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A review of the men’s draw at the 2012 French Open

1 Jun

The men’s draw at the French Open is fairly simple to analyze considering the dominance of the top three players and will make for some classic matches from the semi finals onwards. Each of them has a unique opportunity to make history. The world number one, Novak Djokovic, could become the first men’s player since Rod Laver, to hold all four majors at the same time. Rafael Nadal – by winning – could better Bjorn Borg’s record for the most titles at the French Open, while a more unlikely win by Roger Federer, could result in him adding to his record number of grand slam titles to 17.

Andy Murray has not quite been in the league of the top players of late and as such cannot seriously be considered a title contender. His section of the draw is however the most interesting as it also contains David Ferrer who has been incredibly consistent of late, particularly on clay.

The main consideration when viewing the quarters containing the top three players, is which players have any chance at all to prevent them from reaching the semi’s and determining the most interesting matches that might occur in each section.

 

Djokovic’s quarter

Djokovic is seeded to meet the top ranked Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter finals. Both players will however have to face tough opponents in both the third and fourth round. Djokovic seems set to meet Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round. While Verdasco is sure to be confident following his win over Nadal on the blue clay in Madrid, he will probably be unable to pull off an upset as Djokovic has been incredible in grand slam play of late, while Verdasco has been fairly inconsistent.

Tsonga could participate in one of the matches of the tournament against the winner of the third round match between Stanislas Wawrinka versus Gilles Simon. These three players are arguably the players in this quarter most able to provide Djokovic with a stern challenge. Unfortunately only one will have the opportunity to face Djokovic.

Player most likely to upset Djokovic: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Best potential match in this section: Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Gilles Simon 

Djokovic’s most likely quarter final opponent: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

If this encounter is realized, I fully expect Djokovic to progress over the Frenchman with some comfort. He has truly been a great number one player and although his form is not what it was a year ago, is still quite incredible. He is unlikely to lose to a player better suited to grass or hard courts like Tsonga.

 

Federer’s quarter

Federer’s quarter contains grand slam winner, Juan Martin del Potro and finalist Tomas Berdych. While both these players have gained wins over Federer in the past, they are hardly at their best currently, with Del Potro dealing with injuries yet again while Berdych would be lucky to come through his third round match against the top ranked South African, Kevin Anderson. Either way, I don’t foresee either of them beating Federer as he has consistently been the second best player on clay in the world for the past several years when considering performances at Roland Garros and clay court title wins. I fully expect to see Federer gain straightforward wins in his third round match against Nicolas Mahut and likely fourth round opponent Lukas Kubot.

Player most likely to upset Federer: Thomas Berdych 

Best potential match in this section: Thomas Berdych vs. Kevin Anderson

Federer’s most likely quarter final opponent: Juan Martin del Potro

If Del Potro were in perfect health I would expect him to give Federer a considerable challenge. He is however battling injury and moves somewhat haphazardly on the dirt. Combine this with Federer’s great play lately – he has a better win-loss record since the US Open last year than any other player – and Federer should be heavily favoured to win this match without too much drama.

 

Murray’s quarter

Murray is the player seeded to reach the semi finals that is most likely to be upset before reaching that stage of the tournament. In order to reach the semi finals he would likely have to overcome the Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the fourth round followed by David Ferrer in the quarter finals. Considering Murray’s back problems which many thought would lead to him retiring in his second round match and the tough matches he has against Gasquet in the past, he could very well lose this match. Alternately Ferrer who has been in magnificent form throughout the clay court season – only losing to Nadal – would have a very good opportunity to reach the semi finals over Murray at the French Open.

Player most likely to upset Murray: David Ferrer

Best potential match in this section: Richard Gasquet vs.  Andy Murray

Murray’s most likely quarter final opponent: David Ferrer

 Murray has been injury-stricken of later and struggling to play at his best. In comparison David Ferrer has been consistently striking the ball incredibly well, he also naturally moves very well on the clay courts at Roland Garros. As such, I anticipate Ferrer stealing a rare upset of one of the top four seeds here at the French Open.

 

Nadal’s quarter

The player seeded to meet Nadal in the quarter final is the Serbian number two, Janko Tipsarevic.  This seems likely to be realized as Nadal is virtually unbeatable at Roland Garros. Tipsarevic should be able to overcome his likely fourth round opponent, Nicholas Almagro, although I do expect that matchup to have the potential to be a closely contested matter.

Other significant players in this section are Milos Raonic and the clay court expert, Juan Monaco. These two players meet in the third round with the winner set to meet Nadal in the fourth round. Raonic is one of the best up-and-coming players on the tour with a throwback big-serve-and-volleying-ability style of play. Yet Monaco has superior abilities on clay. Their match is sure to be one of the best third round encounters at the French Open. The match winner could also go on to provide at least somewhat of a challenge to Nadal.

Player most likely to upset Nadal: Milos Raonic

Best potential match in this section: Milos Raonic vs. Juan Monaco

Nadal’s most likely quarter final opponent: Janko Tipsarevic

Nadal is by far the best player around on clay. I cannot imagine him losing to any player in his section of the draw and actually expect him to win in routine manner against whomever he plays in the quarter finals.

 

Semi final 1: Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

Semi final 2: David Ferrer vs. Rafael Nadal

 Nadal as mentioned will be virtually unbeatable in this tournament. He has beaten Ferrer with some ease several times in the recent past and I expect this match to reflect a similar score line should it come to be. The anticipated Djokovic versus Federer match could be quite an amazing match. They have played several times at the majors over the past year with each player having opportunities to win. This match ought to be the same. The result will be determined by the composure of the players on the big points. Should Djokovic win I expect him to go on to complete the Novak Slam, while a win for Federer, would probably result in Nadal winning in the final and bettering Borg’s record of six French Open titles.

 

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A review of the women’s draw at Roland Garros after two rounds

1 Jun

I have been jumping up-and-down for the past few weeks loudly informing everyone and anyone that the French Open is about to start; while I have in recent years been particularly appreciative of men’s tennis, it is seeing how the women’s draw pans out, that I’ve been most looking forward to.

While women’s tennis has in the recent past been plagued by irregularity and the inability of the top players to perform well consistency, this trend seems to have been bucked in 2012. The top three players have been dominating for the most part, with Victoria Azarenka carrying a very impressive win-loss ratio for the year of 35-3. Maria Sharapova has won several titles, while Agnieszka Radwanska has 36 wins thus far this year. Other than the top three, the sole player viewed as one of the dominant players prior to the French Open was Serena Williams.

She had a 17-0 record on clay coming into the French Open – hands down the best lead-up to the tournament of any player, male or female. Yet she lost in the first round to a French player, Virginie Razzano, currently ranked outside of the top 100, resulting in a draw that likely favours the top three women.

Siberian-born Sharapova is the player who likely benefits the most from Serena’s loss as she would have met the top ranked American in the quarter finals had they both progressed to that point. Since Sharapova habitually loses in emphatic fashion to Serena each time they meet, this is a major boost to her title chances as she will not have to face her Achilles hill in order to win the title. When considering her form during the clay court season, Sharapova – with her wins in Rome and Stuttgart – deserves to now be considered the favourite.

Other players with a significant chance to win include the world number one Azarenka, who has blown to smithereens the image of inconsistency that has dogged the number one players on the WTA tour the past few years. Add a fairly easy draw and she has to be considered a serious title threat. Radwanska’s movement on the dirt and ability to consistently play at a high level means that she too could make serious inroads into the second week of Roland Garros. Defending champion Li Na did not look to be in great shape coming into the French Open, but her ability to move on the dirt and love of the Roland Garros courts, means she cannot be discounted from defending her title. Her showing in the first two rounds has been impeccably and quite befitting a defending champion. A number of seeds in her section of the draw lost early – further opening up the draw for Na.

Were Caroline Wozniacki not seeded to meet Sharapova in the quarter finals, I would have considered her a title contender; I cannot however see her beating Sharapova and then going on to win against two more great players in one week. There are of course a few other players such as Sam Stosur, former champ Ana Ivanovic and the top German player, Angelique Kerber, whose title chances ought to be considered too.

While the top three players are favoured to win, there are many other players capable of winning seven matches at Roland Garros and walking away with the title. These are my picks of the players I expect to progress from each quarter.

The top quarter

Azarenka was a few points away from exiting the French Open in her first round match against the Italian veteran, Alberta Brianti. She however managed to turn things around and pull off a fairly impressive comeback victory and followed it up with an emphatic win in the second round. Her draw from here seems fairly simple, with Dominika Cibulkova a potential fourth round opponent. The 5-foot-3 Slovakian has however had a season blighted by inconsistency and I expect Azarenka to ease to a comfortable win over her to reach the quarter finals.

In the other section of this quarter, Sam Stosur is the definite favourite to progress. The Australian player is quite possibly the best player on clay that remains in the draw. While her third round match against Nadia Petrova could be a tricky one, the Russian player’s form on clay is not on par to what is has been in the past. Stosur’s serve and confidence ought to dispel any challenge provided by Petrova. As such, it is likely that the players seeded to reach the quarter finals in this part of the draw, will do so.

Quarter final 1: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sam Stosur

If this quarter final is realized, I expect a very tough battle between the two most recent grand slam winners to unfold. Azarenka holds a superior 6-0 head-to-head record over Stosur and with her greater run of form I expect her to overcome Stosur’s exemplary clay court abilities after a significant battle.

