Fedal part 39 to take place at Roland Garros 2019

Federer
Photo courtesy of www.wsj.blog

Roger Federer has had many a fine run at Roland Garros and one truly great one, that 2009 title win.

Those fine runs- to the semis in 2005 and 2012, and the finals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011, have all, bar one (2012, lost to Djokovic), ended at the hands of Rafa Nadal.

That pattern is likely to repeat itself in this year’s semi-finals when Federer and Nadal meet at Roland Garros for the 6th time, their 39th career meeting. (Nadal leads 23-15).

A lot has happened since their last Roland Garros meeting in the 2011 final, a four set Nadal win. This time round, Federer has the hold on their rivalry, winning the last six meetings (the last one a walkover in Indian Wells), and this time he will be playing all out attack tennis. There will be no seeing if he can size up to Nadal from the baseline this time.

Still, an awful lot is still the same. Nadal is, other than in his third round match versus David Goffin, romping through the draw.

Goffin, much like Federer is, was in fine form, the kind that takes a set of Nadal in Paris, and it would not be out of the question to imagine Federer riding a wave of Parisian support, his own good form, and his clay court gifts to claim a set versus Nadal. He has, after all, taken Nadal to four sets in four of their five Roland Garros meetings.

But a Federer win? How out of the question is that?

As Federer himself said this event, fans come to the stadium to see who will win; they would stay at home if it was a foregone conclusion.

There is wisdom in that truism and Federer, who has been the victim of many an upset over his career, a few at the hands of Nadal, is a worthy sage.

Nadal is unlikely to have a bad day in the Roland Garros semis- he’s 11-0 at that stage- and he’s winning the match ups which favor him rather comfortably. Yet, upsets do happen, and what better an upset than Federer, aged 37, finally getting that Roland Garros Nadal win?

Still, it seems the stuff of dreams. Upsets do happen, yes, but they usually have some underlying factors surging them on- an off form or injured higher ranked player, a fundamentally unsound match up in favor of the upsetter, or an underdog in the form of their life.

Nadal is plagued by injuries but clay is kinder to his joints than hard courts and he seems to have his body in healthy enough shape. As for form, Kei Nishikori could testify as to how in form the defending champion is. While this match up has in the last few years swung in favor of Federer, all those matches have been on hard, and Nadal is unquestionably the favorite when they meet on Clay. Federer is in very good form, but the form of his life? So far, he’s beaten the players he should beat and has yet to come up against anyone who would really push him such as Stefanos Tsitsipas might have. That poor break point conversion- 2-18 versus Wawrinka in the quarters- does not suggest he’s having the return game of his life, either.

The signs point to a Nadal four set win and we should not lose all heart in that sense of inevitability. Indeed many a fan will be watching this match not overly in doubt as to the outcome. Instead, they will be watching it to see Fedal part 39, their sixth meeting at Roland Garros. The clock is ticking on this one, and while the match might be too quick for some, the historical spectacle of these two meeting will make every second one to keep an eye on, ever hoping it may not just be about history after all, but more about that unknown conclusion Federer himself has spoken of.

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Roland Garros 2019 Men’s Draw Breakdown

Djokovic
Photo courtesy of http://www1.folha.uol.com.br

Two days. Two whole days until Roland Garros. With plenty of players breaking through this season and a whole host of different champions on the tour, and some old favorites, players and narratives, at the fore, this Roland Garros has the potential to be one of the most historically significant and downright entertaining for a while.

Top half

First quarter

Heading the draw is world No.1 Novak Djokovic who is 1 slam away from holding all four slams at once for the second time in his career. Yes, Roger and Rafa fans, you read that right.

Djokovic has a fairly tricky opener as openers go for top seeds- he’s drawn the improving youngster Hubert Hurkacz.

Gilles Simon in round 3 would give Djokovic something to think about and Borna Coric in round 4 won’t let him get away with putting in one of his customary early round stinkers.

Zverev or Lajovic in the quarters would also be a challenge, but neither are known quantities at slams and the man currently holding three of them is likely to go through a little ruffled but with his hair neatly back in its place for the semis.

Winner of this quarter: Novak Djokovic

Second quarter

Dominic Thiem is the top ranked player in this section. He did not have as great a Clay season as we expected, but his unexpected Indian Wells triumph balances that out.

