcended, and Rafa especially has taken the traditional clay game to a whole new level and then some.

Rafa will likely make the final without dropping a set...again. Murray or Gonzo could hit a purple patch for an hour or two against him in the semis, but that ain't gonna cut it. The key thing in the lower half is how much Djokovic has to work to reach the semis. He's got the hardest draw of the big guys, potentially playing Ferrero-Robredo-Del Potro consecutively. That could translate to a lot of court time and, if he's tired, he won't have the gumption to knock off a determined Federer.

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever 05/23/2009 at 12:49 PM

This is simply unbelievable. Novak - great player of course - played a couple of (very) good matches against Rafa and suddenly the feverish pitch with which everyone writes Fed off...Boy! Yes, Novak stayed toe-to-toe with Rafa but then he chose to play that way. Fed played a different game. I will bet anything that Fed will beat Novak in straights at RG...IF Novak makes it there and we will see about that. I am not sure about the finals though - being slower than all Clays and all - but guys, gals, don't write the Big Man off that cheaply...C'mon. He is 27, hungry and burning inside (all that Rafa questions and noise around him nowadays)...and am sure he is out to prove himself. He may not show it - which he never does - but how do you think he got 13? By just being stylish and elegant and graceful on the court playing "lovely" tennis? Kidding me?

Posted by Syd 05/23/2009 at 12:51 PM

"He's got the hardest draw of the big guys, potentially playing Ferrero-Robredo-Del Potro consecutively."

Maybe. And maybe Djokovic won't get to the semis. :)

Posted by pogiako 05/23/2009 at 01:16 PM

It was summer when Djokovic retired in the quarter. It is almost summer now in the French Open. Maybe he will have an asthma attack again in the quarter because of the heat. We will never know until it happens. Anyway, Rafael maybe the favorite to win, but the underestimated Roger may get his due. Good luck to Roger!!!!

Posted by pogiako 05/23/2009 at 01:19 PM

I mean the AO. It was summer over there in January.

Posted by Steven Lee 05/23/2009 at 02:13 PM

Djok has grown up a lot in these past months it seems. He played incredibly in the semi's of Madrid. I don't know if Fed could've hanged with either of them, although, maybe he could have.

Still Fed pulls out that special magic when he gets to GS's. He sets the jaw and becomes all business. He becomes like the well oiled machine that we are used to seeing. Remember in Madrid, he used tactics to beat Nadal - inside-in forehand attacking the deuce court, tricky second serve, and some nice drop shots and net rushes. I would like to see the same chess minded player show up in the finals this year. It would make it much more interesting to watch than the slaughter of last year - though that was pretty fun.

If I was a betting man, of course, you have to put your money on Nadal. But if Fed gets smart, we could see a very interesting final - maybe one with a surprise ending!

Posted by Martin 05/23/2009 at 02:32 PM

true about Federer's relaxed persona in Madrid..

funny that it was the between the legs shot against Safin in the Australian Open final way back when that cost him the match, but that same between the legs shot against Roddick in Madrid that revealed Federer's new found fun and relaxed approach..

Fedex has always been serious to say the least, but he always carried a certain cocky, flashy and hot doggedness that seems to have appeared over the last year....it's not about winning the point, but about him thinking that he's so good that he has the right to try such an ineffective shot..

Fedex is back.

Posted by Martin 05/23/2009 at 02:33 PM

ooops...I meant "seems to have disappeared over the last year"

Posted by Bibi 05/23/2009 at 02:58 PM

Wishing Nole all the best.

Posted by Sher 05/23/2009 at 03:01 PM

thanks for not picking Federer, steve! lol

but seriously, pretty good picks all. i do think Djokovic's quarter is tricker than it looks, and Nadal's is easier than it looks. Everyone Nadal faces was dangerous _at some point in the past_ but is either coming off injury or surgery or something right now, and will thus present little challenge, imho.

Posted by Sher 05/23/2009 at 03:04 PM

Tfactor, interesting thoughts on the relief fans feel when the player lives up to the expectations.

Posted by Tfactor 05/23/2009 at 03:42 PM

Sher,
Does it happen to you?
Maybe it's different for a Fed fan since he's been so dominant for so long (?)
I used to enjoy Rafa's victories a lot more before he became #1.
Anyway, I'm forever conflicted. Although Rafa is my first favorite, I also like Roger and I have been rooting for him to tie and surpass Sampras' record (the fact that I dislike Sampras is an incentive too) ;)
Hoping for a Rafa/Fed final which will provide us with a historic moment either way.

