After an eventful clay swing, the time has come for the second slam of the year. This year, Rafael Nadal‘s struggles were even more noticeable than ever as he went without a European clay court title prior to the French Open for the first time since 2004. With a 72-7 record over the past year, Novak Djokovic comes into the tournament more favoured than ever as he looks to complete the career grand slam.
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Quarter 1 – Nadal vs Djokovic
After a drop in the rankings to number 6, it opened up the possibility of Nadal being placed with Djokovic much earlier than many would hope for – much like in 2013 when the pair met in the semi final . It feels like this has been said every year since 2011 but Djokovic will have his best chance to date of winning his first French Open. In recent years, Nadal remained favourite with the bookmakers but they are strongly in favour of the World No.1 on this occasion and if he can see off Nadal in the quarter finals, assuming they meet, the title almost seems a given.
As part of his 35-2 season to date, Djokovic won both the Monte Carlo and Rome Masters defeating six top 10 players in the process. One of those was a straight sets win over Nadal in Monte Carlo, their only meeting so far this year. Djokovic is clearly the best player in the world right now and the numbers back it up, only a Madrid withdrawal denying a chance at the clay Masters sweep.
Meanwhile, Nadal lost matches to Djokovic, Fabio Fognini, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray during the European clay swing, the last of which was in the Madrid final against an opponent he had dominated on the surface. It’s cliché to say that Nadal over 5 sets is a different animal but a 66-1 record at Roland Garros means you can never really count him out. If he can make to the final four, there’s no doubt he is the favourite to win once more. Already outside the top 5, Nadal’s ranking is set to drop even further if he flops. With his 2000 points from last year removed, he would be projected to be outside the top 10 if he departs from the tournament early.
In terms of this quarter, Djokovic looks like he will have no issues in the early rounds. The first seed he can meet is Bernard Tomic, who has struggled on clay. Australia might have a better chance of a run to the third round from Thanasi Kokkinakis who continues to improve and was a Challenger winner last week in Bordeaux. Richard Gasquet has a clay title to his name this year but has a 1-11 career record against Djokovic. While he performs better on faster surfaces, Kevin Anderson is at least capable enough of playing to his seeding and making the third round.
Meanwhile, Nadal opens against the young wildcard Quentin Halys. Already 2-0 against him on the year, Nicolas Almagro is a possible opponent in round two while Adrian Mannarino is another vulnerable seeded player. 18th seed Tommy Robredo may well play Borna Coric in round two, a classic case of the experienced vet against the raw youngster – who already has a win over Nadal in his career. With a seeding of 10, Grigor Dimitrov will improve on his career best third round at the tournament although many see his opener against Jack Sock as a potential upset.
Quarter 2 – Murray vs Ferrer
Once seen as easy pickings for the top guys on clay, Andy Murray is making a strong claim for the player with the best chance outside of the top two. Prior to 2015, he had never won a clay ATP tournament – although rarely playing outside of Masters partly accounts for this. He then went back-to-back in Munich and Madrid, the latter coming without dropping a set to three top 10 players in Raonic, Nishikori and most impressively Nadal. An impressive display of attacking tennis saw him seize the initiative from the start and he never really let up in the 6-3 6-2 victory.
He made the semi final here last year but much of that was put down to a favourable draw and this was backed up by many when Nadal lost just six games to book his place in the final. Seventh seed David Ferrer looks to have the best chances of stopping Murray from at least repeating his 2014 run. The Spaniard was a finalist in 2013 and had solidified himself as someone who you could count on to live up to his seeding. 10 straight quarter finals or better at slams have since been followed up by three fourth rounds or worse. You would expect that the French Open will be the place that Ferrer ends this miniblip.
In amongst this quarter are a number of players who are capable of shocking either player. Nick Kyrgios put to bed any concerns about his ability to perform on clay with a final in Estoril before defeating Roger Federer in Madrid. He feels like someone who thrives on the big stage and has a game to trouble the best if he can keep his head together – his temperament has been called into question on a number of occasions. John Isner remains one of the few players to win two sets at this tournament from Rafael Nadal but as usual, will need to serve out of this world and avoid lengthy matches to do anything worthwhile.
