After being away for four plus months, we are back and excited about the French Open! It's only one week away, and we have a lot of catching up to do, so click Read More to get your expanded Weekly Wild Card.
The clay court season is quickly reaching its conclusion. After the tournaments in Rome, Madrid, and Monte Carlo, we have a better idea of how the contenders are looking going into Roland Garros. We'll start with the men.
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournaments
Monte Carlo Masters
Champion: Novak Djokovic, Runner up- Rafael Nadal
Semifinalists: Fabio Fognini, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Champion: Rafael Nadal, Runner-up: Stan Wawrinka
Semifinalists: Tomas Berdych, Pablo Andujar
Champion: Rafael Nadal, Runner-up: Roger Federer
Semifinalists: Tomas Berdych, Benoit Paire
What did we learn from these events? Three things. First, Rafael Nadal is back and better than ever. After being out of action since last year's shock loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon, he returned to action in the South American "Golden Swing". After losing to Horacio Zeballos in the final of his first tournament back, he's won in Brazil, Mexico, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome. His only other loss this year came to Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final. Clearly, he's back to full strength, and he's the clear favorite to win another French Open title. There's only one person who could challenge him at the French Open, and that's Novak Djokovic.
The second thing we learned is that Djokovic is capable of beating Nadal on clay in a final. In Monte Carlo, Djokovic was the superior player over the course of the two sets, and closed it out nicely in a second set tiebreak. Djokovic can beat Nadal two out of three, but it's always been the third set that almost no one has been able to win against Nadal on clay. In Madrid and Rome, we were robbed of a Djokovic-Nadal match by Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych. If Djokovic can get to Nadal at Roland Garros, then he has a shot, more so than anyone else.
And the final thing we learned, Murray and Federer are going to be non-factors in Paris. As much as it pains me to say this, Nadal's demolition of Federer in the Rome final shows that Federer is nowhere near close to beating Nadal on clay, and Murray, due to his lower back problems, might not even play at Roland Garros. Even if he does play, he has never been a huge threat on clay, and it doesn't seem like he'll start now.
Now onto the women. The WTA has been criticised for a lack of dominant champions or compelling rivalries over the past few years. It has settled down quite nicely the past few months, however. There is a new Big 3 on the women's side. Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka have separated themselves from the pack. Azarenka had a tremendous early hard court season, and Sharapova has shown that her improvement on clay last year was no fluke. Serena, however, has been the best of all three of them. After her continued boycott of Indian Wells, she's won Miami, Madrid, and Rome, all cruising through the field. Most tellingly, she defeated Sharapova in the final of Madrid 1 and 4, then followed it up the next week by crushing Azarenka 1 and 3. When she's playing this way, there's almost no one that can stop her. However, last year's French Open and her shock loss in the first round showed that sometimes she ca.n get in her own way. If she does that again, she's vulnerable, but she's shown none of that so far.
Everything old is new again in the tennis world, and over the course of the next week we'll look at the contenders going into the French Open