Posted by Just for fun 05/23/2009 at 03:57 PM

My guess is that Nole will retire not later than the SF. You know, hot summery temperatures, the poor asthmatic, the unfair spectators etc. Of course, thereafter he will probably state that he would have won the tournament under the normal circuimstances...

Posted by joao 05/23/2009 at 04:21 PM

"But I think the stronger self-belief, as well as the more natural clay-court game, belongs to the Serb."

ahahahahahahahahahhahah

One wonder slam against a 13 slam winner have stronger believe?
You really don't know what you are talking about, Steve. Or is just your Fedphobia or Petefilia arousing? Let me teach you something Steve, stronger believe do not came from last results or from a disorder personality of "grandeur" (Djoko) but from a overall knowledge of his possibilities and the experience of pull it out at the top level repeatedly (Federer). If it wasn't the case Federer wouldn't have beat Nadal, whatever the clay or the heights.
After 4 years of grand stage for Djoko when we look to the results in clay between him and Federer i can not understand how does he have a more natural clay-court game, but even if he has i do not see the point of it.

I understand the difficult task of writing pieces about tennis almost every day and i fully appreciate your effort of doing it, even if you are paid for it, but please Steve try to be intellectual sane about it even if you have to write the same things every single time...

Posted by eddy (wizball) 05/23/2009 at 04:46 PM

in the slams, fed is still slightly better than both nole and murray, and i don't expect that to change this year. i agree with steve's predictions, except that fed beats nole in the semis.

i like that fed feels he is somewhat in control after beating nadal in madrid. as irrelevant as i believe that win was, i think it is important for fed to feel that he is in the mix so that he can take care of his non-nadal matches no problem. it is much more important to make the final. beating nadal is overrated. i wouldn't expect fed to win wimbledom either, but i hope i'm wrong because this may be the last year that fed can do such a thing, if nadal is around.

Posted by Steve 05/23/2009 at 07:13 PM

Tennisfan, I actualy think you are right about Peter Bodo! Beeing a Djokofan I pick a final between Nadal and Djoko. Realisticaly Nadal wins. I think Djoko will beat Fed in semi but it will be a tough one.

That you said about Peter Bodo is interesting. I dont know why he dont like Fed. Nadal and Djoko are stabile, agressive groundstoke players. Fed is more defensive, use slice backhand and one-handed backhand. But whats wrong with that? That makes the game more interesting. He has a better serve than the two others.

When you say that Mr Bodo to often writes down Fed I agree and I dont think he is professional. On the other hand he likes Djoko!

Posted by eddy 05/23/2009 at 11:09 PM

Would Steve call Pete Bodo unprofessional? I doubt it.

Posted by john 05/23/2009 at 11:54 PM

steve

your picks are basically just logical & expected; nothing wrong with that though.


the key story of fo is not who will meet in the finals. it is who will be this year's losing finalist as we already know the winner.

fed has the easiest draw ( he's always had luck of the draw for all the slams the past few years) and by virtue of that will probably make the semis.

however i wouldnt write off roddick after his display in madrid shows he's determined to break the duck again agst fed shlud they meet in the quarters. roddick's improved 70 % since having stefanki as coach and his body language is higly positive when he faces fed now. if fed has a bad day he may not even get to the quarters; could get upset in the 3rd or 4th rd. i put roddivk's chances of reaching the semis as 40 - 60 %.

my semi picks ; nadal, nole , gonzalez, fed(but only just if he meets roddick)

women

venus williams will win this year's title over kuzzy

Posted by john 05/23/2009 at 11:57 PM

safina will exit by the 4th round; she peaked too early.

Posted by Bobby 05/24/2009 at 12:50 AM

It's very obvious John is both anti Federer and pro Roddick, and he dislikes and disrespects Federer so much that almost everything he said in his biased, inaccurate, opinionated post is delusional and absurd, starting with the first sentence after Steve and finishing at the very end.

Posted by Bobby 05/24/2009 at 12:51 AM

It's very obvious John is both anti Federer and pro Roddick, and he dislikes and disrespects Federer so much that almost everything he said in his biased, inaccurate, opinionated post is delusional and absurd, starting with the first sentence after Steve and finishing at the very end.

Posted by Bobby 05/24/2009 at 12:51 AM

It's very obvious John is both anti Federer and pro Roddick, and he dislikes and disrespects Federer so much that almost everything he said in his biased, inaccurate, opinionated post is delusional and absurd, starting with the first sentence after Steve and finishing at the very end.

Posted by Azhdaja 05/24/2009 at 01:33 AM

Winner: Djokovic over Nadal in 3 tiebreakers.

Posted by Mike T 05/24/2009 at 08:08 PM

The trouble with Steve Tignor’s thinking that Djokovic will beat Federer in the French Open semifinals is that it’s based on extrapolation of past results.

The Federer in Madrid was different from the imposter who played against Djokovic in Miami and Rome, losing after taking one set leads in both matches. The Federer was played in Spring looked a bit distracted by his impending fatherhood and marriage, and possibly demotivated from his AO loss.

It appears a light has turned on in Federer’s game in Madrid. You can’t disregard the fact that Federer is probably one of the top five to ten clay courters in tennis history. Federer has dropped a total of only five sets in the French Open to players not named Nadal over the four years from 2005 to 2008 (three of those sets were lost in 2008 when he was playing catch up due to his mononucleosis illness and often stumbled through the draw). I believe that Federer even spent less total playing time on the Roland Garros courts than Nadal has, except in 2008.

I expect Federer to reach the French Open final again, without dropping more than two sets, even if you include a possible meeting with Djokovic. The problem is that he might not even face Djokovic, because it would not surprise me if Djokovic falls to Ferrero, Andreev, Tsonga or del Potro along the way. Indeed, if Djokovic meets Ferrero in the third round, look for a possible upset. Ferrero had a hit with his buddy Federer, and the sneaky Swiss has a habit of practicing and energizing the opponents of top players who might trouble him in the draw.

Otherwise, I consider Federer the favourite in any Grand Slam match with Djokovic (who has been in Federer’s half of the draw in five of the last six GS, including the last four in a row). Federer is 2-1 against Djokovic on clay. Fed should have won their Rome match given his leads in the final two sets had he not imploded without Djokovic doing anything really special. And as if Djokovic and Nadal haven’t themselves imploded in other matches. Djokovic’s game on clay is better suited to trouble Nadal than it is to trouble Federer – thus, Djokovic probably has a better chance of beating Nadal than Federer in the French Open.

Posted by Mike T 05/24/2009 at 08:10 PM

Now for the final. Nadal’s apologists have been as busy as Nadal making excuses for the Spaniard’s loss against the resurging Federer to Rafa’s long semifinal match and Madrid’s altitude (never mind that Nadal has far more experience playing Madrid's altitude than almost all non-Spanish players, including a Davis Cup tie on clay against the U.S. last September). Nadal was so concerned losing that he has been repeatedly whining about Madrid, both before and since his loss. It's become so nauseating that thank goodness Federer lost the AO final to Nadal. Otherwise we would have heard no end about how tired Nadal was in Australia as well. The point about Madrid is that Nadal was vulnerable to two players, and this was not the first time Nadal lost to Federer on clay (Hamburg, Madrid). Federer had match points against Nadal in a five hour Rome 2006 final, a match he should have won. Federer can beat Nadal on clay and has the fitness and ability to stay with the Spaniard.

The Madrid final match reminded me of the Shanghai Tennis Masters Cup, semifinal Nov 2007, where the swashbuckling Roger creamed Rafa 6-4, 6-1 in only 59 minutes (see link). Youzhny took about the same time to crush Nadal 6-1, 6-0 in Chennai 2008.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR7do5BFgzA

Federer humbled Nadal in Madrid. He was the better player. This straight-set win on Madrid's sandy hard clay (good for Nadal’s topspin) – in Nadal’s favourite city backed by partisan Spanish crowd – is more significant for Federer than his beating Nadal on Hamburg’s slow clay two years ago. Unlike Nadal’s sluggish and tentative start against Djokovic, this time the Spaniard came out ready to play against Federer. But Federer surprised him by outplaying him, and eventually the Spaniard’s game broke down. Roger moved his best on clay. His forehand was lethal. His serving in the clutch was back, to the degree that when Federer was serving 15-40 down in the final game many Federer fans probably expected him to win it. His high backhand more than held up to Nadal’s topspin attack -- that took away Nadal’s key tactic. And Federer returned Nadal’s serve on clay better than he ever has. Federer employed a good gameplan, and his aggression and unpredictability and keeping points short kept Nadal guessing. For the first time since 2007, the zen-like calmness of The Mighty Federer was on his face again in the clutch. The Mighty Federer is back.

