French Open 2011: 20 Bold Predictions for Federer, Nadal and Others
The 2011 French Open is the most predictably unpredictable tournament of the Grand Slams. Who knows what could happen.
Is there a Gaston Gaudio lurking (the last unseeded player to win)? Can Robin Soderling strike again? Is there a clay court breakout star?
The only real guarantee is that barring injury, Rafael Nadal is going to win yet again.
Duke making the NCAA's, the Yankees making the playoffs, hockey finishing without anybody realizing and after taking the title five of the past six years, Nadal hoisting the trophy at the end of two weeks in Paris are as sure a bet as there is in sports.
Here are 20 other bold predictions for this year's French Open men's draw.
1. Nadal Will Win the French Open
Many people suspected the only reason he lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round two years ago was because of injury. Nadal was suffering from tendinitis in both knees, and while he refused to blame the loss on his cranky joints, he did subsequently pull out of Wimbledon, which was more than a telling sign.
This year Nadal has a chance to tie Bjorn Borg's record of six (Open era) French Open titles, and there is little doubt he is ready for the challenge.
2. Djokovic Will Not Pass McEnroe's 42-Match Win Streak
Djokovic is going to have to settle for the fact that McEnroe already thinks his 39-match win streak is more impressive than his own record-breaking run of 42 straight wins he reeled off in 1984.
It certainly could be, but that probably won't be much consolation to Djokovic when he comes up short. Some people claim the pressure of the win streak will get to him.
I don't buy that.
He's already won seven titles. The pressure doesn't get any more intense than a Grand Slam final, and Djokovic has already passed that test. Where his past five months of total dominance might trip him up though is if he has a bad day and is forced to grind out a tough five-setter.
So far this year Djokovic has only played in two close third-set matches and has yet to play a five-set affair. If he has a bad day (hasn't happened yet) and needs to gut it out, he won't have the previous experience to rely on. An occasional loss or tough match helps to keep players grounded and hungry. So far this year Djokovic really hasn't had any such matches and has pretty much blown through the competition.
What happens though when he is down two sets to one? He's played 37 matches and 88 sets, and only lost the first set four times. Can he dig deep against a top opponent when it matters most? Does he have true mental toughness?
Eventually that "inexperience" is going to come back to haunt him.
3. Roger Federer Will Make the Finals Once More
Federer is the world's second best clay-court player. Because Nadal is the one always holding the famed Coupe des Mousquetaires, people seem to forget that Federer would likely have three more pieces of silver hardware to add to his already record-setting trophy collection if it weren't for his Spanish nemesis.
As Jimmy Connors once said, "Federer's versatility was summarized by Jimmy Connors: 'In an era of specialists, you're either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist...or you're Roger Federer.'"
Unfortunately for Federer, Nadal's knees only break down once in a blue moon. Nevertheless, playing in his fifth French Open final in six years will be nothing to sneeze at.
4. Andy Murray, the Forgotten Man
The forgotten man will have a forgettable tournament.
Due in part to Djokovic's incredible run, Del Potro's revival and of course Nadal/Federer, nobody is talking about Murray, yet nobody should have been more excited about the draw than the talented Scotsman.
Murray couldn't have asked for an easier road to the semifinals if he tried. There are hardly any sleepers in his side of the draw, and all the seeds are power-hitting hard-court specialists who are in for a miserable time in Paris—except Nicolas Almagro.
After the Australian Open, Almagro skipped the remainder of the early hard-court season and headed back down to South America where he has been tearing it up on the red dust.
Andy Murray holds a 2-1 head-to-head lead in his series with the Spaniard, but he lost in their only meeting on clay, which incidentally came at the French Open. Expect a similar result this time around.
5. Juan Martin Del Potro Will Be the First to Beat Djokovic
The title of the slideshow promised bold predictions, so that is what it is delivering.
After 39 straight tour victories to start the year, Djokovic will be knocked out in the third round by Juan Martin Del Potro.
After winning the US Open in 2009, many expected Del Potro to challenge Federer and Nadal for the world's top ranking. Unfortunately the promising Argentine was derailed by injury and forced to miss almost the entire 2010 season as a result.
Now healthy, only Djokovic and Nadal have been hotter this year. Del Potro has gone 27-6 and climbed all the way back into the top 30, currently sitting at 27 in the world rankings. Expect that number to rise.
Like Djokovic, Del Potro's game is best suited for hard courts, but he has the skill and variety to thrive on all surfaces, as he demonstrated by reaching the 2009 French Open semis.
Building off that success, look for Del Potro to send Djokovic to his first defeat of the season in what should be one of the most anticipated third-round matchups of all time.
6. Robin Soderling Will Not Reach the Finals for Third Consecutive Year
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
After coming out of nowhere to reach the final in 2009—and defeating Nadal in the process—no one thought Soderling could do it again. Instead, Soderling promptly came back and returned to the finals once more, this time taking down Roger Federer and ending his streak of 24 straight semifinals appearances.
It seems only logical that Soderling would defeat Djokovic en route to a third straight final, right?
Not going to happen.