The tournament will really start for Thiem in the fourth round where Fernando Verdasco could be lying in wait to repeat his Rome upset of the Austrian.

In the quarters, Thiem could face Juan Martin del Potro who contested that match of the season versus Djokovic in Rome and who comes to life at slams, except when they are in Melbourne that is.

Winner of this quarter: Thiem. He’s really come into his own since reaching the Roland Garros final last season. That US Open quarter final loss to Nadal and the Indian Wells win show that far from being just a clay courter, he is a great player whose baseline power and sheer will could take him back into the Paris semis to give himself another shot at playing for the title.

Bottom half

Third quarter

Third seed Roger Federer leads this section of the draw which by default makes this the most open section of the draw.

Federer performed well in Madrid and Rome, reaching two quarters, but his withdrawal from his Rome quarter final against Stefanos Tsitsipas suggests that if he has a few tricky matches to get going the going might come to a halt before he reaches his seeded position in the semis.

Lorenzo Sonego in round 1, Malek Jaziri in round 2, and possibly Hungarian Open champion Matteo Berrettini in round 3 will be challenging for the Swiss, though his versatility and clay court experience- he is a former champion in Paris no less- should see him through.

Last year’s surprise semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato or the recent Rome last four competitor Diego Schwartzman in round 4 may be a little too much for the Swiss and leave him a little spent, if he survives, for a Tsitsipas Slam rematch in the last eight.

Winner of this quarter: Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas is a likely contender for an upset- a young talented and high-achieving player for his age with a lot of hype behind him- but he’s got a decent draw ( a raw Tiafoe in round 3 and Wawrinka and Cilic in round 4 are as good as it gets to be honest) and the hype is justified- he really is that good.

Fourth quarter

Second seed Nadal may be at the bottom of the draw but he’s top of the pile at Roland Garros as the 11 time champion.

Having the likes of David Goffin, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Guido Pella in his section should have fans worrying for him, but his Rome run put any concerns about his form to rest. As Nadal himself said, what happened in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid happened. In Paris, everytime Nadal steps on the court is a new day even if it seems like a groundhog one for those wishing for a little more unpredictability in their professional tennis.

Winner of this quarter: Nadal. He’s going to be vulnerable early on, and there’ll be some tense moments, but he’s Nadal and this is Roland Garros and history tells us only a Soderling like performance, a huge drop in form, or an injury end his Roland Garros campaigns before the semis.

Semi-final predictions:

Top half: Djokovic defeats Thiem.

Bottom half: Nadal defeats Tsitsipas.

Unfortunately for Thiem and Tsitsipas, though they will give their all in the semis, they may have overplayed by then and it may not be enough.

Djokovic and Nadal have also played plenty of tennis and are older so this rule might seem like it works for them, too, but it’s the mental toll of overplaying that will likely do for the younger pair who still lack the big match experience that has made Nadal and Djokovic the mentally tough players they have become even when playing their seventh match of a slam and going into the fourth set.

Final:

Djokovic defeats Nadal.

It is hard to pick between these two, but it is what is on the line here that could swing it the way of Djokovic.

Holding all four slams at once twice in your career- to be a match away from that feat, to be the Madrid champion and Rome runner up, to be the best player in five setters on the tour right now, and to have the edge those Wimbledon and Australian Open wins give you over your potential Roland Garros final opponent, all those factors combined are overwhelmingly in favor of Djokovic.

Between these two, though, history often goes out the window when they are both in form, as we saw just last year in the Wimbledon semis, and in many ways, considering how they’ll be continuing their recent good form if they make the final, then the championship match will be a fresh start.

Still, in the difficult business of predicting winners before the tournament starts, and in a rivalry so balanced but with so many twists and turns, you have to go with the factor that is the biggest clincher in tennis- what’s between the ears, and right now no one has a tennis brain as tuned in to Grand Slam tennis than Novak Djokovic.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this preview please share it. Also, come back during Roland Garros- I’ll be trying to post everyday and would love to share the RG experience with you. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts, too.