Semi finalist 1: Victoria Azarenka

The second quarter

The standout match of this quarter is the pending fourth round encounter between third seed Radwanska and former French Open champion, Ana Ivanovic. While recent statistics seem to indicate that Radwanka should be favoured to win and potentially go on to take the title, my dark horse for the title is Ivanovic. She has regained her confidence as a tennis player and as such I believe her capable of taking Radwanska – a delicate player of the ball against whom Ivanovic will have to employ sound strategy – out of the tournament.
In the other section of this quarter, Marion Bartoli was the top seed. Since she has however made an early exit from the French Open, I expect tenth seed Angelique Kerber, who has developed into a top ten player at alarming pace over the past six months, to comfortably reach her second grand slam quarter final.

Quarter final 2: Ana Ivanovic vs. Angelique Kerber

Should this prediction be accurate, I anticipate Ivanovic to yet again be a semi finalist at Roland Garros, based purely on her status as a more experienced player, particularly on clay and in the second week of a grand slam, as their games are very closely matched. She should be able to maintain her composure and put in a sound performance to better the top ranked German player who has only reached the top 10 very recently. As a side note – if Radwanska comes through instead of Ivanovic, I expect she will be largely unstoppable and too much of a force to deal with for Kerber.

Semi finalist 2: Ana Ivanovic

Edit – following Ivanovic and Radwanska’s third round losses to Sara Errani and former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova respectively,  I suspect the quarter final will be contested by Kuznetsova and Kerber. Kuznetsova not only won against Radwanska, but quite honestly destroyed her. She will be difficult to beat if she continues playing as she did in that match. Iexpect she should be able to overcome Errani in the fourth round, while Kerber should reign supreme over Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta in the third and Petra Martic in the fourth.

Quarter final 2: Angelique Kerber vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Kerber has a great opportunity to progress to her second major semi final. The young German has consistently improved her game and is favoured by me to proceed over the inconsistent but more experience Russian.

Semi finalist 2: Angelique Kerber

The third quarter

The third quarter contains the two most recent French Open champions, Li Na and Francesca Schiavone; they could possibly meet in what would be an intriguing quarter final matchup since their styles of play differ so drastically. While Li Na is a ferocious and modern clean hitter of the ball, Schiavone is famed for her one handed backhand and aptitude at changing up a match with her ability to slice the ball. Schiavone has however had a horrid season and before having the opportunity to face Na, she would likely have to overcome Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, in the round-of-16.

While a match between Na and Schiavone would make for entertaining viewing, I don’t expect the encounter to be realized as Kvitova should be able to stand as victor over the struggling Schiavone. Thus Kvitova versus Na is the likely quarter final match up from this division of the draw.

Quarter final 3: Li Na vs. Petra Kvitova

Prior to the start of Roland Garros 2012, I would have picked Kvitova to win this match with some ease, as her form – while by no means measuring up to her Wimbledon title run last year – has been superior to Na’s, who has seemingly accomplished very little since her win here last year. However since the start of the tournament Na has been hitting the ball incredibly well. As such, it is my prediction that the higher seeded player will lose, with the Chinese veteran progressing to the semi final.

Semi finalist 3: Li Na

The final quarter

The final quarter of the draw is perhaps the most fascinating section of the draw as it contains former world number ones, Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki, in addition to two great players with the potential to vie for grand slam titles in the near future in Anastacia Pavlyuchenkova and Julia Georges. Fourth round matchups between Sharapova and Pavlyuchenkova and Wozniacki and Georges seem quite likely. I favour the more experienced pair to proceed from these encounters into the quarter final. Sharapova’s game is developed far beyond Pavlyuchenkova’s and her mental resolve will also favour her against the younger Russian.

Georges versus Wozniacki has the potential to be a more closely contested battle. While neither is playing as well relative to the rest of the field coming into Roland Garros as a year ago, both are still some of the best young players on the tour. Wozniacki, without the pressure that followed her as world number one is who I favour to win this encounter as she will take advantage of the low expectations and beat a player who’s been off of her best of late.

Quarter final 4: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova

It is my opinion that this potential encounter will be one of the better ones to occur during Roland Garros 2012. Sharapova has held the upper hand in matches against Wozniacki and as such I expect her to win, albeit in three tight sets. Sharapova of course also has a far superior record on clay courts in addition to the immense confidence she carries as a result of her recent climb up the rankings following several years of battling injuries on-and-off.

Semi finalist 4: Maria Sharapova

There are certainly some interesting days of tennis to come over the next week or so whether these picks pan out or not. In any event I will evaluate the state of the draw and the relative chance of each player remaining following the quarter finals. Check back for my analysis of the men’s draw later today.

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Top 10: Roland Garros 2.1

5 Jun

Part 2

(Note that this article is a continuation of Top 10: Roland Garros 1.0 which you can find by either scrolling down or clicking here and a correction of Top 10: Roland Garros 2.0 which was incorrectly published earlier.)

Will

At number five on this list is Maria Sharapova and Francesca Schiavone. Despite not being considered title contenders by many prior to Roland Garros starting, they were among the few top players to surpass their seedings at this year’s French Open. Sharapova has not been particularly successful at grand slams since she came back from major shoulder surgery, this in addition with her not being a great clay court player resulted in few expecting her fortunes to turn around at the French Open this year. Schiavone wasn’t expected to win the title last year, and really wasn’t considered capable of defending the title prior to the tournament starting. (I too was guilty of this and now have to admit that her title last year was fully deserved – she truly is a great champion.) She however put in an amazing run yet again, all while playing a beautiful style of tennis. Both these ladies made it far in the tournament after being involved in matches which they came very close to losing – Sharapova was a set and a break down in her 3rd round match against the young Caroline Garcia, while Anastasia Pavlyunchenkova was similarly close to knocking out the Italian veteran in their quarter-final encounter. Through their frequently quoted never say die attitudes these respective grand slam champions fought back to win not only those, but quite a few matches at the French Open with Sharapova making the semi’s and Schiavone being the losing finalist. A great display of will and determination by two otherwise very contrasted players.

The New World: China

Ranking number four is the French Open victory of Li Na. The 29-year old, first time grand slam winner, has always been a threat at Wimbledon, frequently putting in decent runs at the grass court major. She was however unexpectedly a force to deal with during the French Open fortnight, taking out big guns, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in consecutive matches and beating the defending champion, Schiavone in straight sets in the final. What her victory might do for tennis in China will likely only be accurately measured a few years down the line, but if it resembles the surge of popularity which tennis has experienced in other countries which provided grand slam winners in recent years – Serbia, Russia, Italy among them, it is likely that hordes of Chinese children will pick up racquets over the next few weeks. Considering the sheer volume of people in China, the law of averages indicates that a few new Chinese grand slam champions should be along shortly as a result. This in addition with the huge numbers in viewership which having a Chinese audience brings to tennis, means that Li Na is not only a great player, but her win will also do great things for tennis and she is likely to leave have a lasting legacy for the sport.

The Epic Battles

Five set matches comes in at number three on the list. The longer version of the tennis match is truly capable of providing the most amazing imaginable situations in tennis. It was no different at Roland Garros this year. Nadal’s almost loss to Isner would have been one if it weren’t for the match being played over five sets as opposed to three. He is now in the final, with a very good chance of being the eventual champion. Andy Murray too would also have lost earlier were it not for the men’s matches being played over five sets at the majors – against the Serb, Victor Troicki in the 4th round. There were several more high drama five setters played in the 4th round – Albert Montanes vs Fabio Fognini, Juan Ignacio Chela vs Alejandro Falla and Gael Monfils vs David Ferrer. Not only do five setters cause the better player to win more often than not, but it also has the potential to result in an absolutely thrilling match with no apparent end in sight, capable of testing even the fittest player’s resolve and drive to win.

One might even be able to credit five set matches as the reason why there were far fewer upset results in the first week in the men’s draw as opposed to the mass exodus of seeds which happened in the women’s draw. I’m not suggesting women play five sets – but purely hypothetically if they were to play matches over five – the draw might play out as the seedings indicate it ought to.

Goliath and Goliath

Number two on the list is the Federer vs Djokovic semi final match. It was best described by Nadal as being the “best player of the moment against the best of the history”. This match truly lived up to this billing and was played at immense pace of shot, with overwhelming pressure on the man on a 43-match winning streak to win. The stakes were certainly high – not only was a spot in the final up for grabs, but the number one ranking was also a possibility for the Serbian man, should he have won. Unfortunately for the younger man, Federer was in devastating form, and played the match close to perfection. Particularly surprising was how demoralized Djokovic seemed in the second set, he came across as being somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion or rather the Federer play. All-in-all this was a great match between two giants which serves as excellent advertising for the sport of tennis. Both these gentleman are top fit, played with very little error and proceeded to wow the crowd for a good four hours before Federer left as the victor. It’ll be great to see if he can maintain this standard of play in the final and finally win a final against Nadal, who deservedly carries the King of Clay moniker.

The Rivalry Continued

For the fourth time in the finals at Roland Garros, Federer will have to overcome the much favoured to win Nadal. Whether or not Federer can tame the lefty topspin forehand which Nadal will direct to his one-handed backhand will surely provide some clue as to the winner of this match. If Federer is capable of hitting through his backhand and getting the result he craves, this match is likely to go down as his finest
grand slam victory ever. If Nadal executes his tactically superior game plan, as I suspect he will, it’ll be a record equalling sixth French Open title for him. As a result, this match will be one for the history books regardless of who wins, and as such tops this list at number one.

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