The same small bunch of players reaching the late stages of one Slam after another: sign of GOAT-level play from the men at the top, or of inadequate competition from the lower tier? It’s funny how the points that can be used to argue that the current crop of male players are tennis’s golden generation, can also be used to prove the opposite: that the men’s field is currently so shallow that no one can challenge the guys at the top. It’s perhaps a good thing, then, that Andy Murray failed to make the cut this time; at least now everyone knows that there is someone who can compete with the top dogs.
Here’s a look at how the men’s semifinals at this year’s French Open are likely to pan out:
It’s hard to believe that this is the first time that Ferrer has made it to the semifinals of the French Open. Isn’t the guy supposed to be a claycourt expert? Ferrer has excelled on claycourts everywhere except at Roland Garros, because every time he puts together a nice run of form, he runs into a member of the Big 4, where all of his tireless running comes to naught. The Spaniard has lived in the shadow of his more accomplished peers for a long time now; almost too long. Not this time, though. Ferrer has had the most comfortable path to the semis apart from Nadal, and in his quarterfinal against Murray he handed the Scot a claycourt clinic. If he were playing anyone but Rafael Nadal in the semifinal, I’d have given Ferrer a good shot at reaching the final.
But he is not playing anyone but Nadal. It’s ironic how Ferrer’s draw among the players ranked 5 to 8 was the easiest up to the quarterfinal stage, but the hardest beyond that. What makes Ferrer’s predicament worse is that he doesn’t even seem to have the belief that he can conquer his countryman on clay. When asked about his chances in the match, Ferrer said, “I think you can win a set to Rafa, but there is a difference between winning a set and winning a match. Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible.” So Ferrer is going into the semifinal hoping to just win a set? I’d have said that approaching a match with that kind of mentality is a recipe for disaster, but against Nadal, on clay, almost anything that Ferrer can concoct will be a recipe for disaster.
Prediction: Nadal def. Ferrer
Ah, the much awaited reprise of the 2011 semifinal. What are the odds that Federer and Djokovic will do an encore, stitching together another classic for the ages? Not very good, I’m afraid. For one thing, this match-up almost failed to happen because of the bad patches of play from both Federer and Djokovic. Djokovic was lucky to escape against both Andreas Seppi, where he played flat-out shoddy tennis, and against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, where he didn’t play quite as shoddy but still failed to keep his foot on the pedal after a thunderous start. Federer, meanwhile, has looked as though his mind is a thousand miles away, to put it bluntly. He struggled against rank outsiders in the first four rounds, and many observers feel he would have lost his quarterfinal to Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets if it hadn’t been for Del Potro’s injury. Moreover, the motivation and pressure levels of both men aren’t exactly ideal for producing a competitive match. While Djokovic has almost too pressure on his shoulders, with the possibility of becoming the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Majors at the same time growing stronger with every round, Federer would have little motivation to fight for this match till his breath gave out, considering he seems to have one eye on Wimbledon and the Olympics already.
That said, both Federer and Djokovic have been known to raise their level at the business ends of Slams. And the pattern of their performances at the Australian Open this year gives cause for hope too. In Melbourne, Djokovic suffered plenty of lapses through the early rounds, but he put it all behind him in the semis and finals. On the other hand, Federer was flawless up to the semis, but fell apart once he got there. Reversing the trend of their early round performances seemed to be their mantra in Melbourne, and we can only hope that Paris inspires them to do something similar. And if that does indeed happen, who will have the edge? Despite last year’s result, I’ll have to go with Djokovic here. He is more solid off the ground, has more firepower in his groundstrokes, and will likely attack Federer’s backhand, always a liability on clay, with a vengeance.
Prediction: Djokovic def. Federer