The best rivalry in tennis moves to Grand Slam play starting Sunday. Even though Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are opposite ends of the draw, the odds are that they’ll meet the first Sunday in June. And that match would have a ton on the line.
But first, there are six rounds of tennis to be played on the slow, red clay at Roland Garros and we could very well see a twist or two, even with Nadal and Djokovic.
The draw, which I think is nicely balanced, thankfully does provide our two favorites, Nadal and Novak, with some potential problems so it won’t be a walkthrough.
Right from the get go Nadal begins his title defense against American big man John Isner. On any other surface this could be a tricky match, but on clay Rafa should roll. Nadal could face a more serious obstacle in Nikolay Davydenko in the third round. The Russian may be on the downslope of his career but he has had his way with Nadal winning four straight, losing just one set in those matches. If Rafa survives, he could get the hot/old like cold Fernando Verdasco with a possible quarterfinal showdown/rematch with Robin Soderling.
Once again, Andy Murray has to be thrilled with his quarter. Murray has consecutive qualifiers before running into Milos Raonic. If things go accordingly, Murray could face his toughest test in Nicolas Almagro or Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals. Talk about a great draw. Things could have been a lot worse for the Scot.
In the bottom half, Federer begins with Feliciano Lopez in a rematch of the Spaniard’s choke job from last month. Otherwise, the Swiss should breeze through a potential collision with Stan Wawrinka (or Tsonga) in the fourth round before David Ferrer in the quarters. Janko Tipsarevic looms but clay isn’t the Serb’s best surface. And while Wawrinka is adept on the dirt, can he really take out his national hero at a Slam?
It’s a good thing Djokovic’s confidence is sky high because he’ll need it to navigate a tough final quarter. Djokovic will put his 39-match win streak on the line against a dangerous Thiemo de Bakker and then in the third round he could clash in a monster match up with Juan Martin Del Potro. The Serb then could meet to talented Richard Gasquet who’s been playing well before another match against a dangerous big man with Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. Remember, this is the first Slam that Novak will be under the public eye as a favorite to win.
The quarterfinals by seeding have Nadal v Soderling. Murray v Melzer, Ferrer v Federer and Berdych v Djokovic.
As I said, it’s a good draw overall and with the two danger players, Soderling and Delpo, in the Nadal and Djokovic sections it should make for some good drama and potential plot twists. That said, you still have to pick Nadal and Djokovic to come through based on just how well they are playing. But we could and likely will see some upsets along with way, it’s just a question of who can avoid them.
And if Federer wants to get back into the mix, the draw he’s got could be a launching pad leading into Wimbledon. While Djokovic has been dominant, he hasn’t done it against Federer so I give the Swiss some hope should he meet Novak in that semifinal.
Play begins on Sunday. I’ve have my picks out in the next 36 hours.
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