Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Paris Parse
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The Paris Parse 05/21/2010 - 11:49 AM

Rn Scanning each of this year’s French Open draws from top to bottom, the same thought comes to mind first: The guard, despite being tugged and pulled in various directions over the years, refuses to change. The top two men’s seeds, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have held those pole positions in virtually every Grand Slam for the last five years. But their dominance is in its infancy compared to the top two women’s seeds, Serena and Venus Williams, the latter of whom reached her first major final back in stone-age 1997—an entirely different century. Order just keeps being restored.

Once we get below the top rungs, though, the men’s and women’s draws diverge rapidly. The men’s side, where either Federer or Nadal have reached the final each year since 2005, is, on paper, more predictable than ever. Two players who have beaten both Rog and Rafa in the past year, Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko, are out, while the two guys who have given them more collective trouble in recent seasons than anyone else, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, come to Paris with question marks hanging over their heads. The opposite is true for the women. Serena and Venus may be No. 1 and 2 in the world again, but neither has been to the final at Roland Garros since they played each other there in 2002. And while one dangerous player, Kim Clijsters, won’t be in attendance, another, four-time champion Justine Henin, has to be on the short list of Most Imposing 22nd Seeds in history.

Predictable men, unpredictable women? Let’s give them both a shot.

The Men  

First Quarter

Despite the high-profile pullouts, Federer still stumbled into a difficult draw. His quarter includes Soderling, last year’s finalist; Montanes, a pesky dirtballer who beat him a couple of weeks ago; Monfils, a crowd favorite who took a set from him here two years ago in the semis; and, maybe most dangerous of all, the newly reliable Ernests Gulbis, who has already played three three-setters with Federer in 2010, and won one of them. The top seed might even be tested in the second round, where he could get Janko Tipsarevic. They played a five-set classic in Australia in 2008.

Federer has, as usual, set himself up to peak for the French. He played his best tennis since the Australian Open last week in Madrid, avenged the loss to Gulbis, and nearly took Nadal to three sets in the final. The ugly shanks that had followed him through Rome and Estoril appeared to have been ironed out, and by the end of the tournament he was sounding almost defiantly confident about his chances to defend in Paris. So let’s ask the question again: Is this, at last, the major where Federer’s semifinal streak (what is it now, 23? 37? 73?) comes to its inevitable end? Which do we weigh more heavily, that inevitability, or the pressure that any opponent trying to beat Federer will feel as he tries to win a third set against him on center court? Soderling, Monfils, Montanes: Of those guys, only Soderling seems capable of rising to that occasion, but he’d have to win four matches just to get to Federer, and the Sod’s form has been highly erratic of late. Gulbis? Is this a Davydenko replay? A guy beats Federer in the warm-up event no one will remember, but not when history is watching.

First-round match to watch: Gulbis vs. a guy who plays well in his native France, Julien Benneteau

Surprise name to run across: Taylor Dent. What’s he doing here?

Semifinalist: Federer


Second Quarter

We start here with an aficianado’s special, between Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet, two sure-shot kids who are, at the moment, not too sure about much of anything. Each will want this match badly, because the winner will find a a pretty wide section awaiting him. Tsonga, Berdych, Youzhny, Isner, Baghdatis, Robredo, Garcia-Lopez: They’ve all had a nice run, or at least a nice match, this year, but can one of them really reach the semis?

Murray will come in with little pressure—he can only go up after the last couple of months, and if he loses, he gets more time to practice on grass. The fragile Tsonga, who retired in the second round in Madrid, will face home-crowd pressure, historically a problem for French players. He’ll also have to face his own frustrating unpredictability. Winning without his best, and sometimes even with his best, isn’t Tsonga’s forte. The stage may be set for Garcia-Lopez, an old-fashioned (and kind of old: he’s 26) clay grind who has had a steady season thus far and reached a career-high No. 38, to make his one move.

In other words, I have no idea whose coming out of this quarter.

Second-round match to watch: Tsonga vs. countryman Josselin Ouanna

Fourth-round match to hope for: The Luke War—Lukas Lacko vs. Lukas Kubot

Semifinalist: Garcia-Lopez


Third Quarter

More uncertainty lurks. Novak Djokovic, the top seed in the section, has had allergy issues and couldn’t play in Madrid. Andy Roddick, the second seed, hasn’t played a match on clay this season. In between them are other question marks, guys who could break out one day and fizzle the next: Monaco, Ferrero, Querrey. Even the obvious choice, David Ferrer, isn’t all that obvious. For all of his working man’s persistence and down-and-dirty clay prowess, he’s never made it work for him long enough to reach the semis at the French. But after the solid clay season he’s put in so far, he remains the obvious choice.

