Ok. Streaking may be too strong a term to use at the moment to describe Roger Federer. Lukewarm might be a better choice of words for Federer who five months into 2008 finally captured his first title of the season yesterday after Nikolay Davydenko retired in the second set at the Estoril (insert your favorite gambling joke here).
Despite the circumstances, Federer, will take the title, any title, even if his road to victory was arguably weaker then that of Houston champ Marcel Granollers-Pujol who earned the crown when James Blake couldn’t capitalize on a 3-0 third set lead. (James failing to close out a match? And here I thought those days were so behind him.)
His confidence now somewhat restored, though his clay game still untested (sorry, the highest ranked guy you actually won a match point on at Estoril was No. 68 Victor Hanescu), Federer now rolls into treacherous Monte Carlo looking to shake last year’s stunning loss to Filippo Volandri and regain some of his fleeting aura.
Fortunately for Fed, Volandri is no where near him this year in the draw. Then again, no one of any great clay skill is, at least for his first two matches. Lucky for Fed.
Rafael Nadal meanwhile should be rested and ready for another clay onslaught, and just as he did last year and the year before last and the year before that one, I fully expect the Spaniard to again get mean-and-nasty on the dirt this season and come away as the big winner. Nadal’s draw is tough, but he’s tougher. Forget his knee, ankle and capris, if the guy’s is putting up good numbers on the hard courts like he has already done this, how much better will he be on the clay?
The third card of the Monte Carlo clay club is Novak Djokovic, whose run for No. 1 begins in earnest this week. With a strong clay campaign and stumbles from Federer and Nadal, Djokovic could very well wind up as the No. 1 horse in less than two months from now. It’s a longshot, but Novak has a great draw in Monte Carlo, and with few points to defend from Rome and Hamburg he can make up a lot of ground on the Top 2.
The wildcard this week in Monte is again David Nalbandian. The Argy I think can make a strong semifinal run if he can avoid the early round pitfalls and set up a quarterfinal clash Friday with Federer, who – Davydenko’s retirement aside – has yet to win a full complete over a top ten player this year.
This clay season really should be something special. In the past it’s always been the Rafael Nadal show with Roger Federer trying to knock it off the air. This year, while it’s still the Nadal show, I don’t get the feeling that Federer’s going to be in the mix as much. Maybe Djokovic will be that guy. Maybe Nalbandian, Davydenko (who I think will ultimately finish as the No. 2 clay guy) or Ferrer will step up. Or maybe Rafa really will run the table again, meaning a likely and long-awaiting changing of the guard at the top spot after the French Open. How interesting would that be?
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