- American Sports
- Other Sports
- Euro 2012
Written by special guest contributor Richard Crute
Tennis Club de Paris hosts the second Grand Slam championship of the year and the pinnacle tournament of the clay court season. Named after the famous French aviator Roland Garros, the world’s elite tennis players will battle on the red dirt to be crowned champion on the Philippe-Chatrier in two weeks times. The site was built in 1928 to celebrate the achievement of the French Musketeers (Jacques “Toto” Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste) pulling off one of the biggest shocks in the 20th century sport by winning the once prestigious Davis Cup on American soil. Although the site is less than half the size of the All England Club at Wimbledon, the French Tennis Federation finally opted to expand and renovate the historic site at Porte d’Auteuil for the new Roland Garros in 2011.
The top three male players in the world continue to dominate the rankings list and the biggest tournaments in the calendar. Apart from Juan Martin Del Potro’s breakthrough win at Flushing Medows in 2009, the last person to win a Grand Slam was the fiery Russian Marat Safin, who awoke from a four and half year odyssey to win his second and final Australian Open in 2005. In complete contrast, the women’s game has witnessed the complete opposite. There have been five different winners to the last five Grand Slams since Kim Clijsters became the first mother to win a Grand Slam in Australia in 2011, and incidentally there have also been five different at French Opens in the last five years. Who will make history in 2012? Will an outsider claim a Grand Slam crown for the first time?
In the men’s game we are currently witnessing a breath-taking and astonishing era. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are three of the greatest players ever, but to have them all playing some of the very best tennis of their careers at the same time is very special. There have been some pulsating exchanges by the top three in recent years; none more so than when the Swiss maestro handed Djokovic his first defeat of 2011 in a titanic four set tussle at the French Open. There is little doubt that there will be another duel between the two of the three greats in the latter stages of the tournament once again in Paris.
Nadal equalled Bjon Borg’s record of six French Open wins in the Open Era at last year’s championship, and he will be as hungry as ever to defend his throne as the ‘King of Clay’. Nadal has dominated the clay season with wins at Monte Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open and Rome Masters. His only loss came at the Madrid Masters on the controversial blue clay, which was heavily ridiculed by some of the world’s biggest stars. The Majorcan born Spaniard, who will turn twenty-six on the middle Sunday, has only ever lost one match at Roland Garros in seven years. This unbelievable record underlines his dominance on this service which makes Nadal the favourite amongst many experts, especially after defeating Djokovic in the finals of Monte-Carlo and Rome. He may face a tricky fourth round test against the dangerous 19th seed Milos Raonic, but I am sure Uncle Tony will oversee Nadal’s route to the final without being severely tested.
The transformation of Djokovic since leading Serbia to Davis Cup glory in December 2010 has been sensational. The introduction of a gluten-free diet and increased mental strength has seen the Serb win four of the last five Grand Slam championships. The world number one is on the verge of joining Rod Laver and Don Budge in holding all four major titles at the same time. Nevertheless, Djokovic has far from dominated 2012 like he did during his 37-match winning streak in the first half of 2011. His unforced errors count has increased in recent matches, Nole uncharacteristically made 47 unforced errors in the final of the Rome Masters in just two sets. The current world number one will look to improve his winners to unforced errors ratio at Roland Garros if he is to win his biggest tournament of the year. Nole has never reached the final of the French, but if he completes his Grand Slam set this year he could be one step closer to a possible Golden Grand Slam if he can secure an Olympic gold medal on the grass at SW19. In the short-term he should meet the explosive but inconsistent home favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last eight before a potential rematch with Roger Federer in the semi-final.
Despite many of his professional peers moaning about the blue clay, the court conditions seemed to benefit Roger Federer, as the Swiss player’s elegant and technically perfect groundstroke’s defeated Tomas Berdych in a tight three set final. This win secured Federer’ first title on clay since his historic win at Roland Garros in 2009 and also saw him temporarily leapfrog Nadal to number 2 in the ATP rankings. Now 30, people started to question whether Federer would begin to lose his competitive edge; but the Swiss star has arguably played the best tennis out of the top three this year and has managed his schedule perfectly. His only blip was a loss to Andy Roddick who got a little bit of revenge on his bitter rival who has consistently denied him from adding to his single Grand Slam crown. Federer will effortlessly reach the last eight, but there he will meet either Del Potro or Berdych who are two of only four players other than Nadal and Djokovic to have beaten the former world number one in a Grand Slam since 2005. If Federer is to claim his 17th Grand Slam title with a win in Paris, he will only be the 11th man to win a major after his 30th birthday.
The British number one continues to carry all the hopes of a nation that desperately craves a male Grand Slam singles champion, and with Wimbledon just around the corner the anticipation of the grass season will no doubt see the return of Murray-Mania. Until then Ivan Lendl will be aiming to see his man finish the clay court season strongly after only registering three wins and a walkover in three events. Although it has been a frustrating clay court season for Murray, he has explained that a back injury has caused his indifferent form with loses to Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, Richard Gasquet and Ernest Gulbis. The Scot made the last four of the French Open for the first time in 2011, and although his draw was favourable and he received a little help from a ball boy error, Murray overcame a sprained ankle and a cracked tooth before falling to a ruthless Nadal. Murray needs a good fortnight to defend his ranking points and to build confidence for the crucial grass season. He opens against Japan’s world Number 69, Tatsuma Ito, who should cause little problems, but in rounds three and four he will have to overcome Bernarnd Tomic and then either Gasquet or the unorthodox Ukranian Alexandr Dolgopolov. If he does reach the quarter final it will be a fantastic effort but with 0-3 and 0-4 records on clay against David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal, Murray will have to wait to for his maiden Grand Slam.
Ferrer, Tsonga, Berdych and the returning Del Potro are all possible contenders this fortnight, and if Murray has an early exit, these four players will be aiming to overtake the Scott in the forthcoming months. Bright young starts such as Raonic and Tomic and the upcoming Ryan Harrison will look to make inroads in Paris as the fearless youngsters all have promising futures.
Sharapova once described herself as being like a cow on ice when playing on the paprika clay, but with the Russian winning two court tournaments already in 2012 she is a favourite to complete her set of Grand Slam titles. If the grunting 6 ft 2 star’s suspect serve breaks down there are a host of players who could lift the trophy. Li Na became first Chinese singles player ever to win a tennis Grand Slam title with her victory against the Italian Francesca Schiavone. Although Serena Williams has the ability to turn up to a big tournament after not playing on the WTA tour for several weeks or months, the thirty-year-old is still battling back from injury problems which restricted the 13 time Grand Slam winner to six tournaments in 2011. Serena will more than likely set up a mouth watering clash with Sharapova in the quarters, and I believe the winner of this match will win the tournament. However, do not rule out the current women’s world number 1 Victoria Azarenka, the Australian Open champion will reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Heather Watson impressively came through the qualifying rounds for the second consecutive year to join her fellow Britons, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, in the main draw. Laura Robson now eighteen, fell agonisingly short in the final round of qualifying as her strong left-handed serve and powerful ground-strokes could not help her reach the main draw in Paris for the first time. Baltacha has been handed a very tough test against the current US Open Champion and former finalist of the French Open, Sam Stosur. Anne Keothavong has the best chance of reaching the 2nd round as she has been drawn against a lower ranked opponent, but the Brit has failed to win a match at Roland Garros in three previous attempts. Heather Watson also has a chance of continuing her run in Paris but her opponent recently reached the final at the Budapest Open on the clay.