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Todd’s Tennis Takes – 2011 French Open Preview

In less than a week the battle for the ultimate clay prize begins, Roland Garros. Here is a detailed preview full of names, facts, figures, and trends going into the fortnight. But first, a quick Rome recap.

The Djokovic Express just keeps on rolling, in even more impressive fashion than a week ago at Madrid. Djoker survived a taxing, dramatic 3rd set tiebreaker in the semi’s, after Andy Murray earlier served for the match and was broken. Djokovic dominated the breaker 7-2. It was a far longer, more physical match than Nadal’s smooth 7-5, 6-1 takedown of the nevertheless very impressive Richard Gasquet, who took out both Fed and Berdych. Gasquet’s backhand was amazing this week, as was his court coverage. In the final, it was amazingly similar to a week ago, a multitude of long rallies – over 50 at least 8 balls – and great ball striking and defense by both…some of the most beautiful tennis you’ll see. But like last week, Novak’s more aggressive play and control of more rallies, in addition to defense on par with Nadal, won him the title in straight sets, this time 6-4, 6-4. He even spoke fluent Italian in the post-match ceremony…it’s really getting ridiculous with him!

So now, onto the preview -ATP rankings in parenthesis…Del Potro has pulled out (hip).

The Finals – obviously Nadal (1) and Djokovic (2) are overwhelming favorites to meet in the final, and I would make Djoker the favorite – why not, he still hasn’t lost this year. He’ll likely surpass McEnroe’s 42 wins to open 1984 here (ties record with semis appearance, breaks it with a win).  He controls more points when he plays Nadal and is hitting the ball supremely right now. A 6′ 2″ speedburner with great reach, his defense and movement is a treat to watch. His conditioning cannot be questioned, nor his ability to rise to the big moments. He has beaten Rafa in 4 Masters finals this year, the first players to ever meet in 4 Masters finals in one year… just 4 & a half months into the year. Nadal did win Monte Carlo as Djoker was out with injury, his 7th straight title there!

Semis, Quarterfinals –  Fed (3) is likely going to have to beat either Murray, Berd Dog, or Soderling to make the final 4, which will be a tough task for the soon-to-be 30 yr old legend. He could do it, but I see him making the QF’s at best. He only made one Masters semi on the clay this year, losing to Nadal in Madrid…Murray (4) looked very strong after the first set in his semi vs. Djoker in Rome, also made semi’s in Monte Carlo (Nadal)…he was a quarterfinalist here in 2009, the only slam at which he hasn’t made the semi’s…Soderling (5)  – beat Verdasco (saved match pts) & Almagro in Rome, but was smoked by Djoker 6-3, 6-0 in QFs…Lost to Fed in Madrid QFs…Finalist here last two years, that streak likely to end…semis would be a very nice success for him…Berdych (6) was a semifinalist here a year ago, going 5 sets with Soderling, but lost in the big 3 clay Masters this spring to Ljubicic, Bellucci, and Gasquet, all before the semis. Can he turn that around in Paris? …Ferrer (7) made the finals of Monte Carlo this year, but had a rather smooth path (beat Troicki & Melzer in QFs & semis)…also lost to Nadal in Barcelona finals…took a set off Djoker in Madrid QFs…has made QFs twice here (2005, 08) but lost in 3rd round every other year since 2006, including in straight sets to Melzer last year. QFs probably as far as he’ll go…Gasquet (14) has quietly been climbing the rankings in the last year, starting from 68 a year ago, 47 after Wimby ’10, 29th to start 2011, and now 14th. He played excellently in Rome, as mentioned above, and is a legitimate threat to everyone not named Nadal or Djokovic. But his best result here is only 3rd round, just once back in 2005 (Nadal crushed him) – amazingly poor results here for a player of his talent. I have to believe this year he overcomes the home court jinx…a strong candidate for QFs.

Round of 16, QFs – Verdasco (17) had a strong clay tuneup season a year ago, a finalist at Monte Carlo, winning Barcelona (beat Gasquet, Melzer, Gulbis, Ferrer, & Soderling that week!), and made the semis at Rome (Ferrer) before losing at the French rather meekly in 4 sets to Almagro, 4th round. This year he made the finals in Estoril, getting annihilated by Del Potro 2 & 2., but failed to make the QFs in any of the big 3 Masters events. He’s probably peaked, but could still plateau at 10-20 in the world for 12-24 more months…Almagro (12) is playing well these days, losing a tough 3 setter to Soderling in Rome…too bad he wasn’t blessed with better foot speed, as he plays quite well on clay for a very average mover. He’s made the QFs here twice, 2008 & last year, and made the 4th round at the Aussie this year – then Djoker worked him 6-3, 6-4,  6-0…Melzer (8) was a surprise semifinalist here a year ago, and started out strong on the spring clay circuit this year, beating Almagro and Fed at Monte Carlo to make the semis there (Ferrer beat him 6-3, 6-2).  But poor results at Madrid (lost immediately to Gimeno-Traver) and Rome (retired down 4-6 to Florian Mayer 1st match) make him a bit of a question mark in Paris. He’s failed to make the QFs in any other slam in his career, but has reached the 4th round of every slam since his semis appearance here in 2010…Wawrinka (15) made the 4th round here a year ago (best result) and the QFs of the Aussie this year, but has had very spotty results on the clay this spring, having only played 5 clay matches through Rome where he played 3, losing to Djoker eventually. He also lost to Dustin Brown, the tall, thin, big-hitting German/Jamaican journeyman in Munich as well as Garcia-Lopez 1st round Madrid. Didn’t play at Monte Carlo…Marin Cilic (20) has had a very subdued year, slipping a bit in the rankings from 15 to start the year and 12th in May 2010. He won 6 total matches at the big 3 clay Masters, before losing to heavyweights Fed, Del Potro, and Nadal, in that order. He has made the 4th round here the last 2 years, as well the 4th round at this year’s Aussie (Nadal), after making the semis there in 2010…moves quite well for a tall guy.

