KARACHI: Men’s Championship
This year’s second Grand Slam is upon us and the focus appears to be on two men trying to write a history of their own. The defending champion and ‘king of clay’, Rafael Nadal, will once again start his campaign at the Roland Garros as the hot favourite, looking to win his ninth crown in Paris and break the record of four consecutive French Open titles held by Bjorn Borg. He was earlier stopped from surpassing it in 2009 by another Swede, Robin Soderling.
His defeat to Soderling was the only time the Spaniard has been beaten at the Roland Garros since making his debut there in 2005.
However, Nadal has only one claycourt win from the four played so far this year, making 2014 the first time in the Spaniard’s career that he will come to Paris with a sole title on his favoured surface.
On the other hand, second seed Novak Djokovic, who came close to knocking over Nadal in last year’s semi-finals in a five-set thriller, seems close to mastering the world number one after beating him in the recent Rome Masters. If the Serb remains confident and avoids injury, he could very well win the only Grand Slam that has evaded him thus far.
Third seed Stanlias Wawrinka and last year’s quarter-finalist has established himself under the spot light after being crowned the Australian Open champion to take his first Grand Slam victory, and then a first Masters Series win in Monte Carlo. Despite knowing his way around the clay court, he has spoken of assuming the role of one of the favourites by saying, “The favourites, there is Nadal and Djokovic. They are far above the rest.
“You can tell me what you want. It’s always going to be the case. When they’re on the courts, nobody else can beat them,” he said according to AFP.
Next on the list falls Roger Federer, whose seven grand slam titles include the 2009 French Open. He is probably the only one apart from Wawrinka whose name gets mentioned when questioning who, other than Nadal or Djokovic, could be a factor for the June 8 men’s final.
Even though he has it in him to win one more grand slam, it is most likely not going to be on clay due to his previous records and given the recent birth of his second set of twins which led him to withdraw from the Madrid Masters.
David Ferrer, the 2013 semi-finalist, who is starting to show his miles on his odometer, Tomas Berdych, who has lost in the first or second round at Roland Garros seven times in 10 appearances and Andy Murray, who has advanced to the semi-finals once and quarter-finals twice are the next contenders who could cause a surprise.
Fresh from a Rome Masters win only days after pulling out from Madrid Open due to injury, defending champion Serena Williams looks all set to scorch the red clay at the 2014 Roland Garros once again.
The 17-time grand slam champion impatiently swept past all opponents last year, dropping only one set on the way to glory. Judging Serena’s prime form at the moment, there is no stopping the American from claiming this season’s title as well, unless a shock upset disrupts her plans to add a third French Open trophy to her cabinet.
This year’s edition promises a host of unpredictable results and outcomes. If Serena advances to defend her title, she is in no danger to meet old rival Maria Sharapova in the final, unlike the last year. The Russian has been drawn in the same quarter as the world number one, setting up a possible quarter-final clash between the two.
Sharapova is undoubtedly one of the major threats to the reigning French Open champion, as the world number seven had improved considerably on her clay court form, winning back-to-back Stuttgart Open and Madrid Open titles. However, Sharapova has lost her last 15 meetings with Serena, so their potential last-eight meeting would be an intriguing sight.
Before that possible match-up, Serena may meet sister Venus Williams in the third round, provided both players make it that far. The former has a 14-10 edge over her older sibling.
“It never gets easier,” Serena said of playing her sister, according to The New York Times. “She’s essentially the love of my life, so it’s definitely difficult.”
Meanwhile, Australian Open champion and world number two Li Na may also pose a formidable threat to Serena. The Chinese player won the first of her two grand slams at the French Open in 2011, making her the first and only grand slam singles champion from an Asian country.
Li has landed a relatively favourable draw, as the possible highest-ranked opponent in her quarter may be sixth-seeded Serbian Jelena Jankovic. However, 10th seed Sara Errani knocked the Chinese out of the Rome Masters quarter-finals and may be cause of worry for Li.
Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who has eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber in her quarter, may go on to set up a semi-final against Serena. Although the Pole has not won any grand slams, she has reached the semi-finals of almost all the tournaments this year and may find enough form to finally take a grand slam home.
Among the top seeds, Serena and Radwanska will initiate the women’s tournament on Sunday, with the world number one playing against French wildcard Alize Lim and the latter facing world number 43 Shuai Zhang.
History: Way back when…
The stadium that stages one of the world’s four major tennis tournaments was built in 1928, but the French men’s singles championship goes back much further than that, according to the official website of Roland Garros. Originally reserved for members of French clubs, it was first held on the courts of Stade Français club in Paris in 1891. The women’s singles were added six years later, it was not until 1925 that the French Tennis Federation decided to open the event to the best foreign players.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2014.