For one, they are on other sides of the draw. Seeded fifth, the same seed as last season here, Soderling's run will come to an earlier end in the quarterfinals at the hands of Nadal. Unlike two years ago, Nadal is healthy and not currently suffering from tendinitis, which spells trouble for the big-hitting Swede.
Still considering his best result is the quarterfinals in the other Grand Slams, Soderling should certainly be pleased with the result.
7. Tomas Berdych Will Be Sent Packing Early
Thomas Berdych is a good player who is about to have a bad tournament.
There are several reasons why Berdych shouldn't be expected to reach the second week at Roland Garros.
For one, while decent on clay, his game is much better suited for the faster hard courts.
Secondly, again some positive results notwithstanding, Berdych has failed to show he can beat the true dirt-ballers. He can hold his own against lower ranked players and those who are not clay court specialists, but when facing a true grinder or the "backstop" type, Berdych has neither the versatility nor the patience to beat the best on clay.
8. David Ferrer Will Once Again Fail to Get Through to the Semis
David Ferrer is the best clay court player to have never won the French Open.
By most accounts—Djokovic's recent run aside—Ferrer is the third-best clay court player in the game behind Federer and Nadal. The guy has all the ingredients: he's a fierce competitor, has a relentless motor, is incredibly fit and doesn't miss. He's also just plain good.
So why has Ferrer preformed well in every other clay court tournament other than the French?
For as skilled as he is, and given that he is a natural clay-courter, his record at Roland Garros is terrible.
In context most players would love to have reached the French Open quarterfinals twice, but considering Ferrer is ranked seventh in the world and it's his favorite surface, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Roland Garros is Ferrer's Mount Everest. He has all the tools and physical abilities, yet he's still stuck at base camp.
Is this the year he finally breaks through? With Federer in his draw, unfortunately the answer is no, but he should make the quarterfinals for a third time at least.
9. Jurgen Melzer Will Lose to a Wild Card in the Second Round
For much of the spring Jurgen Melzer had been playing the best tennis of his life. By reaching No. 8 in the world rankings, Melzer achieved his highest seeding in a Grand Slam.
Recently though, Melzer has stumbled and arrives in Paris limping into the tournament (both metaphorically and possibly literally as well).
Trouble started a few weeks ago in Madrid when Melzer looked listless and lost in straight sets to Daniel Gimeno-Traver in his first match at the Masters Series. The Austrian followed up that ugly outing the following week with another poor first set against Florian Mayer before he eventually retired with injury.
Having a few weeks off to rest should help Melzer, but not enough to shake off the rust. He will lose in the second round to wild card Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin, who has had experience on the courts of Roland Garros, reaching the third round once before.
10. Gael Monfils Will Keep the Fans Waiting for Another French Champion
Gael Monfils is France's great hope for a Frenchman to hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time since Yannick Noah in 1983. He has the game to win in Paris, and came close when he reached the semifinals in 2008 and the quarterfinals in 2009.
But the French are going to have to suffer another arduous year, as Monfils' run will end in disappointment once again—this time to Ferrer in the third round.
11. Mardy Fish Is Going to Be the Highest Seed to Lose in the First Round
Mardy Fish has had an incredible year and is currently ranked a career best 11th in the world.
Too bad that won't help him on clay.
Fish has a relatively poor record in all four Grand Slams, but has truly been spectacularly awful at Roland Garros.
Determined to improve and extend his career, Fish lost 30 pounds this past season to get himself in the best shape of his life. The hope was to improve his fitness and his hustle enough to be able to out-grind the game's most consistent players.
While the work has paid off so far, it won't help much at Roland Garros.
A career 2-5 at the French Open, Fish has only reached the second round twice in seven attempts. Make that eight after this year. Facing a strong clay-courter in Brazil's Ricardo Mello the first round, Fish will once again be one-and-done in Paris.
12. Richard Gasquet Will Finally Break Through
After a series of disappointing showings that rival those of Mardy Fish, Richard Gasquet will finally break through in Paris to the delight of the home crowd.
The man with the simple, yet sensational swing has been flummoxed by Roland Garros much to the dismay of many of his fans. After years of failures on his home soil, Gasquet is ready to make a run.
Benefitting from Del Potro's upset of Djokovic in the third round, Gasquet will put his troubles behind him and pull off an almost equally shocking victory of Del Potro in the very next round on his way to the semifinals. With thousands of his compatriots cheering his every beautiful swing, Gasquet will be the sports story of the tournament and rouse the usually blasé French fans in the process.
Television networks love nothing more than the home crowds falling in love with the local underdog hero as he makes a daring run at greatness. Gasquet will keep the narrative alive, inspiring his country until falling to Federer in the semis.
In the end, the much-hyped Gasquet will prove to the tennis world he has finally arrived.
13. Nicolas Almagro Will Round out the Semifinalists
The loud, collective groan you just heard was from the Tennis Channel and NBC TV executives who just had their dream semifinal dashed by Nicolas Almagro.
Wait, who? Are you kidding me?
Almagro spoiled it.
First there was Nadal going for a record-tying sixth French Open. Then there was the greatest champion to ever play the game in Federer. Plus there was the Nadal-Federer rivalry that was finally rekindled.
