2011 French Open preview

22 May 2011

Written by: Khairun Hamid

The French Open is upon us once again, signalling 15 days of Grand slam tennis in the city of love. In its 110th year, the Open will see the best in the world fight it out for the biggest prize on clay.

Men’s

For quite a while now, the clay of Roland Garros has been Rafael Nadal’s fortress for the keeping — until now. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has flipped the tennis world upside down, making a mockery of everyone in his path. The standard of tennis he is playing is reminiscent of Roger Federer’s form during that 2006-2007 phase.

Djokovic now has the second best start to a season ever (37-0) and has taken the five biggest tournaments so far this year. After spearheading Serbia’s first ever Davis Cup win, he continued the momentum, claiming the Australian Open and four of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, racking up a lazy three wins against Federer and four against Nadal along the way. It hasn’t been so much Nadal or Federer dropping off the pace, rather Djokovic playing sterling tennis.

Nadal is gunning for a record-equalling sixth French Open crown. For the past few years, the dream final has been Federer-Nadal. Not anymore. The tennis world is anticipating a Nadal-Djokovic  final and, barring any health issues, I don’t expect anything else.

Federer seems to be the forgotten man in all of this. Apart from losses to Nadal and Djokovic this year, he has only lost on two other occasions. He has won here, remember, taking the golden opportunity that arose when Nadal faltered to Robin  Soderling in 2009 — his only loss ever in Paris. Expect the ‘Fed Express’ to make the semis.

Andy Murray has had a terrible run since his runner-up finish at the Australian Open this year. With a succession of losses to qualifiers and then an elbow injury, before building to some form late in the clay season. He should have another decent showing but won’t be a serious contender, perhaps making the fourth round.

If Djokovic and Nadal are in band one, band two will consist of Federer, Juan Martín del Potro, Robin Söderling and David Ferrer as the other serious contenders.

Lleyton Hewitt, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco and Nikolay Davydenko will pose no threat, while Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Fererro, David Nalbandian and Tommy Robredo are missing through injury.

Women’s

The women’s draw doesn’t seem as exciting as the men’s draw this year.

This will be the first grand slam since 2003, that both Venus and Serena Willams will not contest. A third former world number one in Dinara Safina has decided to leave the game indefinitely. Add to that, the retirements of Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva in the last eight months and the depth of women’s tennis looks fairly grim. It leaves only three former champions contesting this year; Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova and defending champion Francesca Schiavone. In any case, it will still require high class tennis to win the grand slam title.

On a brighter note, it is the younger ladies coming through the ranks that are making their mark. The likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka are among the favourites and deservedly so. Wozniacki has firmed as the best player in the world with a 37-7 record this year, claiming tournaments in Dubai and Indian Wells. Critics have said her game-style is too defensive, but it seems to be solid enough and she is due to win a major title sooner or later. It might just be the time for ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.

Many predicted defending champion, Schiavone to be a one-hit-wonder. But on her day, she can get over the line by sheer will-power.

Maria Sharapova once described herself ‘like a cow on ice’, referring to her lack of stability on clay as she strives to win the only major to have eluded her.

Aussie Sam Stosur will definitely be in the mix again but she certainly hasn’t had as good a clay court form as she did last year. In 2009, she broke through to make the semis, and went one better last year as runner-up. Can she go all the way this time? She’s found just enough form at the right time to give herself a genuine chance, finishing runner-up in Rome.

Inconsistency can be an issue for Serbians Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic and Russian Vera Zvonareva. As for Kim Clijsters, she has barely been on-court since her Australian Open win, so I will confidently rule her out of a top position. Among the dark horses are Li Na, Petra Kvitova, Julia Görges and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

 

Final prediction

Men’s: Novak Djokovic is unstoppable and will dethrone Rafael Nadal.

Women’s: It is time for Caroline Wozniacki to win her first Slam. She’ll beat Victoria Azarenka in the final.

Farhan Shah is a first year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student at La Trobe University.