Leonardo Mayer remains a strong player on clay and last year defeated Ferrer in the Munich final. Marin Cilic has failed to hit the heights of his US Open triumph but remains dangerous as he looks to make his first French Open quarter final. The Croatian narrowly missed out on a top 8 seeding which would have markedly improved his chances to do so.
Quarter 3 – Nishikori vs Berdych
With three of the favourites in the top half of the draw, there is no doubt that the draw looks a little kinder to those placed in the bottom half. A first time finalist may well be crowned with just Roger Federer in this half having made one before. Who is fourth favourite is not so clear but of the other contenders, it is probably Kei Nishikori that will have the strongest claim. His run up to the French Open consisted a Barcelona title defence and losses to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. It says a lot that the latter was seen as a surprising defeat. After losing in round one last year, the only way is up for Nishikori.
Meanwhile, it has been a recurring theme for Tomas Berdych in 2015. He is unbeaten against players outside the top 10, going 30-0, but has won just two of the nine against those ranked inside the top ten and 0-7 in semi finals and finals combined. With Nishikori’s 3-1 record against Berdych, it would not be a surprise at all for Berdych to make the quarter finals before losing to the first elite opponent – assuming Nishikori gets there.
Nishikori has wins over two of the closest seeds in his draw – Roberto Bautista Agut and Fernando Verdasco but did lose Feliciano Lopez in Indian Wells earlier in the year. Given Lopez’s losses on clay this year, there is little to suggest he could pull it off again against an opponent far more capable on the surface than he is. Berdych appears to have a much tougher route to the quarter finals with Fabio Fognini amongst the possible opponents. The 28th seed’s best run on European clay in 2015 was a Barcelona quarter final yet at the same time he is one of the few players to beat Rafael Nadal multiple times in a year.
Philipp Kohlschreiber‘s last two completed losses were against Andy Murray, who went on to take the titles in Madrid and Munich. A Rome withdrawal will ask questions of his fitness although 2 weeks has passed since then. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played some of his best tennis in blitzing Roger Federer in straight sets in 2013 but these matches have been few and far between.
Quarter 4 – Wawrinka-Federer
The final quarter throws up some fascinating potential match ups, including of course a battle between the Swiss No.1 and No.2. An early loss in Geneva is hardly ideal preparation for the tournament for Stanislas Wawrinka who has plenty of space to improve on his rankings after losing in round one last year. Wawrinka was another who picked up a victory over Rafael Nadal, this one coming in Rome.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer possibly has his best chance to make another slam final after avoiding Djokovic or Nadal before then. Winning Istanbul before making the final in Rome is a good warm up for the No.2 seed who only made the fourth round last year, losing to Ernests Gulbis. In winning that Istanbul final, Federer defeated Pablo Cuevas in straight sets and did so again the next week in Rome. It feels that the 2008 semi finalist Gael Monfils will be the biggest threat before the quarter finals for Federer, especially with Monfils already having a win over Federer in Monte Carlo this year.
Ernests Gulbis was a semi finalist last year after shocking Federer but his year has been disastrous, going 2-12. An early loss could see Gulbis fall as far as outside the top 80, which would be some drop for the current 24 seed. If he gets it together, last year could be repeated but he would likely need to also beat Wawrinka to have any chance of putting together such a run. Having lost in round one last year, Wawrinka sailing through is far from guaranteed either. After winning Monte Carlo, a disastrous end to the run to the French Open saw him go 1-3 in the following events topped off by a four set loss to Guillermo Garcia Lopez, who interestingly can play Wawrinka in round three.
Djokovic def. Murray
Nishikori def. Federer
Djokovic def. Nishikori
For the latest Roland Garros picks, click Here: French Open 2015 Tennis Tips