May the chips fall where they may. And this May, the chips fell so Novak Djokovic finally, if not mercifully, avoided a pre-final French Open encounter with Rafael Nadal for the first time in three years.
Djokovic is everyone’s x-factor, and this year Djokovic landed in Roger Federer’s section meaning the Serb and the Swiss could meet for the chance to challenge Nadal in the final.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but that really was the only drama in the draw, and this time it went in Novak’s favor. But will it matter? Will it make any difference in the end? Let’s look at the draw for answers.
First, Nadal’s section is chock-full of best dirtballers on the planet: David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Stan Wawrinka, Nikolay Davydenko and Nicolas Almagro. There’s also Ernests Gulbis, Lleyton Hewitt and even Sam Querrey, who actually owns a few sets off Rafa in the quarter. Lucky for the Spaniard he’ll only need to get past a couple of them to reach the semifinals. And my guess is he’ll do it over Hewitt, then Ferrer and then Verdasco. It’s not an easy road and he won’t be setting records for dominance along the way like he did last year, but Rafa will do what he always does on clay, win.
In the second quarter, no player in the history of the French Open has an easier road than Andy Murray. Okay, I’m exaggerating but I can’t seen anyone derailing the Brit until the quarterfinals, and that’s where trouble may come in the form of Fernando Gonzalez. And with a potential “Fab Four” in the Final Four again (remember Madrid?), I’m taking Gonzalez. The Chilean has a good path also with a possible third round against Marat Safin (more like Granollers), fourth round against the fading Gilles Simon before meeting Murray. If Gonzo’s on, he wins, and for now I’ll take him to pull the upset.
Moving to the top of the bottom half is where we find what I think is the most competitive section with Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Anyone of the three could emerge through to the semifinals plus there’s Juan Monaco, Philip Kohlschrieber and Ivan Ljubicic in the mix. My pick… Well, DelPo will get through Troicki and Fognini to meet Tsonga in the 16s. There I’m going to take JW and that will set up a real tasty showdown with Djokovic in the quarterfinals. And as much as I want to pick the Frenchman who has fared well against the World No. 4, I think Novak’s made enough strides the last few months and he returns to the semifinals.
Awaiting there for Novak in the last four will be… Federer. Roger’s got a good, not great draw. In the first round Alberto Martin should make him hit a lot of balls. In round three Paul-Henri Mathieu has the ability to play well in Paris (he gave Agassi and Nadal both a real run for the their money) and Tomas Berdych has given the Fed problems in the past. In the quarters I’d take my man Gael Monfils, but I’m not convinced his knee is 100% healthy enough to withstand his retriever style, so I’m actually going to pick Andy Roddick to get to make the Final 8 Grand Slam club. Roddick couldn’t have hand-picked a better draw but that luck runs out against Federer who wouldn’t dare lose to the American on a clay court in Paris.
So that leaves my semifinals as Nadal v. Gonzalez and Djokovic v. Federer. Clearly it’s Nadal on top and in the second semifinal I think the pressure gets to Novak and Federer wins in four sets. For the final, until he loses a clay best-of-five match, I’m picking Rafa. Frankly, why buck the trend? Vamos!
As for the women, can I pick Justine Henin? I can’t? Why not? Darn. Okay, I’ll go out a limb and take Elena Dementieva to beat Dinara Safina in the final.
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