With the warm up tournaments to the French Open complete and the tournament starting on Sunday, May 25, 2014 it’s time to think about how the top five ranked men will do. Each man has had his own problems in the lead up tournaments so which one has the greatest shot at winning Roland Garros?
1. Rafael Nadal: Nadal has won eight titles at Roland Garros but entered this year’s clay court season playing without his usual intensity. He didn’t fight for every point like we are used to seeing him do, and his usual trusty top-spin forehand was misfiring. As a result he lost in the quarter finals of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. In his next two tournaments the intensity started to return and allowed him to win Madrid and make the final of Rome where he lost to Novak Djokovic in three sets. In Rome Rafa played three consecutive three set matches improving with each before convincingly beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals. In the final he played an excellent first set winning but Novak raised his game and was able to beat Rafa in three. His performance in Rome indicates Rafa is back to form and peaking at the right time. Although he may have a tougher fight than in previous years I am still picking Rafa as the favorite to win the French.
2. Novak Djokovic: Novak struggled on the clay this year due to an inflamed tendon in his right wrist. It caused him problems in Monte Carlo and he skipped Madrid before winning Rome. He claimed to be playing pain free in Rome but his return game was clearly affected by his wrist. Novak is one the best returners in the game and his ability to win is predicated on how well he returns, however in Rome his returns were not as sharp as they usually are. Nowhere was this more apparent than his three set semi-final win over Milos Raonic; Novak had trouble returning the Canadian’s big powerful serve making it difficult to generate break points. Given his struggles to return in a best of three match I can assume the problem will be worse in a best of five set match. Novak needs to win the French Open to complete the career grand slam but I don’t think this will be the year he does it.
3. Stanislas Wawrinka: Stan has had a career defining year winning the Australian Open and the Monte Carlo masters his biggest titles to date, but he remains an inconsistent player. After winning Monte Carlo Stan lost in the second round of Madrid to Dominic Thiem and the third round of Rome to Tommy Haas, both matches he should have won. Stan’s problem is his strategy. When he wins he uses his power and net game to control points he wins, but all too frequently, especially when he faces the top ranked players, Stan stands at the base line and tries to out rally them resulting in loses. As a result of his flawed strategy Stan is winless on clay against Novak and Rafa; it is unlikely he will be able to win the French without having to go through one of them so I do not give him much of a chance.
4. Roger Federer: Roger Federer has had a major distraction this clay court season, the welcoming of a second set of twins, boys, with his wife Mirka. As a result of their birth he missed Madrid and after a first round bye was distracted in his second round lose in Rome. Roger will be bringing the whole family to Paris but being a new parent is not his biggest problem. Clay is an extremely physical game and at 32 Roger doesn’t have the spring in his legs necessary to win anymore. This problem was extremely visible in the very physical Monte Carlo final against Stan Wawrinka. After a strong first set which Roger won 6-4 and a tie break second set which Stan won Roger lost energy in his legs resulting in a final set lose 2-6. If Roger cannot generate enough energy in his legs to win a tough best of three set match how is he going to do over five sets? If Roger can win his early rounds quickly and find a way not to get into long rallies with the stronger players in later rounds he may have a chance to reach the final but I don’t think it’s a good chance.
5. David Ferrer: Ferrer was last year’s surprise finalist, where he lost to Rafael Nadal in straight sets. This year at 32 Ferrer told Radio MARCAin Spain he is finding it takes a bigger toll on him physical to play his best tennis and recover. The problem has been on display during the clay court season. After an impressive but exhausting three set win over Rafa in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals Ferrer lost his semifinal the following day in straight sets to Stan Wawrinka in large part due to a lack of energy. His struggles continued into the next week’s tournament in Barcelona where after a first round bye he suffered a straight set lose to Teymuraz Gabashvili. Much like Federer, Ferrer no longer has the energy in his legs to win best of five set matches, so I do not expect to see him in the final this year.
Tennis is just as unpredictable as any other sport so anyone of these five men could win the title or be knocked out early. Of course with Rafa winning eight out of the past nine years and Roger winning the other year it would great to see someone outside the top five win the title. Whatever happens it will be fun so my advice is watch and enjoy.