I honestly can’t choose between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the title this year. In years gone by, it has always been a case of backing Rafa and wondering if anyone can upset him. Which usually turned out to be wishful thinking.
Now it is not like that. Between those two wonderful players, I think it is 50-50. It is difficult to look at Djokovic beating Nadal at the Rome Masters last week, and thinking that he is somehow the underdog here. But then again, this is Roland Garros. It is Rafa’s stage, and trying to visualise him losing to anyone at his ‘home’ is very difficult.
It has happened of course when Robin Soderling beat him in 2009, but overcoming Rafa over five sets in a Grand Slam in Paris is the ultimate challenge for any tennis player in the world, on any surface. But particularly a Grand Slam. And particularly in his domain where he has eight titles to his name.
Djokovic is the one player who has the kryptonite to undo Superman, but Superman usually finds a way to fight back. That is how it tends to go with Rafa in Paris. He responds to pressure.
All logic leads you to suggest Novak is the pre-tournament favourite. He beat Rafa quite comprehensively in Rome. But I think Nadal’s tennis is gradually improving.
It may well improve during the fortnight in Paris, and I think we could well have the same old result if it continues to improve. Something tells me to stick with what we know best.
It was so close last time between the two in Paris. Just one point changed it in the semi-finals with Nadal coming through 9-7 in the fifth set, but Djokovic is playing so well ahead of the tournament. Probably better than last season.
Interestingly enough, the weather forecast isn’t good at Roland Garros. I think Rafa will suffer a bit with that to get the ball through the surface. The forecast in the first week is dreadful.
The second week is a bit better. That would have to suit Djokovic. Rafa needs it to be a lot better. That could work against him.
Rafa doesn’t have a brilliant draw. He could face David Ferrer in the last eight with Grigor Dimitrov and Nicolas Almagro in the fourth round all possible obstacles on his way to the semi-finals. All three men are very capable on clay.
Djokovic’s path to the semis is better. He has a tricky first round match against Joao Sousa with Jerzy Janowicz, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and perhaps Milos Raonic or Kei Nishikori blocking his path to the last four, but you would expect him to see off those four on clay.
Can Andy Murray contend? If you look at how close he came to beating Nadal in Rome, you would have to give him a chance. How much of a chance depends probably on the levels Nadal - he could face in the last four - and Djokovic are playing at.
Murray is also a bit more fragile on clay than the two favourites. Roger Federer is probably alongside Murray as a player you think could do well.
For years, Roger has been the second best player on clay in the world. Does that change now because Novak is playing so well?
It probably does, but Federer has got the best draw of all the main seeds. I think landing Tomas Berdych in the last eight should see him face Djokovic in the last four. I see him doing quite well. Stanislas Wawrinka is seeded three, and could face Murray in his quarter-final.
He’s could also meet Gael Monfils, who could be a nightmare if he runs into a bit of form in front of his home fans. But I like his path through to the last eight. He should certainly go deep into the tournament.
Can Wawrinka shock us all again and emulate his win at the Australian Open? Well, nobody expected him to win in Melbourne, and nobody should be surprised if he causes an upset in Paris. Not now. Not when he has arrived as such a force in the sport.
He must tell himself he can win it because it is possibly the most open French Open in years. But that isn’t being overly ambitious.
Nadal and Djokovic are in a slightly different league, but then comes the likes of Wawrinka, Murray, Federer and Ferrer. They are all pretty much locked together.
If you press me for a winner, I go Nadal. But only because of his history at the venue.
- Sports & Recreation
- Novak Djokovic
- Rafael Nadal