I know, I know. Some will bring up Nadal’s thrashing of Federer in French Open 2008, losing only 4 games as a harbinger of what’s going to happen again this year. If that logic were true, a player like Nadal would never have beaten Mikhail Youzhny again after being crushed 6-0, 6-1 in Chennai 2008. Or Nadal would never have beaten Federer after being crushed 6-4, 6-1 in Shanghai TMC 2007. Or Nadal would never have beaten Nalbandian after the Argentinian embarrassed him 6-2, 6-1 in Madrid and then crushed the Spaniard 6-4, 6-0 in Paris in 2007.

Nadal is ripe for his first loss at Roland Garros. Like Borg and Max Decugis before him, Nadal will have to lose some time at Roland Garros. The pressure of winning five FOs in a row to break Borg’s record will weigh heavily on him. For the first time we’ll see Nadal playing with something big to lose this year (just like the pressure Fed felt last year to break Borg’s Wimbledon record). What happened when Nadal became number one last August? He tightened up and couldn’t win a tournament for five months until the pressure was relieved when few expected him to win the Australian. Instead of reliving his indoor losses of 2007, Nadal pulled out of shanghai TMC 2008 and he knew he did not need the points.

Will Nadal even survive till the final? There’ll be plenty of pressure awaiting Nadal at this French Open. Don't be surprised if Nadal loses sets or the match to Wawrinka, Ferrer, Davydenko, Hewitt, Verdasco, Simon, Murray, Gonzalez, Youzhny, Gulbis, Safinm Kiefer, Almagro, Stepanek in his half. The unthinkable loss has a better chance of happening this year especially after other players were inspired by what Federer and Djokovic did to Nadal in Madrid. Some of the air has been let out of Nadal's aura on clay.

Final: Federer beats Nadal 3 sets to 1, if the Spaniard gets to the final. If Nadal doesn't, I told you so...

Posted by zug 05/24/2009 at 10:09 PM

One match that has not been talked about is the potential second rounder between Serena and Nicole Vaidisova. No one really knows what to expect from Serena, as she has not made a winning habit out of the clay court swing and has not really played well in Paris since '03. Vaidisova herself is a former semifinalist at RG, and beat Venus in her run three years ago. She's had her share of meltdowns since, but she actually has shown some capability of getting back to her high level of tennis this year, and she would have nothing to lose. A more natural clay-courter than Serena, if she has a great day and her big shots land in, this could be the upset of the tournament.

Posted by lois 05/24/2009 at 10:16 PM

I agree with cmoore, please cut the Bull. I realize that Rafa may have a BULLSEYE on his back but Murray beating-up an old guy (chila) which I cannot even remember when he won anything of any importance, it was no big deal and I like Verdasco or HOTSAUCE which ever you all chose to call him, did have a good game with a weak opponet (serra) which I think Rafa beat-up so many times I cannot remember. I really think he should have had Superman sitting there edging him on (nothing against Reyes) but he has to play Rafa not Reyes if he gets that far, having him there ain't gonna help. Please give us all a break about the Expo game, why is everyone losing it. Geez's it was only 1 game but do you all think he really wants to show all his stuff before he plays, Rafa is very Tennis smart. He saving all his good stuff for his games, if he shows everyone now his arsenal they will all be prepared for him (I am aure he has plenty of surprizes for all the guys. Djoke is getting much better and even Murray but Rafa grew-up on this slippy stuff it is not something you can pick-up in a couple of months or games. I do really feel very sad for Djoke I donot think he should have lost his rating because of Italy, what about Andy should he not have lost something-he did't win his (Madrid). Djoke is doing OK and does admit that Rafa is the KING OF CLAY but RG bring out the very best in Rafa (this tornament is a different bucket of milk). What is the matter with these anti Rafa fans is it that he is too pretty or is that he is Spanish, get over it. Please tell me because he has not recieved the kind of Respect that is due to a #1 player. Come on guys let us stop wishing bad luck on this young kid and see how everything works out. I sure am glad that I am not a player, I could not stand all the gossip and hate. I am happy for Hewett and my big Russian (Safin) and I hope that his sister (which I like very much) and also Anna does very well, if not I will go with the William Sisters.
Stay Well and Safe-Please.

Posted by Ryota 05/25/2009 at 12:41 AM

The lull between AO and FO is too long. Anyway, I'm glad it's grand slam season anew.

The top stories for this FO have been discussed ad nauseum so I'd focus on the things I hope would happen this year (wish list).

