French Open 2011: No One Man Should Have All That Power.

Devil in a New DressSenior Writer IMay 19, 2011

French Open 2011: No One Man Should Have All That Power.

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    The Contenders
    The ContendersJulian Finney/Getty Images

    In only a matter of days time, 128 of the best tennis players in the world will descend upon Paris to compete in the most grueling test of character, ability and performance in tennis, the French Open.

    All who will compete have each a chance to claim the title which would permanently place their name forever in the history books—only a few though, can feasibly win. And of these few, only a select are serious contenders—serious contenders with the world at their feet.

    Over the two weeks that will be the French Open, they alone will have the power to seize defeat from the jaws of victory—such is their burden.

    But cometh the hour, cometh the man—and these, are the likely men.

1. Spaniard, Rafael Nadal

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    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 07:  Tennis Player Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with his award for “Laureus World Sportsman of the Year” in the winners studio at the 2011 Laureus World Sports Awards at the Emirates Palace on February 7, 2011 in
    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Rafael Nadal rightfully enters the French Open this year as the number one favorite for the title—having won this event five times in the last six years and being the owner of a 38-1 win-loss ratio in this tournament, no-one should be surprised. 

    Injury hampered his advancement to the latter stages of the Australian Open, his losses in four finals this year to his closest rival, Novak Djokovic, have affected his ranking status and his defeats on his favored clay will have taken a chunk out of his confidence.

    One could ask: What could have gone wrong that hasn't gone wrong this year?

    But to ask this question is to forget the very essence of what Rafael Nadal has embodied throughout his career—fighting to the finish.

    When battles lines are drawn and when the odds are stacked against him, he rises to the occasion. This time a year ago, he hadn't won a tournament for 11 months. He was written off, discounted and criticized. Nonetheless, he didn't let it faze him.

    Looking to revive what was by far the worst period of his career, he stepped up to the plate—he lifted his game right up and ravaged the field for the rest of the year. Such was the man's power.

    With this in mind, his current situation is nothing—he's been there and done that. In this year's French Open, Nadal has the opportunity to add another slam title to his 9 Grand Slam titles which would bring him one closer to Roger Federer's record of 16.

    The champion's champion, Rafael Nadal has it all at his mercy—everything to lose and everything to gain.

    No one man should have all that power. 

2. Serbian, Novak Djokovic

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    CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16:  Novak Djokovic attends Fashion For Relief during the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2011 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
    Ian Gavan/Getty Images

    When Novak Djokovic began this year, few expected much from him. It'd been almost three years since he won his maiden Grand Slam title, it'd been a very long time since he'd played at his fluent best and his record against the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was poor—essentially, his career had failed to launch. 

    When he won the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, a lot of people were left rubbing their eyes. What had possessed him?

    Djokovic answered them.

    He rattled off a tournament win in Dubai, traveled halfway round the world and defeated Rafael Nadal in the finals of both Indian Wells and Miami. He returned to his hometown, Belgrade, and won his first clay court title of the year, then he went to Nadal's backyard, Madrid, and beat Nadal, the King of Clay, on clay in the final for the first time in his career. And with all roads seemingly leading to Rome, he only went and emphatically defeated Nadal a week later for the second time on clay at the Rome Masters to claim his 6th title of the year.

    All this achieved and he remained unbeaten. Such is the man.  

    Ranked number two in the world and ahead and on top of Rafael Nadal in the year-to-date rankings, Novak Djokovic has a big claim for the title. His best performance at the French Open came in 2008 when he reached the semifinals—he'll feel he should improve on that.  

    At the moment, he knows that everyone knows that he is unplayable and herein lies his burden—his unbeaten streak will be on the line and his authenticity will be tested. He will have to deal with a lot of pressure and the expectation of a whole nation will be on his shoulders. Key to his form this year has been his improved fitness, his improved confidence and his improved consistencyhe'll need them all because he has everything to gain and everything to lose. 

    No one man should have all that power.

3. Swiss, Roger Federer

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    When Roger Federer famously implied this time last year that any slam stretch—be it the clay court season, the grass court season or the US Open Series—that did not yield a slam title at its end ought to be labeled a failure, he took his fair share of flak.

