Battle begins on clay as French Open kicks off

Nadal, Djokovic top contenders for men’s title with Federer completing list of favourites.

Nadal, Djokovic top contenders for men’s title while Serena and Sharapova lead the charge on the women front. DESIGN: MAHA HAIDER


The second Grand Slam of the year goes into action today as the Roland Garros stadium in Paris hosts the French Open.

The men’s bid for taking the crown is led by top-seed Novak Djokovic who has been evaded by the title till now. And this could give hope to tournament favourite Rafael Nadal who is aiming to become the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times. But the Spaniard may have to get past Novak Djokovic before he even contemplates history.

Nadal, however, with 11 grand slam titles on all surfaces to his name, is just pleased to be back playing and winning at Roland Garros again this year is not the be-all and end-all.

“If you can ask me if I win one grand slam during the whole year or win six tournaments like I already did, I will choose to win six tournaments,” said the third-seed, who first meets Germany’s Daniel Brands.

World number one Djokovic, in contrast, has put a lot of pressure on his shoulders having yet to triumph at the French Open.

He has asked his support team and reporters not to tell him who his potential second or third-round opponents are so he can focus on his opener against Belgian David Goffin.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer seeded two and the 2009 champion, has lost four title matches to Nadal in Paris but enjoyed the better fortune in the draw where his first two opponents will both be qualifiers.

Serena out to tame French Open demons

If momentum counts for everything in tennis, nothing will stop Serena Williams from winning the French Open for just the second time in her career.

At 31, the superstar of the women’s game is on an unprecedented winning run going in to the event. Four straight tournament wins at Miami, Charleston, Madrid and Rome (the last three coming on clay) and 24 matches in all for the loss of just four sets represents the best unbeaten streak of her career.

Nothing suggests that is about to end in Paris. And yet there are demons to be confronted for the American in the city she says is her favourite place in the world.

But she says a repeat of last year’s debacle, she says, is out of the question – the lesson has been learned.

“I have been playing a lot more tennis,” said Serena. “I have been spending more time on the court. I felt this past year coming back I had nothing to lose and just really wanted to enjoy my career. You know, in the past when I played I was always so stressed out and always wanted to win, win, win.

“And now I’m definitely having a lot more fun than what I used to.”

The main threat to Williams will probably come from defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia or the best of the new wave, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

But against Sharapova, Williams is 13-2 head-to-head and against Azarenka she is 12-2. She has not lost to either on clay, although all three would say that the surface is their least preferred.
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Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2013.


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