Wow. What a French Open draw. In the past we’ve wondered which half someone like Andy Murray might end up in a big time Grand Slam draw like this. But thanks to Rafael Nadal’s drop in the rankings we keyed on Rafa’s quarterfinal landing spot and would you believe he fell right in Djokovic’s section. That worst-case scenario we’ve talked about for about a month did happen. My oh my.
Now if they do meet – and based on the draw I see no reason for it not to – it could be the biggest Grand Slam quarterfinal in who knows when.
As for the draw in totality…
As I said, I do think both guys reach their quarter spots. Djokovic might have an Aussie in Bernard Tomic or Thanasi Kokkinakis in the third, then maybe Richard Gasquet or Kevin Anderson in the fourth. But really, I don’t see any issues or areas of concern. Nadal’s got a few more hurdles with Nicolas Almagro in the second, Adrian Mannarino in the third and potentially Grigor Dimitrov, Tommy Robredo or even Borna Coric in the fourth. I’ll lean to Robredo getting there but he won’t be strong enough to beat Rafa in best-of-5. So the matchup we all want to see should be set, just not that early. But I have to go on form taking Djokovic who’s got the momentum and the confidence while Nadal just isn’t himself right now. That said, I don’t think it will a rollover like Monte Carlo.
“I would love to arrive at that match,” said Nadal. “I don’t see an easy way to get there. That’s a quarter-final and we haven’t even started the first round. I am focused on the things I have to do before that match, and if I reach the quarter-final, then we will have two days [after the fourth round] to talk about it.”
The pick: Djokovic
Like the first quarter, here too I see the favorites getting through. Murray, who’s been perfect on clay this year, shouldn’t be under any pressure at all in his section. There’s Nicky Krgios who can excite, but I’m wary of his health. John Isner is always a danger but he could easily get bounced in the first round by Andreas Seppi. Marin Cilic, Leo Mayer and Viktor Troicki also make up a weak section for David Ferrer who should glide through to meet Murray. In that match, I like Murray, but conditions could dictate otherwise.
“You just have to play the matches in front of you and see what happens,” Murray said. “I’m in the same half of the draw as Rafa and Novak, so that’s hard. [David] Ferrer is someone I have never beaten on clay. That’s tough.
“But many times I’ve played in Slams where draws appeared extremely difficult, and a couple of losses and all of a sudden everyone tells me it’s an easy draw.
“I would love to be in a position to have made the semis. For me, that’s a great result at this event. I hope I’m there. There are no guarantees that will be the case. I will have to play really, really well to get there.”
The pick: Murray
This is the toughest quarter to call with Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych and even Fabio Fognini, JW Tsonga, Phil Kohlschreiber and Fernando Verdasco who all have the ability to surprise as well as disappoint. I’d like to see Nishikori play Verdasco third round. I’d also like to see Berdych and Fognini face off, and then Berdych take on Tsonga, which seems like a long shot for the Frenchman to even get out there given his unsteady play of late. So between Berdych and Kei, I’ll go with the bigger hitter Berdych for now. But it’s not a solid selection. Kei could just as easily come through.
The pick: Berdych
With the big guns on top, Roger Federer has to be a happy guy. He’s put up some good numbers this year, but he’s been shaky at times as well. So this is a good, cozy draw for him. Even though Stan Wawrinka is in the mix as a potential quarter – though Guillermo Garcia-Lopez could ultimately be the guy – the only stumbling block I see for Federer is Gael Monfils. Gael was so close to beating Roger at the US Open, and then did it last month in Monte Carlo. Can he do it again in the fourth round in front of his crowd? Yes. Will I pick him to do it – assuming he can even get there by beating Dominic Thiem or Pablo Cuevas – no. Like Rafa, it’s one thing to beat Roger in two sets, but in a Major we are talking best-of-5.
“(Nadal and Djokovic) are not on my side of the draw, but they are, because at the end of the day we are all playing the same tournament,” Federer said. “Whether it’s in the semis or in the finals, if you lose, you lose at one point or another. So my objective is to not lose. I may not play these players right away, but I may have to play them later. It will be interesting to see Rafa play Novak. Rafa is very difficult to beat. Except for Soderling, I don’t really know who else can do it.”
The pick: Federer
Semifinals: Djokovic d Murray; Federer d Berdych
Murray’s playing well, but I don’t see him stopping Djokovic. And I don’t have much faith in Berdych upsetting Roger. Not in a Slam semifinal and not after getting blown out by the Swiss last week in Rome.
Final: Djokovic d Federer
What a match if it comes to pass. Maybe a worst case scenario for Novak who will be faced with mountains of pressure of being the huge favorite to beat a guy who has given him a lot of trouble. And Roger did end his streak in 2011, so there’s that.
As for the Djokovic-Nadal matchup, what can you say other than I hope we see it. It doesn’t matter when. I just want to watch.
“I played him in semifinals and finals more than few times,” Djokovic said. “Actually I think at the very beginning once in quarters, as well. Doesn’t really matter. I mean, I think we both are aiming to play our best, and as the tournament progresses, already by quarterfinals I think we already play at our high.”
Is it unfortunate to play so early? Is it too bad for tennis? Should they have done something to avoid it? I honestly don’t mind it. But what it does mean is Djokovic is really going to have to work hard, very hard, for this record by perhaps having to beat Nadal then Murray and then Federer to do it. That’s one rough road for tennis glory. But it anyone can do it, right now it’s Novak.
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