Every year since 2005, there is one question that tennis fans want answered at the French Open – can Rafael Nadal be beaten?
But this year, the top question will be: can Novak Djokovic finally win the Open in 2013?
Many believe that Novak Djokovic will be the favourite to finally claim his first French Open crown this year, this coming on the back of ending Rafael Nadal’s dominance at the Monte Carlo Masters, where he won his biggest clay court title to go with the pair he won in Madrid and Rome two years ago (both by beating Nadal in the final).
Despite Djokovic’s favouritism for the French Open, I still believe that Nadal is the man to beat as he chases an eighth title, which would be a record for any man at any Grand Slam tournament. He has only ever been beaten once at the French Open, and has also only ever been taken to five sets once.
Facing Nadal at the French Open is a virtual mission impossible, but only one man has been able to knock him off the throne. And his name isn’t Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.
It was on May 31, 2009 in which history at the French Open changed forever. For the first time since Nadal made his tournament debut in 2005, the Spaniard left the court a loser as Robin Soderling sent him packing in four sets.
The removal of the biggest obstacle in Roger Federer’s quest to complete a Career Grand Slam ultimately allowed him to achieve just that.
Novak Djokovic is going to have to hope that something similar happens this year, but I feel that Nadal’s loss in 2009 was simply a one-off, as it has been proven in the last three years.
Losses like these are very rare, though Nadal was beaten in the second round at Wimbledon last year, a result which also changed the course of history and allowed Andy Murray to become the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final.
John McEnroe has called for the French Open tournament organisers to assign Nadal as the top seed, as it is now all but certain that Nadal cannot overtake David Ferrer (who has a 1,000 point lead over the 11-times Major champion) before the tournament organises its seedings in two weeks’ time.
I would agree with his argument, given that if he is seeded fifth for the French Open, he could potentially face Djokovic in the quarter-finals. That could potentially result in the Serbian’s current streak of eleven consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals being ended (he is on a current streak of fifteen consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals), along with his quest to complete a Career Grand Slam.
And that would be totally unfair. Djokovic and Nadal should not be allowed to meet this early at any tournament. And given their rivalry since 2010, I would love to see yet another final between these two gladiators.
For mine, I feel that Nadal should draw David Ferrer in the quarter-finals, as this would allow all the “Big Four” to reach the semi-finals, as they did in 2011. Ferrer is a worthy player, and has beaten Nadal twice at major tournaments (at the 2007 US Open and the 2011 Australian Open) as well as Murray (last year’s French Open).
So, will this finally be the year that Novak Djokovic finally wins the French Open?
His Monte Carlo Masters victory over Nadal could set the precedence for a dominant clay court season.
However, it’s going to take skill, guts and determination to achieve the ultimate prize and he will have to be ready to beat Rafael Nadal, whenever they do meet.
Djokovic will also be desperate to go one better after losing to Nadal in last year’s two-day French Open final, where the match was suspended due to rain on the first day, just when Djokovic appeared to have some momentum going, having Nadal on the ropes in the third and fourth sets before the Spaniard came back to win in four sets.
Nadal has retained his title in Barcelona, which means it’s equal in the European clay court season as far as champions are concerned.
There are still the clay court events in Madrid (which starts this week) and Rome to get through, before we can really determine who is the favourite to win the French Open this year. An outright favourite cannot be determined by just one tournament. Maybe it was that Nadal wasn’t having a good day in that Monte Carlo final.
I still feel that he is the man to beat at Roland Garros, given his dominance on clay and at the tournament overall. Djokovic will challenge, but the big question will be whether he can challenge Nadal over five sets on clay. As for Federer and Murray – they will probably want the grass court season to start sooner rather than later.
Later on this month I will provide a full preview of the men’s and women’s chances at the French Open, with the main focus being on Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for the men, and for the women, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.