We are almost at the end of the Rome Masters and in less than two weeks the French Open will take place. Of course there are still a few matches to be played the week before the French Open, but I believe I have seen enough clay court tennis this season to make some early assessments on the this seasons edition of the French Open.
Rafa is still the man to beat
Rafa is still favorite but it’s important to note that the margin is much lower compared to last year. As far as I’m concerned there are a handful of players that can challenge Nadal on the clay at Paris. The first one is obviously Djokovic, while the others are Federer, Soderling and maybe Berdych. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
The start of the season that the Serb has managed to achieve in simply incredible. It’s not necessarily the number of matches in a row that he’s won, but the manner in which he won them. In 2009 and 2010 he was always there in the top, managing to go deep in tournaments but when it was time to face Federer or Nadal his game didn’t rise up to the expectations. There were two reasons why this happened. One reasons is that a large chunk of his energy – both physical and mental – was already wasted on early round matches that took longer then they maybe should have. And the second reason is somewhat related to the first and that being the fact that in most matches he wasn’t 100% fit which also led to lower levels of confidence and believe. Other problems like breathing (due to allergy) and contact lenses didn’t help his cause either.
But this season Djokovic has certainly stepped it up. He added Igor Cetojevic to his team, who helped Novak change his diet hence improving his fitness and solving his allergy problem. If you remember, back in January I posted on Djokovic and how his odds represented value to win the tournament. Unfortunately for me I exited that trade before the Federer match. Some of the factors that lead to the decision of backing Djokovic back then were that he had just won the Davis Cup with Serbia which lead to a massive confidence boost and most importantly he decided to change his schedule before the Australian Open. He opted to play in the Hopman Cup instead of playing the tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney. Another thing to mention is that the weather in Melbourne was more forgiving and all weather reports before the Australian Open indicated this. The weather conditions can play a part in tennis and given Djokovic’s problems in the past with hot conditions it was certainly something to look into.
But this run he has been on, could very well be the thing that makes him vulnerable in this year’s edition of the French Open. He has played a lot of matches. Even with his improvements in the fitness department, he has played a lot of matches that could take their toll during the 2 week tournament despite the fact there is a full week of recovery before the French Open.
There is no denying the fact that Federer is one of the best tennis players of all time, if not the best. But as they say, all good thing come to an end. It’s fairly obvious that Roger is approaching the end of his career. His 29 years old, turning 30 this August; his also a dad and he has achieved more than he could ever have hoped for during his tennis career. But I’m including him in this list of potential contenders for the simple fact that he still has 2-3 years of good tennis felt in him and at this stage, his main goal is to win more majors. Other tournaments like the ATP 1000s are nice to win but for him the majors are the ones that count. A tennis player’s career in defined by the number of majors he wins, and Federer wants to get as many as possible.
The French Open might not be the ideal place for Federer to grab another grand slam, but if Rafa has an unexpected knee or other type of problem, the Swiss is the kind of player that can step it up. But that is really the ideal case and a not to probable one. The odds for Federer are around the low 20’s and I have to say I agree with those ratings.
Soderling, Berdych and the rest
Soderling has made it to the final two years in a row at the French Open. I see it hard for him to repeat such a performance this seasons as well.He is still a player that has a “plan A” but no “plan B” type of game. At the start of this season when he started working with Claudio Pistolesi, I thought he might add some new dimensions to his game, but obviously that wasn’t the case. It was no surprise that he appointed Fredrik Rosengren as his new coach a few weeks ago, but it will take time until we might see any changes.
Berdych is another player that should be taken in consideration. Last season he made the semis at the French and the final at Wimbledon. He always had the shots to win against any player on tour but he is lacking in the mental department. Teaming up last year with Tomas Krupa as his new coach made a big difference. This season, Berdych might not have the best form before the grand slam, but he does have it in him to win one. I doubt that it’s going to come on the clay – more probably on grass – but he is player to take notice of.
Other players to look out for, not neccesarily to win the tournament but to put on a great performance are Del Potro, Wawrinka and Bellucci. Del Potro has a big serve which is a big weapon on any surface, the only question is his overall fitness level. Wawrinka has one of the best coaches on tour: Peter Lundgren.The Swiss is 26 years old which means he should really be at the peak of his tennis career. It’s also worth mentioning that Wawrinka took the decision to completely focus on tennis during the next few years. He is the type of player that can go deep in a grand slam. Another player wroth mentioning is Bellucci. The Brazilian is a clay courter and he is also a left handed player. He is still young at 23, but he showed improvements during the Madrid Open where the defeated the likes of Murray and Berdych and took a set of Djokovic. He is known to be up and down during matches and being weak mentally, but the improvements where there to be seen by everyone. Last year he managed to reach the 4th Round in Paris.He also has Larri Passos as his coach which can only be labeled as a positive thing.
