French Open: The Most Interesting Major of the Year
What makes the French Open the most interesting major of the year? One word: “clay”. Unlike hard-court or grass where a dominant serve will carry you quite far, tennis on the clay surface favors court movement and conditioning over power. One simply needs to look at the dominance by Rafael Nadal or Justine Henin (two of the best movers in the history of the game) at the French for textbook examples. So with that being said, who are the favorites to take the title this year? Let’s begin with the ATP.
Rafael Nadal is certainly the odds on favorite, he’s won 6 of the last 7 French Open titles and his only loss in that time was to a man that is not even in the tournament this year (Robin Soderling). The question then becomes, who in the men’s draw can slay the giant?
Perhaps the winner of 4 of the last 5 majors, Novak Djokovic? He has the conditioning and is arguably the best player in the game today, but clay is his weakest surface and he’s never reached the French Open final so it’s doubtful. Add to that the fact that he lost to Nadal in Monte Carlo and Rome (both on clay).
Roger Federer is always a threat to win any tournament on any surface, but at nearly 31 (old in tennis years) it is unlikely that he will win his second French Open title.
In my opinion, Andy Murray and David Ferrer are the only other potential challengers to Nadal, as both have the movement and conditioning, and Murray especially has been knocking at the door for his first major title for the last couple of years. Look for the Murray/Nadal semi-final to be the match of the tournament and look for Nadal to win title number 7.
The women’s draw is much more wide open, and has been since Justine Henin’s first retirement and Serena Williams’ injury troubles. Number 1 seed Victoria Azarenka has been incredible this year casting aside doubts about her stamina and composure. She has dominated the winter/spring hard court season and her clay court game has improved greatly as well, as evidenced by two clay final appearances this year in Stuttgart and on the blue clay of Madrid. Vika will have a very long and arduous road ahead of her if she wants to win her second major though.
This is probably Maria Sharapova’s best chance to complete the career slam given her recent success, including a clay title in Madrid. Sharapova will have stiff competition with a likely match against the far superior mover Caroline Wozniacki coming in the quarter finals. Another quarter final should feature defending champion Li Na against the number 14 seed and runner-up last year, Francesca Schiavone. Schiavone is matched up in her round of 16 draw with number 4 seed and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, but I believe Petra will be upset in the likely event these two meet given that grass suits her better than clay. Look for Li Na to defeat Schiavone and also move past the Sharapova/Wozniacki winner into the final.
The top half features the aforementioned Vika in a likely quarter final against Sam Stosur, who was the finalist in 2010 and the 2011 US open champ. Stosur is another fantastic mover and her arms are bigger than a lot of the men’s players. Getting past Stosur will be difficult for Azarenka and the semis will be even tougher. The remaining QF and potential matchup for Azarenka is likely to feature Agnieska Radwanska and unorthodox lefty, Angelique Kerber, with hometown favorite Marion Bartoli having recently departed. Radwanksa is basically all movement with very little power, which isn’t as big of a handicap on clay. Kerber has shot up the rankings with a breakthrough performance at the US open last year, but Radwanska is the class of this quarter and should advance.
As for who will emerge from the top half and face the defending champ in the final, I believe Vika has the tools and, even on the red canvas, can overpower Radwanska. Li Na’s speed and endurance will serve her well in the finals against Vika and she is my pick to repeat as French Open champion.
Any way it shakes out, expect to see some entertaining tennis and a few surprises, two of which have already happened in the first round exits of Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.
As a proud Canadian I’m hoping Milos Raonic will fare well and continue to climb the ATP rankings.
…and that is the Last Word.