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Roland Garros 2019 Dark Horses

Goffin
Photo courtesy of www.treizecizero.ro

A dark horse has not won Roland Garros in some time- Gaston Gaudio, ranked 44 at the time, was the last man to do so in 2004. That was before the Rafa Nadal reign in Paris began, and with the Spaniard still in slam winning form, it’s hard to see another dark horse making a bolt for it and crossing the line. Still, if anyone is going to get our heads spinning a la Gaudio, Kuerten or Chang, it could be one of these five.

David Goffin

Goffin is a little high profile for a dark horse, but he’s not expected to win the event, is not a top 16 seed (he’s seeded 28), and he’s underachieved for someone of his skill, talent and promise. But, while Goffin has all those attributes in his favor when it comes to his Roland Garros chances, he is, unfortunately, this year, in Rafa Nadal’s last 32 section.

Still, that may be the best stage for Goffin to meet the defending champion and get the win. Nadal has only exited that stage of the tournament in 2016 when he had to withdraw with a left wrist injury, but a couple of weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, the Spaniard is going to suffer more and more random bad days here and there, as we have seen this Clay season in which he did not win an event until Rome, and those days are more likely to be at the start of the event, where last year Nadal was not playing his best tennis, than in the later stages of the draw.

In 2018, Nadal did not meet anyone who could take advantage of his less than stellar early round performances, but Goffin won’t let him get away with anything less than his best.

If a dark horse is going to make a run for it then a win versus the tournament favorite is the best way to get things going, as Chang did when he beat Ivan Lendl in the fourth round on his jaunt to the 1989 title.

Such a victory would give Goffin all the confidence he needed to finally realize all that potential he has shown us over the years which peaked when he reached the ATP WTF ’17 finals.

One unlucky injury after another – from falling on tarp at Roland Garros ’17 to hitting his eye with his racket at Rotterdam ’18- has gotten in the way of Goffin delivering on the promise he showed on his run to the ’12 Roland Garros fourth round.

However, if you believe in tennis Gods and balance then Goffin is certainly due a little good fortune, and catching Nadal on a bad day at Roland Garros would definitely even matters out for him if not swing the pendulum of fate overwhelmingly in his favor.

Cristian Garin

22 year old Garin has won Clay titles in Houston and Munich this season and is the 2013 Roland Garros junior champ. The Chilean has future men’s singles French Open champ written all over him.

He’s drawn the improving Reilly Opelka in round 1 and the vulnerable and unpredictable 24th seed Stan Wawrinka in round 2.

If the draw had not been kind enough to him, he’s then potentially got Marin Cilic (11) in round 3. Cilic on his day could send Garin packing in straights, but Cilic has more off days than good recently, and is as good a former slam champ and Roland Garros quarter finalist an up and comer could hope to meet.

Tsitsipas in the round of 16 is a tough proposition, but the Greek is still raw and Garin won’t be intimidated. This section of the draw is the Federer one, and the Swiss’ presence in the quarters is anything but a certainty. Schwartzman, Cecchinato and Berrettini are all lurking in Federer’s section, and a Garin match versus one of that trio would be like Roland Garros of the 90s- unpredictable and prowling with Clay courters looking to make the tournament their own.

Felix Auger Aliassime

Felix Auger Aliassime is the 25th seed, the Rio champ and is in Juan Martin del Potro’s section of the draw.

del Potro is a player no one wants to see opposite the net in a big event, but he’s also only played 8 matches all season while FAA is on an escalating career trajectory, going 17-11 for the year and rising from 108 at the start of the year to his current ranking of 28.

Karen Khachanov and Lucas Pouille could await in the last 16 and neither are consistent enough to be sure they will make it there or deliver if they do.

Thiem in the quarters could be where FAA falls, but Thiem might have the very tricky Fernando Verdasco on his hands in his last 16. The Spaniard conquered Thiem in Rome and gets up for potential upsets early on in Slams. The Spaniard, however, is not so strong following up on those shock wins, so FAA could find the draw opening up and the semis of a slam at his feet.

The tennis world would be at his feet, too, if he could break through and win a slam aged 18 and seeded 25.

Guido Pella

The Argentinian made Rafa Nadal looked very shaky indeed when he took him to a first set tiebreak in their Monte Carlo last eight match.

Pella comes into the French Open ranked 22 in the world (he was 66 starting the year) and having won his first ever title at the age of 28 in Sao Paulo (he’s since turned 29).