A few words on Rafa
This season, Nadal decided to go on and play a few more tournaments, including Barcelona in his clay court schedule. We will see if this had any effect on his fitness level. I read some articles which stated that the decision of adding Barcelona to the schedule wasn’t an inspired one and it will take its toll on Rafa’s fitness. Unlike two seasons ago, the last clay court tournament before the French Open, is the Rome Masters and not Madrid. Madrid in a more exhausting tournament than Rome, and two years ago when Rafa lost at the French, he had several problems including the knees and family.
Now it is fair to state that I have seen patters of play from Rafa similar to those from two years ago that helped me predict his loss to Soderling. And it is no secret on what the right tactics are when facing Rafa, but most of the times it all comes down to the execution of those tactics. The players mentioned above can execute but the question is if they can do it during the span of a potential 5 set match.
What is also important in a grand slam is the draw and how much time you spend in the early round. To have enough energy left for the second week, you need to finish your first week matches in straight sets and waste as little time as possible. This is one of the things Andy Murray hasn’t been able to do so far in a Grand Slam.
So to rap it up, I still see Nadal as the no.1 favorite but this year he will have to work a lot harder to defend his title. Nadal is around 1.70-1.75 to win the French Open. I see very little to no value in those odds, I would rather go with backing Djokovic at around 3.75-3.90 – and exiting the trade later in the tournament – as these odds have more value in them.
In the WTA anything is possible
I believe that last year, Schiavone showed us all that in WTA anything is possible. She really pulled off an incredible performance all the way to the final where she defeated Stosur. As much as I would like to see her replicate the performance, there is nothing that would lead me to believe she will do so.
Most of the times the odds on the outright winner markets for women tennis are wrong. It’s no different this season as the two main favorites are Wozniacki and Azarenka.
Wozniacki is the world no.1 and I understand why she would be rated with the first chance here. But it’s kind of a “false” ranking since players like Serena Williams and Clijsters are out injured. Most people don’t understand that the Dane is a counter-puncher and her only strong points are her consistency and her mental game. She lack to ability and power to hit clean winners which is why she has problems each an every time she has to play against a decent enough shot-maker.
Wozniacki knows that her counter-punching skills will not be enough to win her a grand slam and she has started to make changes to her game and try to be more aggressive and take the initiative in points but so far it can be seen that it doesn’t suit her style of play.She even changed the racket this season, opting for a Yonex instead of a Babolat in the hope increasing the power in her shots, but if you ask me, that wasn’t the best decision.
I believe that Azarenka is overrated at current moment. She is the second favorite to win the French Open, which is something I can’t agree on. I would have expected Azarenka to do much better in the past but each time she had some kind of form, an injury of some sorts could kick in. She in talented and willing to take on any player, but I think she lack confidence and belief in winning a grand slam.Maybe in the future as she progresses in all areas of the game and gains more experience and belief she will be a real grand slam contender one day. But placing her as second favorite is a mistake. Let’s not forget she’s only 21 years old and has yet the reach a grand slam semi-final let alone a final.
For me Stosur is the main favorite to win it. Her only weak spot in her mental game and her backhand, other than that she has everything she need to go all the way this year. Her serve is one of the best serves on clay. By holding serve easily she can put pressure on her adversaries even if she hasn’t got the best return game.Not much more to say here, her game says it all and last year’s performance confirms it.
Kvitova, Sharapova and the rest
Other players that can make and impact in this year’s edition of the French Open are Wickmayer, Kvitova and Sharapova. I think it’s obvious why I included Sharapova on this list since she is a a former world no.1 and grand slam winner, and given an easier draw I see no reasons why she couldn’t step up her game and take her chance. Of course, clay is not her favorite surface and her belief in winning on this surface might not be 100% but she has shown better form of late and while she might not be a top favorite in Paris she is a real contender for Wimbledon.
Another player worth mentioning is Kvitova. She recently won in Madrid and broke into the top 10 for the first time in her career.Right now I see her as one of the most talented players out there. She has a reliable serve and more than decent ground strokes. Her best performance at a grand slam came last year at Wimbledon where she made it to the semi-finals.She’s still young at 21 years of age and might be lacking experience but I’ve been impressed with her performance in all the majors I’ve seen her in. Provided that she stays injury-free, I see her winning a grand slam in the next few years.
Other players to take a look at are Wickmayer, Petkovic and former winner Ivanovic.
To sum it all up, in women’s tennis, belief and confidence is even more important than in the men’s game. Some of the players I mentioned above are potential contenders for this year’s French Open title but there are so many factors in women’s tennis to take in account that it is hard to paint a clear picture of what will happen. As far as value goes I’d recommend backing Stosur, Sharapova, Kvitova and Schiavone in the hope of exiting the trades later in the competition.
Once the draws are out, things will be a little clearer and we can discuss more concrete things.
Do you have anything to add ? Leave a comment.
Image Credit: Philippe Chatrier