1. A French player reaches the semis. I would like to see how crazy the crowd gets if a local gets to the latter part of the tournament.

2. Safin's last run becomes memorable. It's no secret that FO is the one slam that Safin truly wanted to win. He had chances during the early part of his career and now that this is his last chance, I hope he sticks around for a while and bring down a couple of seeds (if not the biggest seed) along the way.

3. A breakthrough star emerges. The FO is a good harbinger of future stars (well at least for me); this was the tourney when I first saw Henin, Safin, Ivanovic, and Federer and thought "Hmm... that kid's got potential."

4. Sharapova reaches the 2nd week. After the 1st week, talent and technique go out of the window. Beyond that it's all about heart and grit!

5. I'm hoping to witness the calendar slam in my lifetime. I want the winner of this tournament (male or female) have the chance to win the CalSlam this year.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. Rafa and JJ for FO Champions 2009!!! 05/25/2009 at 02:09 AM

"He tightened up and couldn’t win a tournament for five months until the pressure was relieved when few expected him to win the Australian. Instead of reliving his indoor losses of 2007, Nadal pulled out of shanghai TMC 2008 and he knew he did not need the points."

He had his best-ever USO by a long way, and had to retire in Paris/withdraw from Shanghai due to tendinitis. Not sure if you could count the Olympics...but it didn't feel like tightening up to me.

This particular Rafa fan does not need to be convinced that Federer can win the French. ;-) However, if Rafa doesn't reach the final I *will* be surprised...and losing a set or match to Gulbis, Kiefer (on clay???) or even Almagro or Stepanek? - I don't see it.

The excuses thing is totally ridiculous - didn't Rafa specifically say he didn't want to make any? - I mean, we could interpret plenty of things as excuses, and I remember that people jumped all over Feddy after Wimbledon for "making excuses" about the light - which I also thought was ridiculous, fwiw. Neither man can be responsible for media reports or for what tennis fans say. And, they like and respect each other, no? Which is good to see, because I hate to think what the Fedal wars would be like if they didn't.

Posted by RG 05/25/2009 at 03:05 PM

But Bobby, John has a great turn for comedy, albeit entirely unintentional. Doesn't it provide great comic relief to hear people make statements like
>>fed has the easiest draw ( he's always had luck of the draw for all the slams the past few years)<<
Yup, it all comes down to those lucky draws, or else Fed would be just another journeyman ;-)

Posted by farrah 05/26/2009 at 01:31 AM

fedfans are this planet's biggest jokers. so far we haven't heard any excuses from rafa when he loses including madrid not even " i was tired, no?" but from the swiss sore loser we had mono, bad back, "nerve" injury (at the end of the 4th set agst safin in 05 ao, et al? ain't the stuff of champions the likes of laver and other greats will tell ya...

Posted by farrah 05/26/2009 at 01:31 AM

fedfans are this planet's biggest jokers. so far we haven't heard any excuses from rafa when he loses including madrid not even " i was tired, no?" but from the swiss sore loser we had mono, bad back, "nerve" injury (at the end of the 4th set agst safin in 05 ao, et al? ain't the stuff of champions the likes of laver and other greats will tell ya...

Posted by Eminence 05/26/2009 at 01:36 AM

My wishes for the French Open

1. Bartoli & Safin to win the titles

2. Federer to lose to one with surname beginning with A

3. Monfils to reach the semis again

4. Venus & Nole to be the finalists

5. Azarenka v Safina 4th round

Posted by Eminence 05/26/2009 at 01:36 AM

My wishes for the French Open

1. Bartoli & Safin to win the titles

2. Federer to lose to one with surname beginning with A

3. Monfils to reach the semis again

4. Venus & Nole to be the finalists

5. Azarenka v Safina 4th round

Posted by major_ram 05/27/2009 at 09:40 AM

@gertrude

In the times we live, there are no dark horses in Roland Garros!

Posted by freda 05/28/2009 at 10:14 PM

again fed isnt given credit.. he won he beat jose..
he will be in the final..

Posted by freda 05/28/2009 at 10:14 PM

again fed isnt given credit.. he won he beat jose..
he will be in the final..

Posted by Tennis fan 06/02/2009 at 04:27 AM

Steve.
Your (hopeless analysis) is Pathetic!
I should not read any of your article

Sorry.

Posted by michele 01/26/2010 at 05:32 AM

i think he has traits of ocd.....i know cause i have it!but whether he has or not he's the best!!

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