3rd, 4th Round –Monfils (9) – such a talented, entertaining wild card, I am a bit surprised he’s still in the top 10 – his results are quite mediocre this year. Wawrinka destroyed him in the 3rd round of the Aussie, and his only decent win since then was over Gasquet at Barcelona – lost to 82nd ranked Frederico Gil at Monte Carlo, and 43rd ranked Juan Monaco at Madrid, retiring down 6-2, 3-0, then skipped Rome…who knows what’s up with him? Made the semis here in 2008, QFs in ’09, but lost 2nd round a year ago…Thomaz Bellucci (25) had a run at Madrid that was truly out of left field two weeks ago, making the semis after beating F Mayer, Murray, and Berdych. In succession, he’d lost to James Blake 1st round at Miami, G Simon 1st round at Monte Carlo (6-3, 6-2), Giraldo 1st round Barcelona straight sets, then lost to Pablo Cuevas in the quarters of Estoril, beating two guys ranked below 125 to get there. Post Madrid, he’s resumed his mediocre results, losing 1st round to Paolo Lorenzi in Rome. The inconsistent Brazilian is young, talented, and seeded, so we’ll see what he can do here, depending on his draw…Gilles Simon (19) – the former top 10 talent from France has never made it beyond the 3rd round here, and didn’t play in 2010. Lost to Murray early at both Monte Carlo and Madrid this spring, then to the resurgent veteran Chela in Rome, 6-4, 6-2…Took Fed to a 5th set 2nd round in Australia this year before losing 6-3 in the final stanza…Davydenko (30) is still hanging around and will be seeded here, but is not near the clay force he was 5 years ago. Turning 30 in June, to match his ranking, Davydenko is still able to pull off wins here & there (Cilic & Dolgopolov this spring), but lost 1st round of all 3 Masters clay events, a clear sign his best days are long gone…Alexandr Dolgopolov (23) – did a lot better in the winter clay season in South & North America than the spring European season. Coming off his strong QF appearance in Australia, made the finals of Costa Do Sauipe in Brazil (l. to Almagro), and semis of Acapulco (Ferrer) before losing 1st round in Monte Carlo (Gulbis), Madrid (Giraldo), and Rome (Starace)…still a very talented player who made the 3rd round here in his 1st appearance a year ago.

Other names that should/could be around in the 3rd round…

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (18) – career has plateaued, but still a big hitter, good athlete…Milos Raonic (28) – Big serving, big forehand youngster has fared decently on the clay this spring – beating Llodra, Simon, Andreev…losing in Big 3 events to Ferrer, F Lopez, & Verdasco…Florian Mayer (21) – has quietly ascended to a career high 21st in the rankings, was #51 one year ago…QFs of Rome, finals of Munich this spring…Viktor Troicki (16) – under the radar Serbian has suddenly become a top 20 player? I’m not convinced he’s as good as top 20, but he has been top 30 now for two years…Sergiy Stakhovsky (34) – funky game could give people troubles…Starace (42) – Italian Vet had some nice wins in Rome, has boosted his ranking back into top 50…F Lopez (41) & Chela (43) – vets are still playing decently on clay, Lopez shoulda beaten Fed in Madrid…Ivan Dodig (46) – 26 yr old Croatian was 187th a year ago this time, #82 to start 2011…never played the French before, but beat Soderling, Raonic, and F Lopez at Barcelona this spring (l. to Nadal, semis)…

Finally, other names – young/new guys to watch: Kei Nishikori (60), Somdev Devvarman (66), Pere Riba (65), Pablo Cuevas (52), Pablo Andujar (49), Robin Haase (59), Grigor Dimitrov (63).

There you go…my thoughts on how the tiers break down in Paris for the 2nd slam of 2011. On the women’s side, watch for the tall (5’11”), stunning brunette Julia Georges (18) from Germany to make some waves. The 22 yr old has a big serve and big forehand, and could go far (semis?) if she gets hot, despite being an average mover at best…won Stuttgart a few weeks ago.


2 Responses to “Todd’s Tennis Takes – 2011 French Open Preview”

  1. […] Todd's Tennis Takes – 2011 French Open Preview « SPDBRNR – Eyes …   May 16th, 2011 Uncategorized Tags: battle, clay-prize, detailed-preview, fortnight, […]

  2. […] Todd's Tennis Takes – 2011 French Open Preview « SPDBRNR – Eyes … […]

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