Novak Djokovic won his third consecutive major at the Australian Open in January but has since seen his lead in the rankings reduced with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal gaining ground. While both former number ones have moved into striking distance, they will have to break Djokovic’s stranglehold at the grand slam events to topple him.
The situation is poised for an epic summer of tennis that begins at Roland Garros next week and will continue with two tournaments at SW19, with traditional Wimbledon joined by the Olympics, before the US Open completes the 2012 grand slam season.
The French Open begins the series and there is a huge amount at stake. Djokovic is aiming to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four grand slam titles at once. Nadal is looking to eclipse Bjorn Borg with a record seventh title, meanwhile Roger Federer is continuing his quest to return to number one and add to his record 16 grand slam titles. If that wasn’t enough spare a thought for Andy Murray, who is still looking to win his first grand slam title in this formidable era.
Here’s a breakdown of the path to glory that luck of the draw has presented the top four seeds with this year plus some early rounds match-ups to watch out for.
Top seed Novak Djokovic faces a possible second round meeting with veteran Australian war horse Lleyton Hewitt, which could be early test. Other notable players around the Serb in the early stages include Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the most likely opponent for the quarter finals and the Frenchman holds an impressive 5-5 record against the Serb in their head-to-head. However, Djokovic won the only previous meeting on clay last week at the Rome Masters and will be strongly favoured to take his place in the semi finals. Should Tsonga fall before the last eight, perennial Swiss number two Stanislas Wawrinka or Giles Simon could step into the gap.
First round fun: Andreas Seppi versus Nikolay Davydenko
Roger Federer falls into Djokovic’s half of the draw, giving the possibility of a rematch of last year’s classic semi-final which saw Federer roll back the years to snap the Serb’s incredible 41 match winning streak. Starting with Tobias Kamke, Federer could play David Nalbandian in the second round and another familiar face in Andy Roddick in the following round. Roddick will need to up his game to make the date with Federer, but will be very determined to maintain his borderline top 32 ranking for upcoming grass tournaments, where he may still have a puncher’s chance of glory. Federer has had his share of battles with both but will expect to proceed. This quarter holds the joker card in the shape of Juan-Martin del Potro, still just outside the top 8. The good news for Federer fans is that the Argentine will have to get past the Swiss’s seeded quarter final opponent in Tomas Berdych first. Given Federer’s four consecutive wins over del Potro this year, it could be argued that he would prefer to face the Argentine, however del Potro gives the impression he is getting closer to his 2009 form when he pushed Federer to five sets in the Roland Garros semis.
Essential second round: Roger Federer versus David Nalbandian
Andy Murray has it all to do after a disappointing clay season to date and he will not have been heartened by the presence of David Ferrer as his prospective quarter final opponent. At the moment, Ferrer would likely start as favourite on a clay court against Murray, but the Scot does have time to find form before then. The main barrier to Ferrrer could be big serving John Isner, who has defeated Federer on clay this year in Davis Cup while Murray’s early section abounds with up-and-coming players with a face-off with Bernard Tomic scheduled for the third round. Grigor Dimitrov, Donald Young and Alexandr Dolgopolov are battling it out nearby. Perhaps a more likely fourth round opponent for Murray than any of them is home favourite Richard Gasquet, who knocked Murray out of this year’s Rome Masters in the round of 16. If Murray can battle through, his reward would very likely be a semi final against Rafael Nadal, who has won a staggering 45 of his 46 career matches at Roland Garros.
Battle of the young guns: Donald Young versus Grigor Dmitrov (round one)
By winning the Rome Masters last week, Rafael Nadal overtook Federer for the number two ranking, avoiding the slightly odd prospect of the six-time champion being seeded third for a tournament he has pretty much owned since he was a teenager. The obvious benefit for Nadal is that he is seeded to play Murray rather than Federer or Djokovic in the semi finals while rest of draw generally looks relatively kind. Searching for a potential Robin Soderling, the only man to have beaten Nadal at the French Open, to make an upset before then is difficult. Ivo Karlovic might have as much chance as anyone if he makes the third round and serves his way into tiebreaks. The same could be said of the atomic Milos Raonic in the fourth round but the young Canadian will offer more than Karlovic in terms of ground strokes. Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro or seeded quarterfinals Janko Tipsarevic will need to play their very best tennis if they meet the Nadal and realistically even that will probably not be enough.
Tough first round: Janko Tipsarevic versus Sam Querrey
The full draw is available at: