French Open 2015: Who will win the men's singles title?
The clay court season over the past decade has been dominated by one man- Rafael Nadal. However, the year 2015 has seen the king of clay slowly lose his control over the throne. The surge of Novak Djokovic this year with titles galore is reminiscent of the season which the Serb had four years ago. However, one thing that he couldn’t win in 2011 and is still missing from his trophy cabinet is the French Open title.
Djokovic has come ever so close to the title falling to the Spaniard in his last three attempts. Could this be the year when he finally completes his Career Grand Slam?
Can Djokovic win his first French Open title?
With the season that the world number 1 has had, very few would give a chance to any other player at this year’s French Open. The Serb started the year with the Australian Open title and went on to win titles on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami. He continued his perfect record on the clay courts of Rome and Monte Carlo to win an unprecedented four Masters titles in the year before setting foot in Roland Garros.
Despite the year he has had so far, there were instances when the world number 1 was troubled on clay. He was extended to three sets in the final in Monte Carlo against a fighting Tomas Berdych. The Serb was again tested by clay court specialists in his campaign in Rome, dropping sets against Nicolas Almagro, Kei Nishikori and Thomaz Bellucci. However, on each of these instances his defensive skills bailed him out of tricky situations. With the red hot form he is in, it would require a Herculean effort to topple Djokovic and stop him from completing his Career Slam.
Rafael Nadal – Gunning for ‘La Decima’
Nadal enters the French Open with no title on the European clay court leg, something that hasn’t been heard of in a decade. The Spaniard has lost five matches on clay this year, the most since the year 2004 when he was still a rookie on the tennis circuit. Are these signs that the Spaniard is no longer invincible on clay? Will he be able to lift his game to win his tenth title in Paris?
Firstly, it can be agreed that this hasn’t been the best year for the Spaniard. However, on comparing his record on clay with the 2014 calendar year, one can see a striking similarity. The World No. 7 was stretched in most of his matches against top players. A defeat to compatriot David Ferrer in Monte Carlo followed up with a shock defeat to Almagro in Barcelona. Even in the Madrid final, Nadal was stretched in the match before Nishikori had to retire from the match. Despite this, the Spaniard went on the win the title in Paris.
One can argue that the manner of defeats last year and this season have been totally different. The loss to Wawrinka and Murray exposed some of the weaknesses that lie in Nadal’s game. Despite this, the fact that he has won an unsurmountable number of titles on the red dirt in Paris makes him a strong contender next week. Also, the matches so far have been best of three set affairs, maintaining the same consistency in a best of five sets against the Spaniard would be a different kettle of fish.
Will he be able to win the French Open? I think Nadal would reach the quarters with ease, from then on depending on the draw owing to his drop in ranking; the Spaniard may not progress further.
Resurgence of Andy Murray
Meanwhile, an unlikely contender in the form of Andy Murray has also entered the fray with a win at the Madrid Masters. The Scot has always been an underdog in matches against top players on clay. However, this year his aggressive play, especially in the Madrid final against Nadal showed that the Scot cannot be taken lightly on his least favorite surface.
With two titles on clay this year, I believe the Scot has a chance to go deep in the draw at Roland Garros. The thing that would separate him from the trophy would be his temperament in long matches. As was the case in the Australian Open final, where after being neck-and-neck with his opponent in the first two sets, he withered away in the third and fourth set to succumb to defeat. If Murray is able to maintain his aggressive play, he could be a strong contender for a third Grand Slam title.
Can Roger Federer make inroads on clay?
Roger Federer hasn’t had the most convincing of performances on clay in the last few years. Despite winning a title in Istanbul and reaching the final in Rome, the Swiss maestro has looked vulnerable in his matches on clay.
Losses to Kyrgios and Monfils in the run-up to Roland Garros are justification of his susceptibility. However, his performance in Rome could bring some cheer for Federer fans, as the Swiss number 1 reached the final without dropping a set. In the final though, Djokovic’s prowess finally got the better of him. I believe Federer would reach the last eight-stage with some minor hiccups in the earlier rounds. From then on, the draw as well as his ability to win long matches would be paramount in determining if he progresses further in the tournament.
Apart from the “Big four”, the other players in the top 10 also pose a significant threat at Roland Garros. Kei Nishikori has had a good clay court season so far winning the title in Barcelona and losing to the eventual winners in Rome and Madrid. The Japanese number 1 showed tremendous promise towards the latter half of last year, when he reached the final at Flushing Meadows. He had a promising clay court season last year but couldn’t capitalize on it at Roland Garros due to injury. Nishikori would be looking to go deep at this year’s tournament and could be a serious threat as the tournament progresses.
Tomas Berdych, meanwhile has risen to his best career ranking at number 4 on the back of solid performances throughout the year. Despite not winning a title, the Czech has reached the business end of tournaments this year and would be a dangerous opponent. This was visible in his three set defeat to Djokovic in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters where he gave the world number 1 a run for his money.
Stanislas Wawrinka on the other hand has had an up and down year so far. After early losses at the hands of Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid and Monte Carlo, the Swiss number two got his game together in his straight sets win over Nadal in Rome. The potent backhand of the world number 9 was enough to overpower the Spaniard and would be a big threat at Roland Garros. Despite this win, Wawrinka had a lackluster performance in the semifinal and succumbed to a defeat against his Swiss compatriot. Consistency would be the key for him if he manages to reach the quarterfinals and beyond.
Lastly, the ever-consistent David Ferrer will also be a significant force on clay. The 2013 French Open finalist has had a decent year so far, but hasn’t been able to make a significant breakthrough. I expect him to reach the fourth round with ease, but then he needs to step up his game if he needs to progress further.
All-in-all, Djokovic appears to be at a head start as compared to the other contenders for the French Open title. All that the tennis fans can do right now is to wait for the action to start and see these gladiators competing for the Coupe des Mousquetaires.