Sleeper: Santiago Giraldo, a kid from Columbia with a killer backhand

Semifinalist: Ferrer


Fourth Quarter

This is about as favorable a French Open draw as Rafael Nadal could have hoped for as the season began. No del Potro, no Davydenko, no Soderling; of the guys who have troubled him in the last year, only Ljubicic is in his vicinity, and he’s an unlikely threat on clay. Lleyton Hewitt, a tough out, is a potential third-rounder, and either Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco or Nicolas Almagro, who took a set from him in Madrid, might be waiting in the quarters. But, compared to what might have been, Nadal has to like the sight of those names.

First-round match for lefty lovers to watch: Llodra vs. Bellucci. Odd but possibly highly entertaining shot-maker's special.

Semifinalist: Nadal


Semifinals: Federer d. Garcia-Lopez; Nadal d. Ferrer

Final: While Federer will be motivated to beat Nadal for the first time in Paris and exorcise all the clay demons for good, I’ll take Nadal, not just because it’s on dirt, but because in most of their major finals, he’s found a way to win, to stay a step ahead of Federer both tactically and physically, at the crucial moment. Nadal is not just the king of clay, he's the best at beating the best.

Champion: Rafael Nadal

Jh ***

The Women

First Quarter

As with the ATP side, the top section of the women’s draw is loaded (I’ll go with that word rather than the equally appropriate “stacked.”) Serena, Henin, and Stosur alone would make a murderer’s row—they’ve played the best tennis of 2010 between them—but you’ve also got Sharapova and home-faves Bartoli and Cornet just for kicks. There’s not a lot to keep Serena from reaching the quarters, where you have to guess she’ll get the winner of Henin-Stosur. And you have to guess, based on experience and their only head-to-head match last month, that that will be Henin. Right? I wouldn’t count Stosur out; she may get tight, but she’s been playing with so much strenght this year that it might not matter. Still, while Serena has said she wants another French, clay will never be her best surface. While Henin will probably have to win ugly a couple of times—she's still prone to the odd, inexplicable disaster—I’m not going to pick against the four-time champion.

Semifinalist: Henin


Second Quarter

With all that firepower up top, what’s left for the rest of the draw? The picking start to get a little slimmer in this section, where the top seeds are Jankovic and—believe it—Radwanska. But hidden between them are two intriguing names, that of last year’s runner-up, Dinara Safina, and 2009’s most improved player, Yanina Wickmayer. Of all these players, only Safina has reached a final at the French. But Jankovic has been playing the best tennis of late and seems to have found some of her 2008 swagger.

First-round match to watch: Safina vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm

Semifinalist: Jankovic


Third Quarter

What about Sveta, you might ask; she is the defending champ. What about her? She’s also as flaky as ever, her commitment and passion impossible to gauge. Do you have any idea how she’ll do? I don’t. She could lose in the first round to Cirstea; she could go all the way to the final.

The top seed on the other side is Caroline Wozniacki, whose athletic-wallboard game would seem to be a natural fit for clay, except that she’s been suffering from the opposite problem as Sveta: over-commitment. Woz has played a lot of tennis already this year. Does anyone else stick out in this quarter? Pennetta? Li Na? Safarova? Kirilenko? Petkovic? If you like chaos and surprise semifinalists, you might get your wish here.

Semifinalist: Maybe you can tell me


Fourth Quarter

Order is somewhat restored, at least on paper, at the bottom of the draw. Venus Williams is the top seed, Dementieva is second, a beleaguered but perhaps still dangerous Azarenka is third, and Petrova is also in the area. But it gets interesting with two other, lower seeds, each of whom has come from close to nowhere to win important titles in recent weeks: Aravane Rezai and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

For new blood’s sake, I’d like to see those two continue their strong play in Paris. Unfortunately, I’ve started to count on the opposite happening in the women’s game. That’s not necessarily the case for Williams, of course. She’s become a steadier week to week winner in recent years, but has also made a habit of not taking the next step at the most important tournaments. Her current clay form looks solid enough to give her another chance in two weeks.

Semifinalist: V. Williams


Semifinals: Henin d. Jankovic; V. Williams d. Maybe You Can Tell Me

Final: Henin d. V. Williams

Champion: Justine Henin


I know, those are pretty safe picks, but the French does breed dominant champions. Either way, I'm in Paris and will be out at Roland Garros for the first week, starting tomorrow.


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Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/21/2010 at 11:34 PM

Thanks Steve

I think the womens field this year is a Cracker with soo many chances

Of course coming from Down Under a Sam Stosur win would do so much for our juniours here and give them soo much inspiration.In say that Sam has a horrid draw in ways lol!

