Rafael Nadal will head into the 2014 French Open as the defending champion, and given his past successes at Roland Garros, one would think that he'll enjoy similar success again this time around.
But, not so fast.
The deep field of competitors makes it almost certain that we'll see a few upsets along the way. Nadal, the top seed, might find it difficult to get past some of the lower-seeded players—even if he is clearly the better player. As we've seen in the past, a player can perform fantastically against the best competition before falling back to earth later on.
Nadal, who has won eight of the last nine tournaments, will need to step it up if he wants to make it nine out of 10.
The Spaniard will have all eyes on him while he's on the red clay at Roland Garros in his quest for his fifth straight French Open title. But what else should we watch for? Here are a few predictions for the tournament. You'll want to tune in to see if they're accurate.
|27.||Roberto Bautista Agut||ESP|
A full bracket is available at RolandGarros.com.
Kei Nishikori to the Quarterfinals
Kei Nishikori will turn some heads at Roland Garros. The Japanese star has shown the ability to play on clay in the past, and he should be considered a dark-horse threat to the top seeds in the tournament.
The Madrid Open earlier this month showed just how strong he plays against top opponents. He competed against Nadal in the final, and before he was forced to retire in the third set with a back injury, Nishikori was on the verge of defeating the odds-on favorite.
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times tweeted that Nishikori's back injury should be a thing of the past when the French Open starts:
Michael Chang on Kei Nishikori coming back from inuury at the French Open: "I think he'll be ready to go"— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 22, 2014
This is just one example of how well Nishikori was able to counter the fast deliveries of Nadal in the match.
Nadal is nearly unbeatable on clay, but Nishikori showed at the Madrid Open that it's possible to defeat the best player on clay in men's tennis history. In fact, Nishikori has proved quite a bit this season, via Chuin-Wei Yap of The Wall Street Journal:
It’s been a season of firsts for Nishikori. As the tennis tour swung into its European leg in April, the Florida resident – native to Japan’s southwestern Shimane prefecture – took his first ATP World Tour clay-court title at Barcelona. Then there was his first Masters final against Nadal at Madrid on May 11. The following day, Nishikori became the first Japanese man to enter the tour’s Top 10. Bleacher pundits are adding Nishikori’s name to a squadron of young guns, including Dimitrov and the Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who are laying siege to a decade-long hegemony in men’s tennis ruled by Messrs. Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Federer and Murray.
Given his recent successes, I like Nishikori to advance past the early competition and earn a spot in the quarterfinals. His best performance at Roland Garros came last season when he made it to Round 4. I wouldn't be surprised if he improves on that finish this year.
Stanislas Wawrinka Will be Defeated Early
Stanislas Wawrinka is one of the better up-and-coming stars in men's tennis, but several flaws in his game won't do him any favors at Roland Garros.
For one, the Swiss is notorious for making an uncanny amount of unforced errors. He made 40 of them on May 15 against Tommy Haas. Wawrinka told the Agence France-Presse in Rome that the loss was because of a lack of intensity on his part, via the South China Morning Post:
It was difficult to give the intensity. I know my back, I just need some rest – maybe two days is enough – but I’m not worried about it.
I played because I wanted to try. It was not easy to put all energy onto my game. I won the first set even if I was not playing my best.
Even though, I still thought I had a chance to win it. He was more aggressive in the second set and was doing more things on the court.
Haas' aggressive strategy had Wawrinka on his toes the entire match, and that's something that the Swiss' competition in the French Open should have taken note of.
When he's on, Wawrinka can compete with the best tennis players in the world. But he's often hit or miss. He'll have days like he had against Haas, but he'll also have days like he had against Nadal in the Australian Open.
Wawrinka's most recent experience on clay against Haas was not a reassuring one. I don't think he'll advance past Round 3.