In the minds of many Roger Federer will ascend to “Greatest Player Ever” status once he wins the only Slam that has eluded him thus far, and 2007 looks to be his best shot yet for a Roland Garros triumph. The Swiss is coming off a Hamburg final where he finally bested world No. 2 Rafael Nadal on clay — albeit a mentally and physically tired Nadal who was on fumes after setting an all-time record of 81 straight wins on clay.
Nevertheless Federer looks mentally rejuvenated after dumping coach Tony Roche who had tried to change his game past the point of comfort, and is once again his own man entering the French.
Like Pete Sampras before him, Federer utilizes a one-handed backhand that sometimes causes him difficulty when opponents bounce the ball up shoulder-high or higher. Bouncing the ball up high on the Swiss’ backhand wing will at times result in a short reply that opponents can jump on. Fortunately for Federer, only a handful of players such as Nadal with his high-kicking lefty spin, his nemesis Guillermo Canas, and a few others on tour have the control and patience to see the tactic through an entire match.
“That I make mistakes on my backhand side, with the aggression of Nadal, that’s normal,” said Federer after losing in last year’s French Open final. “I saw I did a few too many [errors] on that side. I wasn’t as consistent today unfortunately like I was in Rome or maybe even in Monaco [Monte Carlo].”
Federer has competed eight times at Roland Garros, and says every experience brings him closer to his goal.
“I think in every year that goes by, gives me again more maturity on this surface,” said the Swiss, who adds there are numerous factors involved in Nadal maintaining his claycourt dominance. “It’s a matter also of if he can keep it up, if another claycourt player comes along, how the draw looks.”
The 2007 French Open draw has been kind to Federer, who will have time to find his footing with little pressure. Federer opens against 29-year-old American journeyman Michael “Iron Mike” Russell, who is best known in these parts for being up two sets to love on Gustavo Kuerten at the 2001 French Open before allowing the Brazilian to mount a comeback and eventually win the tournament. The Swiss will next face the winner of French wildcard Thierry Ascione and a qualifier, then a potentially-interesting first-time meeting with the French fan-backed Julien Benneteau.
Looming in the fourth round for the Swiss are either Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero or Russian Mikhail Youzhny, and in the quarterfinals either Marat Safin, Tommy Robredo or Ivan Ljubicic. The handful of players fighting to meet Federer in the semifinals includes Nikolay Davydenko, Nicolas Almagro, David Nalbandian, Richard Gasquet, Canas and Fernando Gonzalez.
Likely third round match-ups in that second quarter of the draw are Davydenko vs. Almagro, Nalbandian vs. Juan Ignacio Chela in an all-Argentine, and Gasquet vs. Canas, with that winner likely to meet Gonzalez in the fourth round.
In a very open third quarter of the draw, Serb Novak Djokovic will be the favorite, with a soft draw that could feature little resistance until Spaniard David Ferrer in the fourth round, and a semifinal opponent that is too weak to predict. Other seeds in the third quarter are No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 12 Ferrer, No. 16 Marcos Baghdatis, No. 21 Dmitry Tursunov, No. 24 Dominik Hrbaty, No. 26 Agustin Calleri, and No. 31 Florian Mayer. Roddick will have his hands full in an attempt to not make a first-round exit against Russian claycourter Igor Andreev.
The bottom quarter of the draw is stacked between Nadal, the erratic yet dangerous James Blake, former French champion Carlos Moya, resurgent former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, and dangerous seeds Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling.
Nadal opens against Argentine big man Juan Martin del Potro, with a meeting against the Swede Soderling looming in the third round. Blake opens with a tester against Croatian giant “Dr.” Ivo Karlovic, with No. 28-seeded German Phillipp Kohlschreiber waiting in the third round. Moya could meet Berdych in another third-round encounter.
Hewitt opens again old doubles partner Max “The Beast” Mirnyi who has been slumping horribly of late, then faces the possibility of a mouth-watering meeting against former French Open champion and current head case Gaston Gaudio. There is no love lost between Hewitt and any player from Argentina, and with Hewitt back in “C’mon!” mode in the midst of a resurgence, the feisty Aussie could be the story of this French Open.
Likely quarterfinal match-ups to look for: Federer vs. Robredo, Gonzalez vs. Almagro, Djokovic vs. Baghdatis, and Nadal vs. Moya.
All eyes of course will be on Federer and Nadal. The Spaniard attempts to become the first player since Bjorn Borg to win three straight titles at Roland Garros (Borg won four in a row). Federer for his part simply attempts to inherit the “Greatest Ever” title while still an active player.
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