Roger Federer, a 16-time grand slam champion, will need to capitalize in the Madrid Open in order to be considered a favorite going into the French Open. Federer's arch-rival Rafael Nadal has now fallen to Fernando Verdasco on the blue courts of Madrid. With Nadal's loss, Federer and Novak Djokovic are more likely to go into the French Open with a Masters Series win.
With the recent dislike of the blue clay by ATP players, Federer has a chance to pull out a strong win through the players' distractions. Everybody is well aware of how Federer has struggled with Rafa in the past, especially on clay and at Rolland Garros. It's no surprise that Federer has only won the French Open once, a win in which he did not see the Spaniard along the way.
The hall-of-fame Swiss had a difficult second round match against hard-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, but was able to get past him in a tight match. Federer had a solid hard court season with wins in Dubai and Indian Wells. However, for him to be considered a favorite in Paris, he would have to prove that he can win a tournament on the clay courts.
Even with last year's final at the French Open, Federer was not able to capitalize on his early opportunity against Nadal in the first set. Federer became tighter as the match went on, and Nadal used his topspin and clay court savvy to trouble the Swiss. The win against Djokovic in the semifinals was quite impressive, but he needs to have confidence going into this year's grand slam.
What I'm particularly interested in seeing is how Federer can face a clay court specialist and perform. If Federer wins against a guy like Verdasco or David Ferrer prior to the French Open, that can do wonders for his confidence. Against Raonic, Federer was able to overcome a long three-setter, winning the last set in a tiebreak. Winning close contests will also help Federer's confidence.
If Federer can have strong showings in Madrid and Rome, chances are he will be able to make a deep run in the French Open. If the draw unfolds his way, he can have a chance of being in the final once again.