2011 French Open : Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray Scheduled for Last 4

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IMay 21, 2011

ROME, ITALY - MAY 15:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia walks from the change over during the final against Rafael Nadal of Spain during day eight of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 15, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The odds to have the top four players in the world at Roland-Garros semifinals for the first time since 2006 are great if we take a closer look at the season of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

At that time, David Nalbandian and Ivan Ljubicic were the third and fourth seed while Federer and Nadal were the top two.

It is the tradition at Roland Garros to have the defending champion be part of the draw ceremony.
On Friday, Rafael Nadal was looking forward having a fortunate hand.

The one that would not have Federer or Juan Martin del Potro in his half of the draw. Mission accomplished!

However he will have to deal with Murray and Robin Söderling, who beat him at Roland Garros two years ago. Can Nadal recover from two successive loss on clay to Novak Djokovic?

Since January only one guy has dominated the whole tennis world and no one can deny it simply because no one has beaten him.

He won four times against Rafael Nadal this year, in Indian Wells first and then in Miami, Madrid and Roma.

Those last two losses are going against an established principle that looked unable to shake:

The Spaniard’s hegemony on clay. To see him lose on fast surface is one thing, but to see him lose his supremacy on clay is an other one.

This year will be a very special one because it’s the first time that Rafa is going to Roland-Garros in an outsider position.  He’s obviously mentally touched because it all happened very quickly.
The Serbian is a real tactical issue for him.

Djokovic does not give any open areas, has no weak shot nor flaws on some specific sequence, so Nadal does not know at all where to start in order to beat him. 

His aggressive game lead by his forehand on the opponent’s backhand is not effective, because Nole’s backhand is able to counter-punch by taking the ball on the top of the rebound.

All the others are getting dominated because they let the topspin going to far.

But Nadal is not the kind of player who will let this domination go forever. At some point, there will be a reaction from this tremendous fighter.

He has no choice. He has to throw all his energy into this battle because if he lets the Serbian spread his domination further, that could be the point of no return.

It is mandatory for him to react now: Roland-Garros has to remain his land. Or he could lose for a long time his No. 1 spot.

In that way, this French Open could be one of the most important ones of his whole career in the way that it could be a turning point

At the same time, It’s tough to find the words to describe what the Serbian is achieving right now because it has become hugely impressive in a so quick time.

During the Davis Cup final, his commitment, his rage, his confidence and so this victory have all helped this man’s unique temper to be fulfilled.

Let there be no mistake, it’s his personality that makes Nole an out of this world competitor, like his main rival by the way.

His game has not changed, but you feel the Serbian is more serene, more confident in his tennis and his ability to succeed. Regarding the game, I’m impressed by how it seems flawless.

His defensive and counterpunching game are outstanding, he’s staying on his baseline perfectly and takes advantage of the first little flaw of his opponents, of the first little chance he has.

He’s serving well and returning amazingly.

His natural temper makes him a tough fighter. I’m not sure everyone is realizing how much this Roland-Garros will be decisive in Nole’s and Rafa’s career.

If the Serbian wins, he’s sharply dictates, and for the long run, his new domination of the tennis world.

Beating Rafa in a Roland-Garros final after having dominated him on hard courts too would mean taking a nearly permanent psychological ascent on him.

Elsewhere, Andy Murray could be presented as the No. 1 outsider of the event. 

Finally out of his post Australian Open crisis, awake by the clay, he played two key matches on this surface.

One against Nadal in Monte-Carlo and the other one against Djokovic in Roma.

The Scotsman is always a dangerous opponent, able to beat anyone.

He’s for now always missing the last step because he has not gained the needed confidence in order to achieve big things through the last tournaments, and through this season regarding his preparation and commitment. That’s not Novak Djokovic who would say the opposite.

I always feel like saying the same over and over again about Andy but same causes and leading to same consequences: not having a guide with a strong project is harming the game guideline of his season. But as far as Roland-Garros is concerned, he’s for me the player most able to change the plan.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer is going through some tough times.

He’s on the downhill even if he’s remaining a more than dangerous player.

He’s clearly one tone below the top two players of the moment, even below a Murray of the good days, but he still owns margin against most of the field.

There are moments in his matches when he loses his concentration. He can get away with most of the players, but it has become too complicated for him when he has to play against Rafa or Nole. 

His serve is less efficient, his footwork has lost speed and crushing power, he’s not as often as before able to turn around his backhand in order to strike with his forehand, and so he’s committing more mistakes on this backhand, which is his less strong shot.

He’s trying to come more to the net, to move forward, but for now, it’s not working as wanted.

His net game, technically accurate, is lacking automatisms.

He’s not covering the net like a player who spends enough time and years to train on it. He’s way too easy a victim for Nadal and Djokovic’s passing qualities.

And clay only makes his flaws bigger. It’ll be tough for him to win Roland-Garros even if this year the balls are hard and fast so will advantage the players enjoying fast surfaces.

At the same moment, Juan Martin Del Potro, who won the US Open in 2009, was great despite having been out for a whole year. He’s among the tiny bunch of players who can fight against Nadal and Djokovic domination.

Unfortunately for him, he had to go back home in order to get examined for a hip injury. So we don’t know at all how he feels now and how he has been able to prepare the event.

Other players can hope slim hopes at Roland-Garros this year including the French armada led by Richard Gasquet, who beat Roger Federer in Rome last week. 

Getting closer to his baseline, stronger in his shots, more daring on the court, he can have a great tournament.

Last but not least, let's not forget the two-time French Open runner-up Robin Söderling.

Always efficient in Roland-Garros, the Swede is in a letdown since he’s not working anymore with Magnus Norman, the one who changed this gifted but not settled player into a solid one.

Therefore, I'll be very surprised if Söderling reach the the final for a third successive year.

We will have to wait a couple of rounds to see if the four top seeds are going to have an easy run, or a tough one.  The fresher they will be, the more chance they will have to go all the way through.

Rafa is scared, Nole is on top of the world , the balance of power will definitely show it's verdict on June 5th.



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