Saturday, May 22, 2010

Can He Be Stopped?

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:

Federers Quarter:

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.

Pick: Federer

Murray's Quarter:

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.

Pick: Tsonga

Djokovic's 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.

Pick: Ferrer

Look for David Ferrer to make life miserable for all comers.

Nadal's Quarter:

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.

Pick: Nadal

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.


  1. I'm picking Federer-Tsonga, Almagro-Rafa (going out on a limb and thinking it's time Nicolas to drop the 'Almugro' nickname)

    Federer def Tsonga in 4, Rafa def Almagro in 4.

    Pretty sure Rafa will win, I don't think we'll see an RG08 like beating however. As much as it was a good performance from Rafa that year, Fed looked listless out there, I remember Toni Nadal commenting on it, and I fancy that were they to meet again in the final Federer would give everything, as because he's already won the title he really for the first time doesn't need to play with fear - now more than ever he has nothing to lose. I also thought the Madrid final was pretty encouraging, despite the fact it's higher altitude I thought Fed had changed his tactics, flattening out his forehands a bit more for some points, drop shot had something like 7/9 efficiency rate when he used it (which wasn't until the second set). He's sounded subtly confident in PC quotes. So like you I agree it could be close. However I don't know that Fed's best efforts will be enough. Rafa will win.

  2. Emma - Thanks...but slight snafu: Rafa and Almagro are in the same quarter...They can meet in the quarters but not the we need a redo on your pick for the Djokovic quarter, which features JCF, Ferrer, Roddick, Monaco, and Querrey, along with the Djoker...

    Fed's drop shot will be vitally important. I'm beginning to think he should just abuse it and see how it turns out (if they meet in the final).

  3. About that famous RG 2008 beating: Federer was listless (and Toni commented on that), but only after he practically gave up after he realized he was getting killed. He lost so comprehensively precisely because he deviated so much from his true and trusted baseline game and ventured somewhat foolishly to the net, only to be passed and passed again.

    So, no suicide all-out change of style will do for Federer, but clever mixing it up, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, chipping, slicing and dicing, a lot of free swinging and plenty of great serving.

    And then he might not lose so comprehensively.

  4. Nice to see you picked Almagro to get Rafa in the semis. I agree he seems ready to have a breakthrough in a Slam although I don't see him taking out Rafa at all. Meanwhile I can't agree with your pick of Tsonga in the semis. As we saw today Tsonga's game gets toned down on the clay. He might make a run, but I can't see him going too far. With Gulbis out already, I wouldn't be surprised to see a Fed/Murray semi. But in the end it will be Rafa's too lose, can't see Fed winning, unless he radically changes his gameplan or takes Rafa out of his.


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