The French Open draw is done and it has not been kind to either of the two favorites Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Both players have been drawn some of the toughest possible opposition which, if they survive, should result in a final between two match tough, confident opponents.
The first quarter: The first quarter is headed up by Nadal. The Spaniard will have a tough second round encounter to navigate versus either up and coming Dominic Thiem, who beat Monte Carlo champ Wawrinka in Madrid, or home boy Paul-Henri Mathieu who pushed Nadal all the way in their 2006 match. It is in the fourth round and the quarter-finals where the real danger lies for Nadal. He could potentially come up against Amalgro in the last sixteen, his conqueror in Barcelona, and then Ferrer, who beat him in Monte Carlo, in the quarters. Beating Nadal in three sets is one thing though; it is quite another to take him out in five at Roland Garros. Only Robin Soderling has managed that in Nadal’s nine visits to the French Open.
The second quarter: Stan Wawrinka could not have asked for a kinder draw, especially considering the sharp dip in form he suffered after winning the Monte Carlo title. While Garcia-Lopez will prove tough in the first round, Wawrinka should be too experienced over five sets to be unduly troubled. After that, Wawrinka should sail into the quarters against Andy Murray. That match should go the way of the Swiss no.1. Last season, Wawrinka thumped Murray in straights in Monte Carlo and then again at the US Open and there is nothing to suggest this encounter should not go the same way.
The third quarter: Much like his countryman Wawrinka, Federer was also dealt a good hand by the draw, in the early rounds at least. Lacko and a qualifier are the first and second round prospects and then 31st seed Tursunov. Matters get more dangerous in the last sixteen with potential matches against Youzhny or Nice finalist Gulbis. Then would come Berdych in the quarters. Berdych has inflicted defeats on Federer at Wimbledon and the US Open in the past and is not afraid of the Clay, beating Djokovic in Rome last year, and reaching the French Open semis in 2010. But Federer is a former French Open champion and a four-time runner-up, plus has a 12-6 head to head lead over the Czech and should find a way to win what will be a testing encounter.
The fourth quarter: If Novak Djokovic is going to complete the career slam this season, he is going to have to do it the hard way. Djokovic could face Chardy, Federer’s conqueror in Rome, in the second round, Cilic, who won the first set against him in Miami, in the third, and then Tsonga in the fourth. If Djokovic can survive this section of the draw, he is seeded to face Raonic, who was within a tiebreak of beating him in Rome, or Nishikori who had the better of Nadal for a set and much of the second in Madrid.
Semi-final One: Nadal should take this one comfortably. By the time he navigates his way into the semis, he will be feeling confident if not invincible. Wawrinka does have a chance, and memories of his recent Australian Open victory over Nadal should inspire him, but it will take a performance of a lifetime to become the first man to beat Nadal at the French since Soderling.
Semi-final Two: While Federer has beaten Djokovic twice this year, he was edged in a final set tie-breaker in their biggest match in the Indian Wells final. And Djokovic is, quite simply, playing his most aggressive and impressive tennis since 2011. Federer did beat him at Roland Garros that year, however three years on Federer is 32 and looked shaky in his last match against Chardy in Rome while Djokovic looked every bit a future French Open Champion in his Rome title-winning run. Djokovic should take out the 2009 champion in four tough sets.
The Final: Nadal versus Djokovic is what tennis fans should be served up for the second time in the French Open final. The eight times Champion against the man who is looking to win his first Roland Garros trophy and complete the career slam. Djokovic certainly has Nadal’s number recently with four consecutive victories, but Nadal at Roland Garros is as close to unbeatable as a champion gets at a slam. Nevertheless, if anyone is going to trump him, it will be Djokovic, and his recent display in Rome which saw him dominate Nadal for the final two sets, and Nadal’s poor Clay court season, suggest that this could be Novak Djokovic’s year.
If Djokovic wins he will create history, becoming the eighth man to hold the career slam, and he will reassert himself at the top of the ATP rankings. He will certainly deserve it if he can survive the players he will be up against, players he will have earned the right to lord over should his French Open dreams come true.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
Tennis net is the regular tennis column of the Guardian Liberty Voice.