Well, the clay courts are taking no prisoners and are certainly causing upset this year. The French Open has now taken another high profile casualty in the form of Roger Federer himself when he failed to maintain his initial lead over Ernest Gulbis. Meanwhile, Andy Murray just managed to scrape through by the skin of his teeth against the German Philipp Kholschrieber after a terrifyingly close five set encounter which ended up with the final set coming in at 12-10. With Rafael Nadal complaining about a back injury and not displaying his usual physical prowess on court, and Tsonga crashing out to Djokovic after being steamrollered by the number one seed, despite it being touted as a potentially close and difficult match, the final of the French Open now looks to be wide open.
Djokovic certainly looks unstoppable at the moment, making few mistakes and having no apparent injuries or niggling problems to deal with. However, the same cannot be said for some of the other top seeds left in the competition. Nadal almost never complains, even when something is wrong. He is generally averse to mentioning it, in case it takes away from the success of the competition, should he not be victorious. However, he claimed after winning in straight sets that his back was causing him pain and that he had actually slowed his serve down to try and help during the match. In true Nadal style though, he played the problem down almost as soon as he had mentioned it, saying he would rather not talk about it and that it was “not that important.” Another player with lingering back problems is Murray who, like Nadal, also did not seem to be moving with great fluency on court, and he certainly had to dig deep to finally overcome the unrelenting German in the third round. His first serve percentage was fairly pathetic and, if he does want to go further in the French Open, this is the first issue he should address ahead of his next match against Fernando Verdasco. Having flattened Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the fourth round, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, No. 25 Verdasco can be dangerous when his game is at its best.
A potential dark horse, who is often underestimated, is the Spaniard David Ferrer currently ranked No. 5. As steady as they go and the runner up from last year in Paris, he has yet to drop a set in this tournament. In all likelihood, he will meet Nadal in the quarter finals and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top, given the difference in their respective forms at the moment. If Ferrer does manage to do what he could not in the final last year and beat Nadal, then he would probably be a safe bet for the final. Another potential finalist is the Czech player, Thomas Berdych, whose excellent movement and powerful serve got the better of the American John Isner in the fourth round. A good all-around player with a solid style and experience in all Grand Slams, he has never made it past the semi-finals, but he could be one to watch as an underdog.
There is always the chance that a big name will not take the trophy and this would not be so surprising at a tournament which has been ruthless to those thought of as shoo-ins for the later rounds. Federer failing to advance past the fourth round means that he brought an end to his nine consecutive quarter finals streak at Roland Garros as well as, in his words, “a lot of regrets.” He was leading fairly comfortably in the first set, and looked at ease displaying some of his old brilliance, but ultimately lost his footing in the match and ended up making far too many mistakes with a huge 59 unforced errors and having his serve broken seven times. With Murray teetering on the brink of an early exit with cramp in both legs, before gritting his teeth and managing to make it through to the fourth, as well as the absence of Del Potro and failure of Wawrinka and Tsonga, the final of the French Open has been left wide open to speculation. Even if Djokovic proves to be as steadfast as he looks just now, his prospective opponent could be any number of players and the spectators in Paris will no doubt enjoy watching as this extremely unpredictable French Open continues in the same fierce and surprising manner.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion