Sunday, May 27, 2007

French Open preview

Roland Garros, the person the French Open is named after, was not a tennis player. He was a fighter pilot in World War I. He's best known for creating a method that made it easier for pilots to fly and shoot at the enemy at the same time by attaching a machine gun to the front. He was shot down and killed just before the end of the war, in 1918.
Another war angle for the hardest tennis major to win: The clay is also called terre battue, which translates into "battleground."
"You said it. And I'm losing," says Andy Roddick.
"Damn right," says Justine Henin.
"I don't think it's so bad, no?" says Rafa Nadal.
"This red crap is all over my shoes," says Maria Sharapova.
All right, kids, pipe down. Time to break out the Ouija board.

1. Roger Federer: You. Meet me at number 2.
2. Rafael Nadal: It's hard to believe that Nadal, twice a French Open champ, loses to Federer on clay by a third-set score of 6-0. I'm not saying he rolled over. Because even rolling over gets you a game. Never mind that, I guess. Nadal comes back to the French Open with the pressures of a defending champion, but minus the pressure of adding to some ridiculous 81-match winning streak. Perhaps Nadal had that in mind in tank -- er, losing to Federer in Hamburg. It's likely that he'll start another streak, and get it to at least 6, which is where the world number 1 likely comes in.
Federer's had some tough matches on clay this season, and obviously, some good wins, but as good as he's becoming on clay, it's always going to be hard for him to play someone in Paris who likely had to have red clay wiped off their ass at birth. The atmosphere, and importance, of a 3-set Hamburg final versus a 5-set Grand Slam final played on heavy legs and an anxious mind is totally different. Federer always has a shot, more than a shot. In the final, you always have that. These two have a near-concrete date for June 10.
3. Andy Roddick: Hey, did anyone see the cover of Mens Fitness this month, where they altered Roddick's picture to make his arms look more buff? If they're into fiction, maybe he can hire those guys to get a picture of him and Photoshop the French Open trophy on it. He's got a cushy draw, but I nominate him for "Most Likely to Lose to Someone You've Never Heard Of."
4. Nikolay Davydenko: Not a strong clay-courter, but he's had a decent season on the battleground so far, the most impressive result a hard-fought three-set loss against Nadal. He could see Monfils or Nalbandian in the third round.
5. Fernando Gonzalez: He showed something in Australia that you don't see from Gonzalez a lot: control. It's barely been seen since, with hit-or-miss results since January. And worse, he's in a really tricky section of the draw, with names like Monaco (who won a warmup in Austria), Canas, Nalbandian and Davydenko.
6. Novak Djokovic: Ah, the mouth from the south of Serbia. What a difference a year makes, from yapping about having Nadal under control (while down two sets) in the quarters in Paris last year to actually beating the guy in Miami. Djokovic is obviously a rising talent, and a guy to watch, if only for the entertainment value. Thanks to a high ranking, he could have a nice tournament, and it's not hard to think that if he does get Roddick in the quarters, Djokovic would come out on top.
7. Ivan Ljubicic: Last year, he lost to Nadal in the semis, and he's not been the same since. His results have been spotty, especially on clay. If he makes it past Robredo in round four, he could draw Federer in the quarters. Have a nice trip home next weekend.
8. James Blake: Can he be the last American male standing again, like last year? Sure. He gets Ivo Karlovic in the first round, whose serve will likely be muted by the clay. Then he gets Old Man Bjorkman. In round four lurks Carlos Moya, who just beat Blake in Hamburg, or Tomas Berdych, who also recently beat him on clay in Davis Cup. I know! You and Ivan can split a cab on the way to the airport!
9. Tommy Robredo: He usually doesn't play above his seeding, so the ride will likely stop for him in the quarterfinals against Roger.
10. Tomas Berdych: Not quite sure how he gets such a high seed, but it's good enough to get him in a section of the draw with a former French winner near the end of his career (Moya) and an American (Blake). If he feels like getting his act together on clay, his reward could be Nadal in the quarterfinals. Congratulations.

The stragglers:
Anyone whose home country is Spain, Argentina, Chile and other clay-speaking countries.
Guillermo Canas (19): Apparently, a two-year ban from the game gave this guy the itch. He's beaten Federer twice since his return, and as mentioned, is from one of those countries.
David Nalbandian (15): Why, David? Why not use your powers for good, instead of for self-destruction? What he needs is a good therapist, like Stuart Smalley, of Saturday Night Live fame. He could hold a mirror up for David to look into and have him repeat, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, I did choke here last year against Federer, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it." Then take a deep recovery breath.
Gael Monfils: Including Amelie Mauresmo, the French person most likely to win the French Open in the next few years. There's a lot of game in that Gumby-esque frame, but is he ready?
Marcos Baghdatis (16): His game hasn't exactly crashed since his breakthrough season last year, but don't expect much from him here. By "much," I mean him getting out of the first round. Sebastien Grosjean in a tough one.
Carlos Moya (23): He'd better do well here, since it'll probably be his last tournament until after grass season. I sense a, oh, let's see, a low ankle sprain right after the French.

The way it's going down
Quarterfinals: Djokovic v. Grosjean, Blake v. Nadal, Federer v. Ljubicic, Monfils v. Gonzales
Semis: Djokovic v. Nadal, Federer v. Gonzales
Final: Nadal v. Federer
Winner: Gotta go Nadal. He's got his lucky pirate pants, and he might as well be playing in his backyard.

If I Only Had a Brain
And a TWA shout-out to Mardy Fish, who made a move so dumb I had to create a category just for him. Fish was all set to play the French (or as set as an American can be) until he visited the NFL Europa team while he was in Germany playing the World Team Cup tournament. He tried to kick a field goal, and injured his foot, and is now sitting out the French. If this were anyone else who had a legit chance at a run, I'd feel sorry for them, but it's hard to believe that the thought that he could injure himself didn't occur to him once.

The ladies preview, as well as the TWA premiere of the doubles preview is upcoming. I need a nap.

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