Djokovic was knocked out, but that was fine because the hometown underdog hero took his place, which actually makes for equally as good drama. Roland Garros would inevitably set up some type of "Heman Hill" outside the stadium, and organizers would buy five thousand French flags. NBC would pan to it 30 times a set, and at some point Marry Carillo would wander into the audience to feel the excitement. Oh, the goose bumps.
So it's all set. The last piece of the puzzle would be the fiery, scrappy Scotsman, making his way through the draw fighting for recognition...
Scratch that. Insert Almagro.
While TV execs might be looking him up now, they will be plenty pleased by the time the semis roll around. Almagro is a passionate player who sometimes teeters on the edge of volatile with occasional wild, explosive outbursts.
After watching Almagro play though, you can't help but root for him. The guy plays with his heart on his sleeve and goes for broke on almost every point. With a penchant for hitting the lines, Almagro defies the typical clay court player. Deuce called Almagro a "temperamental talent" and said watching him play is like watching a tempest in a teacup.
All the more reason to hope he makes the semifinals.
14. American Tennis Approaches Rock Bottom
American tennis is in a major slump with no end in sight. As for the French Open? Forget about it.
Andy Roddick pulled out before the tournament even started (not like it mattered much if he played).
James Blake's career has gone into hiding (it might be time to start thinking about coaching).
Mardy Fish is scared of Grand Slams (in 13 years on tour —49 Grand Slams—he has made the third round four times).
Taylor Dent? Uh...who again? Robby Ginepri? Ditto.
Promising John Isner? He has the good fortune of getting Rafa in the first round. See you at Wimbledon.
Sam Querrey? Clay isn't exactly kind to a guy who is 6'6" and lacks speed and quickness. Next.
America's best hope on clay is talented young gun Ryan Harrison, and he didn't even qualify.
At least we still have the Williams sisters. What? They're out too?! #d%s$da&vg@!
It's gotten so bad there is more than a decent chance that no American will reach the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time in, well, ever.
Here's hoping that doesn't happen. At least one American—we're counting on you Mr. Querrey—will bust through to the second round.
15. Spain Builds a Tennis Dynasty
As late as 1985, Spain didn't have a single player in the top 10 of the ATP Rankings and had only four players who were ranked in the top 100.
Today, Spain boasts three guys in the top 10 alone and a whopping 22 in the top 100.
The first wave of Spain's new generation of talented tennis stars was Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Now it's Nadal who rules the roost, but he is not alone. In this year's French Open there are five seeded players:
- Rafa Nadal (1)
- David Ferrer (7)
- Nicolas Almagro (11)
- Fernando Verdasco (16)
- Guilermo Garcia-Lopez (30)
Feliciano Lopez should be seeded and has beaten 11 guys in the top 50.
Unlike America's lone seed in Querrey, these guys all have the ability and potential to do serious damage, including winning the tournament. Okay, that's not totally fair because they have Nadal, but still...
16. Fabio Fognini Will Be the Only Unseeded Player to Reach the Quarters
Fabio Fognini. Write the name down.
The 23-year-old upstart Italian is going to use this year's French Open to propel himself into the ranks of the big leagues. Currently two spots from his career-high ranking of 47, Fabio will be this year's young break-out star.
After reaching the third round here last year, Fognini is prepared to take it two steps further.
Not only does Fabio have an awesome name, he also speaks four languages (Italian, English, French and Spanish), and is young and talented. He's also a millionaire, having won 1.6 million in his short career. Sigh.
If Fognini doesn't make it, it will be because he loses to Albert Montanes, another unseeded player who will then take his place in the quarters instead.
17. Four Qualifiers Will Reach the Second Round
This is actually not as bold a prediction as one might think, given that two sets of qualifiers square off in the first round.
Nonetheless four qualifiers will advance:
- The winner of the Spanish qualifiers (Albert Ramos vs. Javier Marti).
- Croat Antonio Veic, who will upset Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas.
- Canadian Frank Dancevic, who will beat lucky loser Italian qualifier Simone Bolelli.
- Veteran Colombian Alejandro Fall, who will knock out (my favorite player) Potito Starace.
18. John McEnroe's Record Will Live, but Bjorn Borg's Will Be Tied
John McEnroe's record of 42 straight wins will live to see another season. Novak Djokovic will come precariously close, but his streak—which currently stands at 39—will be broken by Juan Martin Del Potro one match shy of Djokovic tying the record.
A week later, Nadal will indeed tie Bjorn Borg for most French Opens in the Open era with six.
19. Blue Will Be This Year's Color of Choice for Clothing Designers
The French Open is famous for bringing out the brightest colors and most eccentric outfits. From Dominik Hrbaty's grotesque pink open-shouldered shirt, which first appeared at the French Open (see here), to Gustavo Kuerten's Brazilian-inspired yellow and blue ensemble, to Nike's hot pink and yellow designed getup for Nadal, the French Open always brings out the best, brightest (literally) and wackiest among the designers.
If the clay court season is any indication, this year's color of choice appears to be royal blue.