Rafael Nadal has never, ever lost a best-of-five set match on clay. Never. The Spaniard has a perfect 34-0 mark in his career in best of five matches on the dirt, but that fact is not the only reason I’m making him my pick to win a fourth straight French Open. There are many others.
Nadal has won a ridiculous 108 of his last 110 clay matches, and one could easily dismiss his two losses (Federer in ’07 Hamburg – tired; Ferrero in ’08 Rime – blisters) as flukes.
So really no one is even close to guy on this surface.
“But what about Roger Federer,” you say. “He was close.”
True, Federer’s been close, real close to beating him and arguably he should have at the very least secured more than a set in his two losses to Rafa this year. In both Monte Carlo and in Hamburg Fed found himself ahead in the first two sets, winning only the second in Hamburg. But in my mind close isn’t good enough, especially not in Rafa’s house at Roland Garros where the lefty has never lost a match.
“But Novak played him real tough at Hamburg,” you say.
True, Novak threw everything at the guy at Hamburg and as I’ve stated before I think the Serb is the lone guy who could derail Rafa on clay when Rafa’s at his on the clay, but in a best of five format I don’t think Novak can pull out a grinding, grueling four or five-set win.
So for me it’s really hard to bet on someone, anyone taking three sets from a healthy, 100% Rafael Nadal in any single match.
Sure injuries can happen and we always point to Rafa’s frailty, but I’ll venture to say he’ll be just fine this fornight. And I do think we make to much of his physical nature. Remember he’s just 21. Not 31.
As for the rest…
As I wrote earlier Federer has been really blessed with another very Federer-friendly draw, and I can’t see anyway he loses more than two sets en route to the semifinals. Juan Monaco might be able to push him, Sam Querrey could steal a tiebreak, and Igor Andreev could get hot for a short while, but just not hot enough to thwart Roger in his section.
In the second quarter, it’s a either Nikolay Davydenko or David Ferrer. I’ll lean slightly to Davydenko who has the easier path of the two. Ferrer will likely get Tommy Robredo who can rise-up in certain situations and David has surprisingly lost three of his last four tournament matches, so I like the steady Russian who tends to beat the people he should, and lose to those above. That’s good consistency if nothing else.
Novak Djokovic is the odds-on favorite to emerge from the third quarter. His toughest test may very well come in the first round against the lefty Denis Gremelmayr, who took a set off Federer in Estoril. Novak could then run into Guillermo Canas and then maybe Paul-Henri Mathieu or Carlos Moya. Mathieu could trouble Novak if he’s on but the Serb should get through to the quarterfinals against perhaps Janko Tipsarevic, my pick in a very tough little section to call with James Blake, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro and even Michael Llodra lurking. But I’ll go with the Serb on a whim to best Blake.
As has been the norm in the last dozen or so Slams Nadal finds himself again in the last quarter. And on paper it’s the toughest section of the draw. But just not tough enough for Nadal who opens with 20-year-old qualifier Thomaz Bellucci, who’s no slouch as a fairly accomplished minor league from Brazil. Nadal will then likely face Jarkko Nieminen, who once had his foot on the Spaniard’s throat a few years back in Barcelona I think it was, then Fernando Verdasco or Mikhail Youhzny before the big one against David Nalbandian. The Argentine Nalbandian always plays his best in the Slams and he matches up very well with Rafa on any surface, but as I said before taking three sets from Rafa on clay is just too tall a task, even for David. So Rafa gets through.
In the semifinals, I’ll stick with Rafa over Novak and Federer in a tough one to beat Dayvdenko. And then in the finals I like Rafa to again turn away Federer and win his fourth straight Roland Garros. Sound familiar?
As for the women, with Justine Henin retired it really is a wide open French Open. The Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic figure to run wild without Justine around, Maira Sharapova as well, but I’ll pick Serena Williams to restore her reign at the top and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in final.
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