Pella is 9-5 in the European Clay season and that performance vs Nadal in Monte Carlo was the peak, but he’ll go into the event match fit and fairly fresh which could see him into the second week of a slam for the first time in his career (he’s 3-4 lifetime at the French).

Dusan Lajovic

The Monte Carlo finalist has, at 28, hit his prime. He won’t be going under the radar if he meets Nick Kyrgios in round 2, and in round 3 he could be hitting the headlines beating Sascha Zverev, who he had on the ropes in last year’s event, in round 3.

Fognini, Lajovic’s Monte Carlo conqueror, could be his last 16 opponent, and five sets would give the Serb a little more time to settle his nerves and capitalize on any of the Italian’s lapses in a match.

Djokovic in the quarters could be a match too far. But, if Lajovic is going to write his name alongside Chang, Kuerten and Gaudio, he’ll have to topple one of the favorites along the way, and you’d rather meet Djokovic before the semis in a slam than after which is when the world No.1 starts going up the gears as each set goes by.

Beating Djokovic at that stage would be the stuff of dark horse dreams, but strange things happen at Grand Slams and consistent clay courters strong off both wings and with years of experience have had strange and wonderful experiences at Roland Garros and Lajovic should call Gaston Gaudio for a chat should he find himself on the verge of experiencing them.

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Roland Garros 2019 The Long shots

del Potro
Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

They’re not quite favorites, struggling with form or health or lacking experience, and not quite dark horses, ranked too high or too well established. These are the long-shots, the Roland Garros competitors who could get their hands on the trophy if talent, hard work and a few strokes of luck collide.

Juan Martin del Potro

del Potro is a two time semi-finalist at the French (’09, ’18) and he just competed vs Djokovic in Rome in one of the best contests this Clay season.

That battle was even more impressive considering del Potro had been out of the game from Shanghai ’18 to Delray Beach ’19 with a patella fracture and had played in just 7 matches all season before forcing Djokovic to play like a world No.1 late into the Roman night.

del Potro’s reputation has always been as a big match player so if he is going into a slam and is healthy and match fit, and that Djokovic match has to be worth a few extra matches at least, he’s got a shot at making the business end of the tournament.

He’s seeded 8th, thanks to his run to last year’s semis and the US Open final. Slams is where del Potro really thrives and where he brings the crowd alive and neither of the top four seeds, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Thiem, are going to want to face him in the last eight.

Kei Nishikori

Nishikori had a great comeback in 2018 and is currently ranked No. 7 in the world.

He’s not had the best clay season (6-4), but he’s very capable on Clay (remember Madrid ’14?). He’s also consistent in slams (he’s 4R-QF-SF-QF) and he’s been to a slam final (US Open ’14).

Nishikori’s days as a favorite at a slam, and his name was often mentioned after that US Open run, may be done, but with his attacking baseline game and years of big match experience, he’s as perfect a long shot as it gets. Let’s see if the draw opens and where he lands.

Borna Coric

Coric’s best slam appearance is the Australian Open fourth round earlier this season.

He’s made the third round three times in his four Roland Garros appearances and he’ll be seeded 13 this time (he was unseeded in his previous visits) so a run to the last 16 for the consistent Croatian would be anything but a surprise.

That 13th seed is a touch unlucky though. In the last 16, he’ll meet either Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Thiem.

Coric has the tactical acumen, the baseline consistency, and the fitness to excel on Clay and give a match to any of those four, and they better be on their games otherwise, if Coric senses his chances, he’s worked too hard to improve his game to let them pass.

Gael Monfils

Strange and spectacular things happen at slams, particularly Roland Garros, and Gael Monfils winning would be both of those.

Monfils won Rotterdam this season and since then, when he’s been beaten, it’s either been in a tight three setter (to Tsitsipas in the Dubai semis; to Davidovich Fokina in the Estoril quarters and to Federer in the Madrid last 16) or he’s withdrawn (to Thiem in the Indian Wells quarters with left achilles tendon trouble).

No half hearted efforts, no clowning; the new focused Monfils is ready to maximise his athletic and shot-making gifts. Roland Garros, before a home crowd and where’s he’s made a semi-final (‘08) and three quarters, his best group of results in a slam, is the place to do so.

Stan Wawrinka

You can’t discount a former champ on the road back and as good a big match player as Wawrinka.

Wawrinka is seeded 25 and has climbed up to being seeded in a slam from a world ranking of No. 66 at the start of the season thanks to his run to the Rotterdam final and 3 runs to tour quarter-finals.

His winning the title is a little far-fetched, but there are only four multi slam champs in the draw and he’s one of them. If he makes the second week, he can beat anyone in front of him, even Nadal, who looked good in Rome but is prone to defeats by fearless and brutal ball-strikers, and Wawrinka is one of those par excellence.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Join me tomorrow where I’ll be looking at the dark horses at this year’s Roland Garros.

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Roland Garros 2019 The Favorites The Next in Line

Roland Garros Thiem
Photo courtesy of ici.radio-canada.ca

Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic may be the heavy favorites to win Roland Garros this season, but there is still a slam to be played and there are a few other players who could grab the title should their opportunities arise.

First up is Dominic Thiem. The Austrian made the final last year and a Grand slam title is the next step in his career- he’s been a runner up, reached a couple of semis and a quarter-final, beaten Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, and won an ATP 1000 title (Indian Wells ’19).

The Austrian started his European Clay season well with his seasonal Clay court victory over Nadal. But, after winning the Barcelona title with a convincing performance versus Daniil Medvedev, he went down to Djokovic in the Madrid semis and was then upset by Fernando Verdasco in his Rome opener. Still, losing to Djokovic in the latter stages of an ATP 1000 is anything but shameful and Verdasco is a name no top player wants to see in their opening draw.

That early Rome loss gives Thiem a little time to rest and recover from his busy start to 2019. He’s played 25 matches this season (17-8) and he’ll need all the prep time he can get if he wants to make it 24-8 come June 9th and win his breakthrough slam in the process.

After Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas is the next player most likely to break through.

The Greek adds a much needed dynamic into clay court tennis; the 20 year can play from the baseline with anyone, but steps inside the court and up to the net with the natural flow and touch of the very few.

Tsitsipas is as good a throwback as it gets to the del Potros, Gugas and Safins of the tennis world, young players who took the elite on and won the sport’s biggest prizes. He hasn’t quite done so yet, but the potential is there – Tsitsipas is fearless, confident and full of flair, and he’s got a slam semi, 2 ATP 1000 finals (Toronto ’18, Madrid ’19) and wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to prove it.

Sascha Zverev should be higher up on this list considering his clay prowess and his run to the WTF ’18 trophy,but his career trajectory failed to keep rising. This year, he’s 15-10; at the same stage in ’18, he was 30-8 (including Davis Cup).

The German grabbed tennis headlines on Clay in the summer of ’14 and his best slam performance came at last year’s Roland Garros. It would be poetic if his under-performance in regular tour events was balanced out by his first run to a slam final. He’s certainly not in danger of having overplayed like Thiem and Tsitsipas. He also gets to go under the radar considering his recent form, which will be a breathe of fresh air for a young player suffocated at slams by the weight of expectation.

Ignoring one of the season’s ATP 1000 Clay trophy winners would be inconsiderate if not ignorant, but Fabio Fognini would not have made the list under any other circumstances. The talented and divisive Italian finally put it all together to win this season’s Monte Carlo trophy, beating Nadal for the third time on Clay no less. Since that win, Fognini has been consistent, reaching the fourth rounds of Madrid and Rome and losing to Thiem and Tsitsipas respectively. Winning tournaments few expected him to do so and reaching his seeded position in ATP 1000s are encouraging signs for the Italian going into Roland Garros where he’s had his sole quarter-final slam appearance (’11). It’s not likely he’ll win the title, but if he did, he’d have fooled us twice, and what a fun trick it would be to watch him pull off.

Finally, we come to Roger Federer. The Swiss’ return to Clay has been successful- a close loss to Thiem in the Madrid QFs and a battling victory over Coric in the Rome last sixteen before withdrawing from his quarter final with Tsitsipas. That rare withdrawal was precautionary, and wise. The Swiss is the second best Clay courter of his era, is in decent form after winning in Miami and having Clay court match play, and the best of five format at Roland Garros suits him more than it does the majority of the rest of the draw,. So, while he’s not an out and out favorite, if he finds himself in the business end of things and gets a bit of luck, we could end up with the entertaining spectacle that would be Federer winning slam no.21 in Paris.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Also, come back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at some of the tournament long-shots to take the title.

