There is something about Roland Garros.
The red coloured dust. The almost suffocating but beautiful domination by Nadal. Those ugly and dusty socks after a single set.The way it defied and remained as an unsolved puzzle for Pete Sampras for his entire career. The never ending tapping of shoes with rackets. The bright Sun. The equal prize money. The constant supply of sliding shots. There is a lot to like about it but incidently those big servers and serve-and-volleyers tend to disagree!
French Open is already on us. Four days into it, there are no serious casualitites, except the first round exit of Venus Williams, albeit seeded 30. I did not want to write a about the contenders even before the tournament started and then, as sports always does, being forced to watch one of them crashing out in the first round itself, making myself look like a perfect jack ass. Writing it now, I still run the risk of it but the chances are comparatively less. Intelligent, huh?
For me, these are the four players who will make it into the Men's semifinals, provided they don't face each other before the Semis, as I am not aware of which side of the draw they are in. Here we go
Rafael Nadal: Only a fool or a betting illiterate will bet against him winning a record 8th French Open title. He was in red hot form, winning 4 out of 6 tournaments on clay since his comeback from injury. An year ago, his knee finally gave up after years of "Vamossss" powered pounding. But, by the look of it, he has somehow got that in a piece and moving pretty well too, considering he almost feared for his career at that point. Only a terrible off day or some freak culmination of circumstances (like rain and the chair umpire refused to stop play until he played 6 games in the wet clay in last year's final) will prevent him going all the way. The bad news for all his opponents is that, after missing out the last 2 grand slams he seems hungrier and fitter.
Novak Djokovic: If anyone is going to match Rafa in spirit and endurance, it has got to be him. He gave Rafa a good fight last year, with help of rain, but at the end it was not enough to stop the spanish bulldozer. Though he did not have good 2012 as fruitful as the previous year, he is more rounded with his game now. He is an absolute powerhouse for his fragile physique and possess a forehand as good as any in the game.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: The man with a beautiful name and cheerful personality has the game to back it too. Being French definitely helps and expect the volume in Center court to act as an extra point every game if he reaches the Semis. Admittedly clay is not his best surface and his huge serve will not play as big a part as on hard courts, but he is still a threat nonetheless. His aggressive ground-strokes and effective net play will play an important part on the slower clay. The only thing which stands against him is his performance in the big matches when stakes are at the highest. Time to change that Jo.
David Ferrer: Talk about a cheap Spanish imitation (not politically correct, but still) and here he is. Except for being Spanish and being friends, there is not much common between Ferrer and Rafa in terms of playing styles. One of the best returners in the current game, he is supposed to be a clay court specialist with his quick feet and viciously spinning backhands. He is yet to reach a Grand Slam final but that is more in his mind than in his game.
Note-1: I don't have anything against Roger Federer but I simply don't see him getting to the Semis here. He has started the tournament in great fashion, though against lesser opponents, but you don't have to be Mirka Federer to know that clay is not his favourite surface. Any of the above four is capable to take him out and even those in the next tier, the Gasquets and Tipsarevics, will be giving him a good run for his money on clay.
Note-2: With the risk of justifying my wife's accusation that I watch women's tennis not for tennis, I have to admit that it is too tight (no pun) to pick a top four there. Admittedly Serena had a great last year but she has won French Open only once, back in 2002. Not a very comforting statistic. Any one from the top 10 seeds is capable of defeating any one. So I will probably dare to start watching the women's matches to make a prediction around the QF time to save me time, ridicule and some brownie points in front of wife.