— Rafael Nadal has never lost a match at the French Open. He’s 29-0, and gunning for his fifth straight Paris title. And it would be a shock to the tennis world if he isn’t holding the trophy on the first Sunday in June.
What makes Nadal so invincible on the red clay of Roland Garros? Well, to start, he doesn’t give you any free points. He’s the most mentally tough player on tour. He’s got such big, big weapons. He has improved his serve. Plus, his game is shows more versatility than in the past.
He is determined to outlast opponents. If an opponent hits anything short, he can expect Nadal to come back at him with these great angles with the ball having incredible topspin so it comes at a player with incredible weight to it, making it very difficult to hit an impressive shot in return.
Nadal is never going to get tired. He’s not going to lose matches because of a lack of fitness. There is no player more fit than Nadal. And he’s moving his opponent around so much, that usually it’s the opponent who gets broken down a bit physically, and then mentally. He just basically wears his opponent out, mentally and physically. Add to this that he has total concentration on every point.
Nadal is a better player this year than last year. He has bettered his serve and improved his volleys. He’s got waves of talent that keep drowning opponents. Nadal has six career Grand Slam titles, and only Bjorn Borg got to that number faster – by a month.
Roger Federer is seen as Nadal’s chief challenger, even though he has lost to Nadal in the last three French Open finals. But there is a ray of hope for Federer as in Madrid in the final tune-up to the French fortnight, the Swiss knocked off the Spaniard, ending the world No.1's 33-match winning run on clay. For Nadal it was a one-sided 6-4, 6-4 loss to his chief rival in the pair's 20th career meeting.
Federer has never won the French Open so his spirits have been boosted after his win ended a five-match, 18-month losing streak against Nadal, a run which included three Grand Slam finals -- the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon, as well as this year's Australian Open. Federer fired two aces, his fifth and sixth of the 88-minute final, to seal the win, and raise his record in finals against his Spanish rival to 5-11.
The Swiss should get more aggressive against Nadal. He’s got this approach where he is going to stay at the baseline and try to out rally Nadal, which is very tough. He needs to come in more. If he did so, he might find he could makes things tougher on the Spaniard.
Federer is without a coach, which is the way he prefers it. I don’t mean to question Federer since he has won 13 Grand Slam titles, but I just don’t think it would hurt him to have a coach. A coach would give him another pair of eyes to be looking at his game, and maybe bring some fresh ideas on how to tackle Nadal.
Besides Federer, a lot of eyes will be on Andy Murray, ranked No. 3 in the world, and a rising star on tour. Murray has stepped up his physicality in the last year. He is so much stronger than he was, he has more pop on his serve, and there’s no question he is physically fit. A huge win and a huge confidence builder for Murray came at last year’s U.S. Open, where he beat Nadal in the semifinals before falling to Federer in the final.
Murray should do well on clay because he is a fluid mover. He has good feel with his hands, and can generate great drop shots. Another great attribute is he is mentally tough. Though he hasn’t yet had great results on clay, he should be considered very dangerous this Paris fortnight. He can do some damage.
The fourth-ranked player in the word is Novak Djokovic, who made last year’s French Open semifinals, where he lost to Nadal in straight sets. He’s been playing well of late. He has great groundstrokes, and moves extremely well. He’s been on the rise since 2007 although he appeared to get a bit worn out last year from playing so much. There’s no doubt he can win this title.
The two top American men in Paris are once again Andy Roddick and James Blake. Roddick debuted in Paris in 2001 and made the third round. Since then he has only twice made the second round. His glaring lack of success on the red clay is due to a few reasons, the most notable of which is his big, booming serve is diffused in power by the dirt.
Blake has been to the third round in Paris just once, and that was in 2006. Blake’s game is a massive one featuring plenty of hard hitting. Clay puts a dent in one of Blake’s biggest weapons, his forehand, and that’s how he gets hurt in Paris. He’s also much more a power player than a patient player so that works against him as well.