The Red Stuff: The 2014 French Open Men’s Preview

May 24, 2014 by

 

Beginning this Sunday and over the course of the next two weeks, Paris, France becomes the epicenter of the tennis world.  The city hosts the 2nd major of the year, The French Open, or commonly referred to as Roland Garros. The French Open has long been my favorite of the Slams. For starters, the tournament is played on red clay which is the best surface in my opinion.  Clay enhances a tennis ball to bounce higher which slows the pace of it making for longer rallies.  The skill and endurance required can be quite something to behold. You also get less rain delays, as the surface can take a fair amount of water before it is considered dangerous. Also, the aesthetics of the oranges and reds makes for a great contrast against the whites and yellows of tennis. My preference for the French over the other great Clay court tournaments is simply for the grandeur. Slams bring out the best tennis in everyone, matches are more spread out and so fatigue is never such a contender and, being only one of four Slams in a year, it carries a lot of weight for players and spectators alike.

Of course, you cannot think of Clay or Roland Garros without thinking of Rafael ‘Rafa’ Nadal, who, despite his recent relapse on the surface is still undoubtedly the King of Clay. However, he is not the only contender and others possess more than enough will to cause an upset.

Stan ‘The Man’ Wawrinka, no longer a Grand Slam virgin since claiming his maiden major title in Australia this year, cannot be disputed for his recent escalation in the game. He has always been around but never quite reached his peak. Undeniably, nearing the end of last year and early this year he has done so. Not only did he claim the first Slam of the year but also went on to claim an impressive Masters 1000 event, the prestigious Monte Carlo masters which is, of course, played on Clay. His form has been a little off of late and perhaps the reaching of a major goal such as his first Slam might have ousted a little fire in him, but he is certainly an important player to watch going into Roland Garros.

David ‘Ferru’ Ferrer is a staple ingredient to the World Tour calendar. Usually playing more matches in a year than anyone else, his tenacity and eagerness to improve is undisputed. Clay is his favorite surface, like many of his countrymen he has enjoyed a lot of success on it. He also removed a huge weight from his back in the form of defeating Rafa on clay earlier this clay court season, something he has not achieved for many a year. Often tipped as the greatest player to have never won a Slam, and with many believing the French Open would be his greatest chance, could this be Ferru’s year?

Andy Murray is surely going to enter the French Open this year with more confidence than ever before. He pushed Nadal through a grueling three set epic in Rome and showed his Clay court skills like never before. Although he has slipped down the rankings of late, his desire to claim a new title must still be ignited. Clay is never a popular surface amongst the British players, but an upset or two may go Murray’s way.

Roger Federer, arguably topped as the Greatest of All Time by many fans of the sport, has just one French Open title to his name. This maiden and singular Roland Garros came only when Nadal had been dispatched before reaching the final. However, with the Spaniard not in top form and with Federer looking to be returning to his old self then there is always a chance for the Swiss former World no.1 to make a run for the title.

What of the new men of Tennis? Grigor Dimitrov has made some impressive runs on all surfaces since bursting onto the scene. Although his recent loss in Rome to Nadal was a very one sided affair, he could show a lot of improvement under the pressure of a Slam and, although making it to the Final is unlikely, a decent run is more than a possibility. Milos Raonic, with his booming serve and tall stature is never going to consider Clay his greatest surface, however the Canadian did push Djokovic recently to three long sets of late on the red stuff and he is improving every tournament. Ernests Gulbis is unpredictable but also an undeniable talent. His recent form has shown signs of improvement and his current performance in Nice has been promising for the Clay Court season. Perhaps one of the new men of tennis may dispatch a veteran or two? After all, what is a Grand Slam without an upset?

Italy’s Fabio Fognini should not be ignored when considering great Clay Courters. The problem lies in that while he is extremely talented, he is also extremely inconsistent. Known for his implosions on court and his ability to throw away matches, ‘the Fog’ may well let the pressure get to him. However, if he keeps his cool and presents the skills we saw in Davis Cup lately, he may well make it further than some might predict.

Kei Nishikori, Barcelona winner and Madrid runner up, was having a perfect season on Clay when injury struck. Forced to pull out of Rome, there was no knowing how far he may have continued to go on the surface. Perhaps Roland Garros will become his proving ground if he is fighting fit and continues with the intensity he showed in Spain.

Now for my personal Wild Cards; those who have burst onto the clay scene this year with more promise than perhaps we have seen before, and who might just cause a stir. Gilles Simon of France has shown a greater determination during the last couple of months, most notably in Rome. Federico Delbonis, who just denied John Isner in Nice, is looking to be moving extremely well on the Red Stuff. Jiri Vesely had been relatively quiet since winning his newcomer of the year, but his recent emergence on clay has showed that he possesses a talent to dispatch just about anyone, if he can remain consistent. Finally, we cannot forget ATP’s improver of the year, Pablo Carreno Busta. Imagining the early stages go the way of these men, anything is possible.

However, ultimately and almost predictably Roland Garros will come down to two men, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Perhaps shaping up to be one of the tennis’ top rivalries of all time, these two men have delighted fans with endless epic clashes. Although Djokovic seems to have had the upper hand of late, there is no denying Rafa’s presence on the courts of Roland Garros. While fatigue was certainly a factor in the Rome final, Djokovic will go into the French Open with a surge of confidence. However, Nadal has said that he is improving every day and rediscovering his fire on the red stuff. This is evident in his performances in Rome most recently versus his performances in Monte Carlo where his confidence seemed to be at an all-time low. Whilst there are still blips in the games of both men, both of whom are returning from injuries and the lull they can bring, there is no denying their superiority in the sport at the moment.

So, who will win? Well, Nadal has to be the clear favorite. He is going into Roland Garros as number one seed and world number one, both of which have to serve as a confidence booster. He has won the title more times than any other player, losing only once to Robin Soderling. Everything about Paris suits Rafa’s aggressive baseline play. It is obviously the one Major he has been the most dominant.    The surface, his success in the finals, and his uncanny mental makeup all play to an overwhelming advantage.   Just ask Roger Federer.

Although many may write the Spaniard off due to his inconsistent start to the year so far in terms of titles, I do not see it that way. He has quite simply owned this tournament since 2005 and in two weeks I predict he takes the French Open title home once again.

Every player ups their game for a Grand Slam, even a multiple winner like Nadal. No one, however, chases down every ball and plays every point with such intensity as Nadal. No match is lost until the last point as far as the Spaniard is concerned and he will play every single point with the same determination until the very last. The combination of these things that are in the makeup of Nadal will make him, once more, the champion of Roland Garros.

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