The Red clay of the Roland Garros is one of the most deceptive playing surfaces. Tennis greats of the open era, who excelled elsewhere, found the going difficult in Paris. Arthur Ashe, Stefan Edberg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe Pete Sampras and Boris Becker could never win at Roland Garros and lucky stars like Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, who managed to record one victory, could never repeat their feats on the bitchy surface. On the other hand, in the open era, there is just one tennis great, who was as much at home in Paris as he was on other surfaces around the world. The legendary Swede, Bjorn Borg holds the rare honor of winning the French open 6 times and was least affected by the transition from clay to Wimbledon’s grass. He was so much at ease in winning at Wimbledon that he won 5 titles out of his 6 appearances in the finals. It is inexplicable; however, why Borg could never win the Australian or the US Open. But Rafael Nadal is the one player, who has been a dominant force at Roland Garros in the last 10 years, winning 8 times. He had 4 consecutive victories in 2005-2008 and 4 again during 2010-2013. His loss to Robert Soldering in 2009 is the only one in his 60 appearances, including the one on Monday afternoon, when he ran away to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Robby Ginepri of USA to open his 2014 campaign without breaking sweat. 60-1 is an awesome record considering Nadal didn’t have a weak opposition all these years.
Looking ahead over nearly two-week long program at Roland Garros, it is difficult to make any predictions, especially about the King of Clay. Other than Nadal, Roger Federer takes the field as another past winner in Paris. Djokovic is seeded no. 2 but he is still looking for his first title in the French Open. Until last year, Nadal appeared invincible on clay but 2014 has not been kind to him as he has already suffered three losses on this clay season. In addition, his 2014 victories have come in either inconsequential events or he has won because the other finalist retired mid-way. For the first time in the last 10 years, Nadal looks vulnerable. Most recently, he was defeated by Novak Djokovic in Rome Masters and his Madrid Open title came because the irrepressible Nishikori was injured. Incidentally, Nishikori is already out of Roland Garros, having lost in the first round to Martin Klizan of Slovakia. But talking about Nadal, the man looks shaky from his traditionally dominant style on clay. Or how else do we explain his clay court losses against Nicolas Almagro at Barcelona and David Ferrer at Monte Carlo. It was the first time since 2004 that Ferrer has beaten Nadal. As for Almagro, until Barcelona, Nadal had always beaten him, whatever be the surface.
In contrast, the player most likely to make a difference at Roland Garros this year is Djokovic. The man is in great form and he has been training hard for about six months now. 2014 is Djokovic’s 10th appearance at the French Open and he has a 37-9 record, including his first round victory on Monday against Portugal’s Joao Sousa, whom he beat 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Until 2013, Djokovic has reached at least the semifinal on 5 occasions and finished as runner-up to Nadal in 2012. Other than Djokovic, Roger Federer has had a great beginning this year and on his day he can take on anyone.
The women’s field is quite unpredictable. Victoria Azarenka is not playing and Serena Williams is showing signs of a slowdown with the added handicap of her injury problems. Maria Sharapova has won two clay tournaments this year at Stuttgart and Madrid but that doesn’t make her the favorite. The lady has shown sudden bouts of inconsistency on so many occasions that no can say how she will play tomorrow. But if she plays with discipline and restricts her unforced errors, she can make a difference. Anyway Sharapova has already won her first round match on Monday against compatriot Ksenia Pervak, who she beat 6-1, 6-2.
Other than men’s and women’s singles, the men’s doubles will also be on focus this year for one reason. The famous Bryan brothers of US and world’s no. 1 doubles players, will try to win their 99th title as a team. Although Mike already has 100 overall titles, the brothers have only won 98 playing together. Their Roland Garros record is impressive as well. They won the championship in 2003 and 2013 and finished runners-up in 2005, 2006 and 2013.