    These were tough words—Rafael Nadal did not agree and certain sects of tennis fans also did not agree. In fact, the debate rages on.

    What there can be no debate about though, is the pedigree of the man. He's won a slam title on every surface there is, he has the record for most Grand Slam titles won and whilst approaching 30 years of age, he remains competitive.

    His form coming into the French Open is not as spectacular as the likes of Nadal and Djokovic—surprise losses to Jurgen Melzer and Richard Gasquet in Monte Carlo and Rome respectively have left him short of playing time, but his one source of encouragement is the semifinal match he played in Madrid against his biggest rival, Rafael Nadal.

    Taking Nadal to 3 sets is no mean feat and that Federer was able to do so, spoke a lot for the viability of his game. Roger Federer is not quite the same as he was during his peak, but judging from performances late last season, his best form is just the flick of a switch away. Now that is power.

    In the aftermath of the Federer statement referenced above, I personally congratulated him. I thought it was very brave to hold oneself strictly to such lofty standards. Not content with just being the greatest player in history, Federer wanted to raise the bar even higher. In essence, he was saying, if you don't have the slam, you have nothing.

    Some question how effective he can be in the Nadal-Djokovic era. Others think that winning the French Open is important to his legacy. What's for sure is that in the coming French Open, he has everything to lose and everything to gain.

    No one man should have all that power.

4. Scot, Andy Murray

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    The biggest conundrum of the year so far has been Andy Murray—having left a lot to desired from his performance in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, where he lost to Novak Djokovic, Murray spectacularly lost the plot soon after.

    Defeats in the first round at Rotterdam and in the second round at Indian Wells and Miami brought an end to his relationship with then coach, Alex Corretja. Rumors surfaced of an apparent lack of interest in tennis and more rumors spread of the possibility of his taking a break from the sport.

    These rumors were quashed—the clothes made the man.

    Having endured a baptism of fire at the start of his career when his fitness was called to question, Andy Murray acted to rectify the situation. Christmas eves and numerous December 25ths were sacrificed so he could work on his physique, his stamina and strength. Note that today, he's the total package—he's up there with the best of them.

    Not content, his consistency was then questioned. He could beat the Nadals and Federers of the world when it least mattered, but couldn't do it when it mattered most. So what did he do? He improved. He silenced his critics. He reached the US Open final in 2008, he replicated this by reaching the Australian Open final in 2010 and he once again reached the final of the Australian Open this year. Now that's consistency!

    He recently played two of the best matches of his career when he took Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, to three sets in Monte Carlo and when he took Novak Djokovic, this year's immovable object, to three sets in Rome. That he lost both matches is beside the point—Andy Murray is a serious contender on clay against the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. No-one could say that two months ago.

    For the man who would be king, this is a rare opportunity he must avail of. At the cusp of greatness, he has everything to gain and everything to lose. Hmm...

    No one man should have all that power. 

5. Spaniard, David Ferrer (Outsider)

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    AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 15:  David Ferrer of Spain holds up the Heineken Open trophy after winning the Men's Final match against David Nalbandian of Argentina on day six of the Heineken Open at ASB Tennis Centre on January 15, 2011 in Auckland, Ne
    Hannah Johnston/Getty Images

    Fending off a lot of competition for the last spot on this list is veteran David Ferrer.

    By far his best start to a season in years, 2011 has seen the Spaniard reach the semifinal of the Australian Open, the final of the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona and the quarterfinal of the Madrid Masters. The interesting thing is: all his losses have been solely to the members of the big four. Not bad. 

    Ranked number seven in the world, Ferrer boasts a 27-7 win-loss ratio so far this year and has 2 titles to his name—contrast this, for instance, to Roger Federer who has a 28-7 win-loss ratio with just the 1 title, and it speaks for itself.  

    Currently at the quarterfinal stage of the Nice Open, Ferrer's exploits this season have left him 3rd on the year-to-date rankings. By missing the Rome Masters, he ensured he would be adequately rested; and fresh from playing in Nice, his form will be optimized.

    Although he's never been past the quarters at the French Open, his form this season has been an eye-opener. Noted to be one of the best returners in the game, Ferrer's industriousness, strength and stamina should hold him in good stead—he is another with everything to gain and everything to lose.

    No one man should have all that power!