Rafa's running red-hot right now - does anybody stand even half a chance of taking him out in Paris?
There are sure to be some surprises this year at the 2010 French Open, but then again, most people are pretty sure about one thing: Nadal is gonna do the deed.
How could he not? His post-match celebration in Madrid spoke volumes. It was big and boisterous, but it was also foreboding. Nadal may be part showman and part humble human servant, but more than anything he is a practical assassin. He had so much aggression left over that he punched his racquet bag as he moved over to his chair.
It was obvious that in his celebration, Nadal wasn't celebrating his third straight Masters shield as much as he was celebrating the fact that he was ready - ready to keep his torrid play up for as long as he needs to, and against all comers.
Clearly, Rafa is a player that can get hot and never cool down. He's the architect of an 81-match win streak on clay. The size of his current streak - 17 - indicates that this might be just the beginning of another epic run by the iron-willed Spaniard.
That being said - last year proved that the unthinkable can happen. Now the tennis world is wondering if lightning can strike twice in two years.
But before we hand the trophy to Rafa, let's acknowledge that there are lots of players who deserve to be considered as possible derailers of the breakaway locomotive from Majorca. Federer, while seemingly unable to conjure a game brilliant enough to befuddle Nadal (2-10 on clay, ughhh), may be saving his most subtle masterpiece for the upcoming weeks. It's hard to imagine but it isn't impossible.
And let's not forget those two brave souls who somehow found a way to snake a set off of Rafa this spring, Ernests Gulbis and Nicolas Almagro. They'll have to play near perfect tennis to do it, but, as Soderling proved last year - it can be done.
Without any further ado, let's dig into the draws:
Does Fed have some tricks up his sleeve?
The mighty Federer made a huge statement in Madrid, when he miraculously (based on his form earlier this spring) pulled himself into form, avenging his loss to Gulbis in Rome, and getting some desperately needed matches under his belt. The experience will have to come in handy as Federer's quarter is perhaps the trickiest in the men's draw.
Fed may have to meet Monfils in the 4th round and Gulbis or Soderling or Cilic in the quarters.
Meanwhile, Gulbis and Cilic are looking at a must see third round match, with the winner sure to be high on confidence going forward.
Murray's play since Australia has left many a believer scratching their heads - or maybe it was that meek 'I can cry like Roger' comment that has caused some confusion as to Murray's mental fortitude. It's natural to be disappointed about losing a Grand-Slam final, but it's also natural to take that disappointment and let it fuel you to even greater heights.
Nobody is expecting Murray to cause much of a stir on what is by his own admission his worst surface, especially now that he has drawn this week's Nice ATP 250 champion, Richard Gasquet.
If he does get by Gasquet, He'll be headed for a possible 3rd round encounter with Marcos Baghdatis and a possible 4th round encounter with the ever-dangerous Tomas Berdych.
Possible quarter final matches with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mikhail Youzhny await the Scot if he gets that far. John Isner and Tommy Robredo, two complete opposites in terms of play, but both equally dangerous, are also lurking in this quarter.
It's hard to notice that while this may be Novak's quarter of the draw, the biggest threat to advance to the semis are probably a pair of Spaniards with a lot of F's and E's in their names.
David Ferrer was one of the most effective and entertaining players to watch all clay court season long. He leads the circuit in clay wins, and he's proven, time and time again, that he's pound for pound one of the toughest and most determined dirtballers in the world.
Juan Carlos Ferrero is a former Roland Garros champion who, at the past-your-prime age of 30, has been playing some of his best tennis in recent memory. It must have something to do with the water or tapas in spain, or it could be the Tempranillo wines that some of the players have been known to indulge in (during the off-season of course). Whatever the reason, the Mosquito is a good bet to make the 4th round for a possible match up with Djokovic.
It has been a difficult season for Novak up until this point, but before you write him off please recognize that this is one of the most talented clay courters in the world. Yes, he's enigmatic, and yes, some of his early exits from Grand-Slams in the last few years are maddening, but he's still No. 3 in the world, and still a threat to go deep in the draw. The first few rounds shouldn't be too difficult for Djokovic, and if he can avoid another letdown -either physically or mentally- he may be able to play himself into top form just in time to face a pair of Spaniards who are gunning for glory.
Look for David Ferrer to make life miserable for all comers.
Here are a few names that would normally strike fear into the hearts of the opposition on clay: Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Gonzalez, and Thomaz Bellucci. But when that opposition is Rafael Nadal, there is no fear, only hunger, a willingness to compete, and a compelling quest to play tennis as perfectly as it can possibly be played.
Almagro, based on his surprising effort against Rafa in Madrid - did anyone see how hard and how flat he was hitting his one hand backhand? - is the most likely to challenge the king of clay. But he'll have to get past Gonzo - just returning from injury - and Verdasco to reach that match. If anyone has the chance, or more importantly the go-for-broke mindset combined with the courage to not back down against Rafa, it is Almagro.
Semi-final picks: Nadal over Ferrer, Federer over Tsonga
Final Pick: Nadal over Federer in 5 (yes, 5)
For in-depth analysis of the women's draw, please visit On the Baseline Tennis news.