Henin is the Queen Of Clay no doubt though I feel her crown might slipp this year.

As for the men.I am sad for the fact soo many injuries to players especially at GS level.

I want Rafa to get back his crown this will give him more confidence for further tournaments in the season.

Vamos Rafa!!!!!!!!!

Hope you have a great time at RG

Au Revoir!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by ChangeLover 05/22/2010 at 12:12 AM

It would be a nice change to have someone else win for a change or for sentimental reasons

so how about Venus, Li Na or Safarova or even Zvonereva win the title?

And Ferrero, Verdasco or Gulbis or even Roddick win the men's.

Posted by Iliana 05/22/2010 at 01:13 AM

I wasn't going to do this, risking to sound bitter or with me finger on the trigguer to shout "ugly americans don't even know their geography" but, sorry Steve, I love your prose and crativity, but, Colombia, the country, not the State. Please....guys, get it right!

Posted by Iliana 05/22/2010 at 01:15 AM

Oops! maybe it was just a typo on your part; because I meant to type trigger, ;)

Posted by CanIhitu 05/22/2010 at 01:52 AM


-- I think Pironkova will be a tough match for Henin. If she gets passed Pironkova, which won't be easy, Sharapova will surely send Henin packing. Henin can't handle heavy hitting. The last time they played Sharapova annihilated Henin, 6-4, 6-0.

I think Serena, like Venus, can lose to anyone at anytime when they're not focused. If Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is healthy, Serena will be in for a tough match.

Posted by Account Deleted 05/22/2010 at 03:21 AM

one reason i hate to hear if fed loses at any stage of FO is his lack of preparation or lack of practice matches in his least fav surface.

Posted by MARIA 05/22/2010 at 04:00 AM

Unable to twitt the brings you to an old post related to Davis Cup. Could you please chek it?


Posted by Nugget Rudberg 05/22/2010 at 04:10 AM

womens 3rd quarter semifinalist: Petkorazzi, lock it in.

Posted by Michelle 05/22/2010 at 08:38 AM

Serena will play Jankovic in the top half and in the bottom half I think Venus might play Dementieva or Kuznetsova (they both actually might get it together) and we will have the 7th all-Williams grand slam final with Serena prevailing.

Posted by TeamNadal 05/22/2010 at 10:53 AM

Guess who's doing a bag check on TTC?????? GUESS???????

Posted by laadlabakdaas 05/22/2010 at 12:55 PM

its funny to say that Rafa is the best in beating the best and the author picks Rafa over Roger not because his clay record but because of his overall finals record.

Well the tally is Rafa beat Roger only in 2 grandslams outside of the French which happened to be at a time when he was clearly not at his best due to Mono and back pain, even then it took him 5 sets. Moreover Roger is already over the hill and at the twilight of his career. If Roger can go down to Gulbis, Montanes, Baghtatis, Berdych, Davydenko and other players there is no shame in losing to a peak Rafa on clay.

Rest assured the excuses will start flying from all sides if Rafa ever loses any match in the future. The precedent has already been set. I just saw an article that spoke about Roger's talent, determination and will to win an play his best. He's not been bagelled in the last ten years except in FO 2008 when he was down with Mono. On top of that he's never quit any match. Now compare that to Rafa, Murray and Djokovic.

Posted by bmars250 05/22/2010 at 01:48 PM

not sore who is going to win this time but i'm sure rafa won't coz he is still due for his one loss on clay this season. Rafa always loses atleast one match every clay season and I hate to say its still due with only RG left I don't see him winning it but best wishes to fedal..

Posted by Nate 05/22/2010 at 03:03 PM

Alright, I don't post very often, but I'd be thrilled if I had some feedback on this...

I'm surprised it isn't discussed more how Nadal is certainly in Federer's head, but it is for so much more than his favorable matchup to Roger in one swing (high ball from left FH to Roger's right BH), but for his early wins against Federer on clay.

Now I must disclose that I am a huge Federer fan, but I also greatly respect Nadal and love their rivalry. The greatness of each of them is magnified by the presence of the other. I played college basketball, and now competitively play other sports, but a lot of tennis. So while I'm not an expert by any means, I DO happen to know a thing or two about sport and competition, and being able to get into someone's head and disrupt them.

When Nadal came onto the scene, Federer was in the early stages of his absolute dominance, and really had little trouble with many players on tour. Yet he couldn't take Rafa on clay. And that was talked about, and he was asked about it, and I'll bet you it was Rome '06 where it became official, going forward regardless of what surface we play on, or what game we play (be it Chess, Scrabble, or Table Tennis), Nadal was in his head.

I play a couple guys in tennis that I also played basketball with/against. I will say this right now, they have more tennis skills than I have (I'm not bad though), but more times than not I find a way to win when we play. I have the confidence and experience from performing better against them on the basketball court, which over time formed a sort of Alpha Dog role for me with these two in particular, and this precedes us now into any form of competition we choose. This doesn't mean I always win, but from the jump I have a huge mental advantage due to nothing else than early success. Now I know this might be a horrible analogy to some of you tennis pros, but I think there is some validity to this.

So now when we all break down their head-to-heads by surface and majors and whatever, I don't think it matters. Nadal is supplanted in Roger's brain because of his first few victories during Federer's supremacy. I agree that the '08 Wimbledon final was one of the best ever, but does Rafa beat Roger in that match if he didn't just slaughter him a few weeks earlier in Paris? I say no. I don't mean to disparage Rafa's game at all, because he is great. I love how he puts it all out there on every point. But if I remember right, Federer gave Rafa a game he shouldn't have had at the beginning of that match, and I think it was solely because he is rattled by Nadal. In my experiences with tennis so far, tiebreakers and break points become more about the mind than the actual tennis. And Nadal seems to prevail more than Roger because he owns his mind right now.

I would also point out that Rafa takes way too long between points, which of all the things I enjoy about Nadal, I find that to be a bit classless. And confusing as to why penalties are not enforced more. Tennis is such a timing and flow sport that it is kind of cheating to do that??

But nevertheless, I do believe it will be a Federer/Nadal final in Paris this year. And I can't wait, I think it will be a tremendous match, probably five sets. For the first time you will see Nadal press a bit and feel it in Paris. He knew Madrid meant nothing for many reasons, he needs the French back to avoid the media blitz. Federer for once doesn't need the French, and I think that will show. But Nadal is still in that head of Roger's, and Roger internally feels he needs one win over Nadal at the French for his own sake. Personally as a competitor, I think Roger would trade a win over Nadal at Wimbledon for one over Nadal at the French to try and boot him out of his noggin.

Sorry so long, but I'm excited.

Posted by Michelle 05/22/2010 at 05:34 PM

Nate, you absolutely nailed what is going on with Rafa and Federer. With what you have said about Rafa being in Federer's head in addition to what Agassi states on as to the technical aspects of why Rafa reigns supreme on clay, you have a reason why Rafa keeps beating Roger. I guarantee you most of it is mental. Rafa is the Majorcan Bull in the "ring" (tennis court) when he plays everyone but especially when he plays Roger.

I have to disagree with one thing you said about Rafa. I fail to understand all of the problems with how long Rafa takes between points. Novak Djokovic has the same problem. So what, wait on them while they methodically try to figure out how they are going to construct the next point and plant the serve. I fail to see gamemanship in what they do. I have a big problem with obvious cheaters such as Henin who practically has her eyes glued on Carlos during her matches getting coaching, Maria Sharapova and her dam screaming at inopportune times and yes both WS get loud too but I think with them it is about exerting the huge amount of power they generate with their strokes especially Serena. I say Maria does it SOMETIMES intentionally to throw her opponent off. It is not beneath her and her father to cheat. Remember the "banana" incident at US Open 2006.

Having said all of that, Rafa is definitely in Roger's head and Rafa is the best at beating the best of this generation in tennis. He has never bowed to Roger on the court the way others have such as James Blake. He just goes out and plays his ball and forgets that it is Roger. He really thrives on the challenge. I got really tired of players folding to Roger like a cheap tent when he was really dominating. Yes Roger is a phenomenal player, but ROGER was clearly in the head of a lot of his competition everytime he stepped on court.

Go Rafa!!!!! (yes I am a huge Rafa fan and I for one am glad he is healthy again--we need the rivalry between him and Roger)

Posted by Azhdaja 05/24/2010 at 01:36 PM

Henin to beat: Sharapova, Stosur, SerenaW, Jankovic and Kuznetsova/Rezai/Wozniacki???

I can bet my monthly wages that it won't happen.

Posted by Azhdaja 05/24/2010 at 01:40 PM

Posted by sigmund 05/21/2010 at 12:50 PM
Ana Ivanovic, who could potentially show Jankovic how to do her fist pump the proper way in the 4th round.

"potentially" yes, but not "really". JJ just taught her how to do that in Madrid. And in order to do that, Ana must make it through 4th round first. Not an easy task.

Posted by Azhdaja 05/24/2010 at 01:54 PM

in Women tennis there's no prediction. Because they are unpredictable! ALL OF THEM!
I'd say first 20 on the list could be potential winners. Plus Ana Ivanovic whi is what? 50+.

With women it all depends on the day, inspiration, how she feels...

All I can predict is who is not going to win: Dementieva.

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