Roland Garros Previews – Les Hommes
The draws are out, the players are in Paris. It’s time for the previews.
Roger Federer reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2005, when the mighty Swiss fell to Rafael Nadal. In 2006, he was beaten by the Spaniard in the final. Can Federer do one step better again this year and claim the ‘Coupe des Musquetaires’? After his win in Hamburg, it is not Nadal but Federer who heads into Paris with a winning streak on dirt.
The top seed will start off his campaign against American Michael Russell, who in 2001 led Gustavo Kuerten in their fourth round encounter 2-0 in sets and a break in the third, before he fell in a dramatic five setter. This inspired Guga to draw his famous heart in the red clay.
Federer should breeze through to the quarters where he’s scheduled to meet Tommy Robredo, whom he leads 7-0 in career meetings, two of which have come on clay. Oddly enough, Federer’s two biggest wins against the Spaniard were the ones on dirt. First in Rome ’03, 6-1 6-1, and second in Hamburg ’05, 6-2 6-3. Federer straight-setted Robredo in this year’s Australian Open quarterfinal and, judging by their record, should advance fairly easily in Paris as well.
Semi-final pick: Roger Federer
The second quarter of the draw is where the action is at. Nikolay Davydenko (4), Fernando Gonzalez (5), Richard Gasquet (11), David Nalbandian (15), Juan Ignacio Chela (18), Guillermo Canas (19), Jurgen Melzer (27) and Nicolas Almagro (32) are the seeds in this section, with Melzer being the odd man out. The others are all capable of beating each other and advancing to the semi-finals. But, there are also some dangerous floaters around, who could mess things up a little. First of all, there’s local hero Gael Monfils, who seems to be playing himself back in form this week in Poertschach, taking out Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt en route to the final, where he’ll face Juan Monaco on Saturday. The Argentine can also be found in this quarter, as well as his compatriot Jose Acasuso.
If you had asked me before the start of the clay court season who to pick from this section of the draw, I would have put my money on Canas. However, since his run to the final in Miami, Canas has broken down a little, perhaps overplaying himself. He made the final of Barcelona, losing to Nadal, but has been bothered with minor injuries since. A week ago in Hamburg, Canas was beaten by in-form compatriot Chela in the first round. I wouldn’t be surprised if Canas was the one to come out of this quarter, in which case, he has a real chance against Roger Federer to make the final, but I’m not favoring him anymore.
I don’t think Fernando Gonzalez will reach the semi-finals either. The Chilean made the last eight at Roland Garros in 2003 but hasn’t advanced past the third round in five other attempts.
Nicolas Almagro could be a future Roland Garros semi-finalist, but I find the 20-year-old Spaniard to still be a little reckless at times.
I am favoring Nikolay Davydenko to come through here, judging from his performance in Rome. The Russian played some great tennis in his matches against Robredo, Starace and especially Nadal and looks a solid pick for the semi’s if he brings his A-game.
Semi-final pick: Nikolay Davydenko
On paper, this is third-seeded Andy Roddick’s quarter, but we all know better. The draw wasn’t easy on the No.1 American, who will take on Igor Andreev in the first round. The Russian has found his form over the past weeks, coming back from a long injury lay-off in 2006. Roddick on the other hand is a mere 2-2 on clay this year. I’m picking Mr. Kirilenko in this one.
Novak Djokovic is undoubtedly the player to watch for in this section. The sixth-seeded Serb reached the quarterfinals in 2006 when he retired trailing 2-0 in sets to Rafael Nadal, but Nole has a golden opportunity to advance to his first ever Grand Slam semi-final here in Paris. Igor Andreev, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Marcos Baghdatis are shaping up as likeliest quarterfinal opponents. Djokovic couldn’t have wished for a better draw.
Semi-final pick: Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal headlines the fourth and final quarter of the draw. It looks very likely Rafa will meet Lleyton Hewitt again in the fourth round, just like he did last year. The Aussie may have gotten close in their semi-final meeting in Hamburg last week, but Nadal will not be fatigued anymore by now and should not drop more than a set against the 14th seed.
In the other section of this quarter, there is some hope for the American fans, as James Blake’s draw is looking quite promising. Blake will start against Croatian bomber Ivo Karlovic and has either Jonas Bjorkman or Peter Luczak in round two. Can we say third round lock? Probably not, but Blake will be very dissappointed if he doesn’t get through these matches. From there on, it’ll be either Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany or Oscar Hernandez. If Blake doesn’t get to face the Spaniard, he has a very good chance of making the fourth round, in which case he’ll square off against Tomas Berdych. The Czech has been playing well lately and has beaten Blake on clay in Davis Cup, but he would not be a bad match-up for the 8th seed.
Anyhow, there’s only one pick for this quarter.
Semi-final pick: Rafael Nadal
Federer – Davydenko
This is turning out to become a dream draw for the Swiss. First he gets to beat Robredo for the eighth time in as many career meetings, now he faces a man whom he is leading 8-0 head to head.
Nadal – Djokovic
Novak Djokovic was beaten soundly by Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of Rome, but he looked fatigued from winning in Estoril the week before. I think Djokovic has the ability to play Nadal tough on any surface, but I can’t see Rafa losing to his younger opponent at Roland Garros… yet.
Federer – Nadal
Yes, I’m going with the Federer – Nadal final and I believe Rafa will win his third straight title in Paris. He has never been beaten at Roland Garros and is a whopping 27-0 in best of five set matches on clay. Like I said in my analysis of the Hamburg final earlier this week, his loss to Federer in Germany was mainly because he was drained from winning in Rome the week before and having played so much over the past weeks. Now that he’s recharged the batteries, I don’t see anyone taking three sets from Nadal on clay.
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