Two things come to my mind when I think about the 2011 French Open. First, is how incredibly wide open the women’s tournament is. Second, is will we get the dream match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic?
The women’s field is even more open than in the past, especially since neither of the Williams sisters are able to play. Many women have their hopes high set on hoisting the trophy at the end, but the three top contenders are each playing for a little something more.
No. 7 seed Maria Sharapova is going for her career grand-slam, as she has already won exactly one of each of the other three majors. No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters is going for her third consecutive major title dating back to the 2010 U.S. Open. No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki is still looking for her first career grand slam title. Wonziacki appears to have the easiest road to the semi-finals of the three players, especially since Sharapova and Clijsters could potentially meet in the quarters.
The bottom half of the draw that contains Clijsters and Sharapova is loaded with young talent that could actually prevent either superstar from advancing to the championship match. The likes of Andrea Petkovic, Petra Kvitova (who beat Sharapova in Australia) and Victoria Azarenka, among others, could carve their name into a major championship match for the first time. Clijsters is the favorite with Sharapova not far behind, but neither player’s game is best on a clay court.
The top half of the draw has a much more veteran feel to it and while there are some accomplished players, it really is Wozniaki’s section to lose. It contains last year’s finalists Sam Stosur and Franchesa Schivone, neither of whom have had great success since last year’s final. 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is another player that could make a run, but she is always mired by inconsistency. If Caroline continues to play her rock-solid game that has given her great success outside of the majors, this could finally be her moment. Her counter-punching style where she doesn’t beat herself is perfect on this surface.
The fact of the matter is that without Serena Williams being able to compete and the retirement of Justin Henin, the women’s game is going to be wide open. Any number of players could win this event, including someone that wasn’t even mentioned above as a potential roadblock to a top contender.
The men’s game has seen a shift in the last few months from hoping for a Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal final to seeing a Novak Djokovic/Rafael Nadal final. If we get that match in about two weeks from now, it will be quite historic. Nadal would be going for his sixth French Open title in seven attempts, while Djokovic would be trying to tie the all-time record for consecutive matches won and would begin hype about a potential calendar slam.
Each man certainly has a tough task ahead of them before the final round. Nadal has a real tough first-round match against John Isner and may also have to defeat nemesis Nikolay Davydenko (6-4 head to head record against Nadal) and Robin Soderling (the only man to beat Nadal at the French Open).
Djokovic’s main roadblocks are potentially Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer. Del Potro is one of the few active players who has a grand slam title under his belt, while Berdych defeated Djokovic last year in the Wimbeldon semi-finals and made a strong run last year at Roland Garros as well. If Federer and Djokovic meet, it will be in the semis, the same round Novak has taken out the all-time great in the last two grand slams.
With all that said, it just doesn’t feel as if anyone is going to stop the inevitable from happening. Nadal and Djokovic have more than proven themselves to be at the top of the men’s game in 2011. Djokovic is on one of the best runs, if not the best, in tennis history, while Nadal is probably the best clay-court player of all time. We all hope to find out what will give two Sundays from now.