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The French Open is Nadal's to lose

May 24, 2014 15:11 IST

The French Open is Nadal's to lose

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Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri

Perhaps it bodes well for men's tennis that even the French Open will be competitive this year, writes Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri.

The French Open starts on Sunday. The only Grand Slam in tennis that is played on clay courts has been owned by the four-time defending champion and the current world number one, Rafael Nadal. With a 59-1 record at Roland Garros and eight French Open titles in all, this has been Nadal's tournament to lose since 2005.

Inarguably the greatest clay court tennis player of all time, Nadal has rarely been challenged during the clay court season at any point in his stellar career. However, this year Nadal has not only lost more than three matches on clay, but lost them to players he usually torments on this surface -- he looked uncomfortable even when he was winning matches.

Almost unheard-of losses to countrymen David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, a near-miss with Kei Nishikori when the Japanese player retired after dominating most of the match, and his most recent loss at the Italian Open to Novak Djokovic have contributed to Nadal's seeming vulnerability this year.

What is even more unusual is that there is no clear favourite heading into the most gruelling Grand Slam of the year.

This is a far cry from the women's draw, where Serena Williams is in the enviable position of being the clear favourite for the title by a sizeable margin.

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Image: Rafael Nadal
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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Federer enters the competition low on match practice

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Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri

The one who comes closest to being considered a favourite would actually be Djokovic, who has gained significant ground on Nadal's number one ranking, and was playing outstanding clay court tennis, until he injured his arm and took some time off before rebounding to win at the Italian Open last week. The French Open is the only title he hasn't won, although he came very close last year in a closely fought semi-final loss to Nadal.

If he stays healthy, it will be difficult to stop him from earning the career Grand Slam this year, but that's far from certain.

The Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka has had an indifferent year since he won his first slam, and at this point it seems too difficult to label him one of the contenders for the title.

The same holds true for the resurgent Roger Federer, who won the French Open in 2009, and has had an outstanding year so far.

However, clay is not Federer's ideal surface, and with the birth of his twin sons a few weeks ago, Federer enters the week low on match practice and fresh off a first round upset loss at the Italian Open.

Andy Murray, from whom much was expected after his historic Wimbledon win last year, has had a string of poor performances, and will be seeded eighth - which means he could end up facing either Nadal or Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Still adjusting after splitting with his talismanic coach Ivan Lendl, Murray played his best match all year at the Italian Open semi-finals, dominating Nadal in the first set before eventually falling short.


Image: Roger Federer of Switzerland
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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Ferrer, Raonic could shake the applecart

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Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri

There is a wide-open window of opportunity for anyone who can string together a series of wins on clay.

There are plenty of spoilers scattered throughout, and some who could actually impact the eventual champion's draw include Nishikori, Canada's Milos Raonic, Spaniards David Ferrer and Roberto Bautista Agut, Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, and France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Although unlikely to be title contenders, each one has enough in his arsenal to shake things up.

Perhaps it bodes well for men's tennis that even the French Open will be competitive this year. But the reason why it is difficult to predict a favourite is not so much the outstanding depth in the rankings as injuries, lack of confidence, off-court personal obligations and so on.

It is quite likely that Nadal will put it all together and vastly improve his game in time to add to his record-breaking feats at Roland Garros. It is just as likely that Djokovic would recover completely from his injury and might be ready to win his first French Open, as well as take back the number one ranking from Nadal.

Whatever the reasons, this year's French Open will be compelling, and competitive. A hard-fought battle in the year's most draining Grand Slam is something to look forward to. Vamos!


Image: David Ferrer of Spain
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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