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Roland Garros 2019 The Favorites A tale of two champions

djokovic nadal
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When it comes to the Roland Garros 2019 men’s singles title, ask most tennis fans who the favorites are and they will give you two well deserved names: Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The Rome final will have only cemented these names on the tips of tennis fan’s tongues.

Rafa Nadal, going into Rome, had been beaten in three successive Clay court semi-finals- in Monte Carlo by Fabio Fognini, in Barcelona by Dominic Thiem and in Madrid by Stefanos Tsitsipas. In Rome, Nadal played like he had something to prove, which is most unnecessary for the 11 time Roland Garros champion. He thumped his way through the draw, beating Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili, on the same day no less, for the loss of 1 game each, defeating Fernado Verdasco, Thiem’s conqueror, 6-0, 6-4, avenging his recent defeat to Tsitsipas 4 and 3, and then taking the first set versus Madrid Champion Novak Djokovic to love.

Djokovic hung in there in the second, got some fire going, and took the set 6-4, but Nadal regrouped, broke at the start of the third and then kept control of the match, winning the third set 6-1.

That Rome win should do wonders for Nadal going into the French Open. A loss would have hurt Nadal much more than it would Djokovic who had already won a clay title in Madrid and had played the second Rome semi versus Diego Schwartzman under the lights while Nadal was getting ready for bed. There is also the not so small matter of that recent Melbourne final to put to rest. The Rome win won’t have completely done so for Nadal- Rome and Melbourne are both impressive prey but altogether very different beasts- but it will have helped make it easier for Nadal to stare down Djokovic across from the baseline should they meet in the Roland Garros 2019 final, (for what would be their 8th meeting in a series Nadal leads 6-1), and should things get, as they did so in that 2013 nail biter, a little on the tense side.

While most of their Parisian meetings (’06, ’07, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’15) have left little to write about on a postcard home, this potential June 9th clash will have tension written all over it courtesy of all that will be at stake.

Going into Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic has a chance to do something neither Nadal or Roger Federer have managed just once in their careers for a second time- holding all four Grand slams at the same time.

There’s not so much pressure this time, though. Unless of course you’re as high achieving and as much of a perfectionist as the world No.1 But this time, the Serb can afford to go a little easier on himself than he did when he was first trying to achieve the non year calendar slam, Djokovic having already succumbed to the pressure in 2012 and 2015 before that 2016 energy sapping but monkey from his back ridding run.

This time, that all slams at once feat which has remained out of reach for even trophy hoarding rivals such as Federer and Nadal, is just for bragging rights.

If Djokovic repeats that feat versus Nadal in the 2019 Roland Garros final, he’ll be able to tell that tale for years to come. Decades, even. Right now, Nadal is the two time defending champ, the Rome champ, and there is no more impressive a rival to defeat for the title.

Should Nadal beat Djokovic, however, he’ll be back on his feet after an injury hit 2018 and a patchy start to 2019. Melbourne will be a thing of the past and he can get on with doing what champs like him do- getting back up after falling, climbing even further than they’ve gone before. There would be just 2 slams between him and Federer, should Roland Garros title No.12 happen, and, a fortnight from turning 33, Nadal’s got a good few years to get there and beyond, though Federer may himself use the remainder of his career to further increase the distance.

Ask people who is the favorite at the French and they’ll say Nadal and Djokovic for good reason. These two are the current reigning slam champs and the best current players on Clay. There’s a Roland Garros title to play for, and who better than these two to give it their all.

Thanks for reading. Please share if you liked this article. And come back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at the second tier of favorites for Roland Garros 2019.

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Nadal searches for form and Federer returns to the clay in Madrid

Nadal
Photo courtesy of wttttw.pixnet.net

Calvin H Warner previews the Madrid Open for The Tennis Review- will Rafa Nadal find his form and how will Federer fare on his return to the Clay?N

For the past decade at least, there is no safer bet in tennis than Rafa on clay. He owns eleven titles each at Roland Garros, Monte Carlo and Barcelona (the latter of which has named its center court in his honor). Rafa is no slouch at other clay events – eight titles at the Rome Masters and five in Madrid. Each of these totals is an all-time record. Naturally, many fans and commentators believe that Nadal is the greatest clay court player ever.

But every Achilles has his heel – Rafa has always been more vulnerable on other surfaces. Compare his eleven RG trophies to only one in Melbourne, or his eleven Monte Carlo crowns to zero in Miami. The strongest criticism of a campaign to name Nadal the GOAT is surely the fact that he has leaned so heavily on this one-surface specialty, earning only 23 of his 80 titles on a surface other than clay.

This year has dealt Rafa some disappointing results: runover by Djokovic Down Under, match points squandered against Kyrgios in Mexico, a withdrawal from Indian Wells followed by skipping Miami completely. But none of this is particularly stunning; Rafa’s return to the clay swing is like a knight retreating into an impenetrable fortress. Here are two stats that blow my mind. 1) Nadal has only lost twice at the clay slam: in 2009 to Soderling and 2015 to Djokovic. 2) Nadal has never lost back-to-back matches on clay. If this doesn’t illustrate invincibility, I don’t know what does.

So…what the heck is going on in 2019? Nadal was knocked out in the semis in Monte Carlo by Italian Fabio Fognini. Rafa supporters will be quick to point out that Fognini is a clay veteran and more dangerous than his career hardware suggests, but the loss is an upset by any measure. Rafa followed up this defeat with a semifinals exit in Barcelona (yes, on the very court that bears his name) to Dominic Thiem. True, Thiem is the heir-apparent to the Roland Garros throne and has bested Nadal at least once on clay in four consecutive years. But the clay was supposed to be Nadal’s proud march to Roland Garros, not a series of early exits.  

The more interesting question is also the more enigmatic: will Roger Federer be a factor? The Swiss has forgone the French Open now for three straight years. He only holds one title there, from ’09 when he only had to go through Soderling. The longer rallies and physical requirements of clay aren’t well suited for Roger’s style of quick points nor for his advancing age.

This explains why Federer has opted to make his return to the dirt in Madrid, a tournament known for its high altitude. This should help the balls fly faster, which will be to Federer’s benefit. Roger has won three Madrid titles (although one of those years was played on hard courts), and should feel confident that he can do damage here. 

Nadal would still be a heavy favorite in a clay-court tussle, but more so than any rivalry in sports, Fed and Rafa are two halves of one whole. When they take the court, anything is possible. The two haven’t met on clay since Rome in 2013, where Rafa trounced the maestro in straights. Roger has only beat Rafa twice ever on the surface, but the most recent such win came a decade ago at this very tournament in Spain’s capital city.  

Fed and Nadal are the most interesting storylines going into this event, but they aren’t the only ones.

  • World #1 Djokovic is playing
  • Del Potro is returning
  • Félix Auger-Aliassime received a wild card
  • David Ferrer will be bidding farewell to the tour in his final tournament
  • Alexander Zverev is the defending champion but appears to be a nonfactor
  • 2018 finalist Thiem is looking to take the next step
  • Stan Wawrinka is healthy and playing well

Madrid will be an interesting snapshot of the field on the way to Roland Garros. Despite the promising newcomers and weathered veterans in the field, I do expect Rafa to emerge victorious from La Caja Mágica just as he has done so many times before. 

                                                                                                    -Calvin H. Warner

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Fabio Fognini a Welcome Addition to the 2019 Champions Roll Call

Fognini
Photo courtesy of wikipedia commons

Fabio Fognini joined a few exclusive clubs winning the 2019 Monte Carlo Open, one of the most prestigious tennis clubs in the world.

He became one of only 28 men to win the title since 1968, one of only two Italians to do so (Nicola Pietrangeli ’68 the other) and he became one of only four men to beat Nadal three or more times on Clay, the others being Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio.

As well as all that, Fognini became the 22nd man to win an ATP event this season (of 23 events played).

So far this season, the following players have won their first titles:

Alex di Minaur (Sydney)

Tennys Sandgren (Auckland)

Juan Ignacio Londero (Cordoba)

Reilly Opelka (New York Open)

Laslo Djere (Rio Open)

Radu Albot (Delray Beach)

Guido Pella (Brasil Open)

Christian Garin (Houston)

Meanwhile, the follow players have added to their title collections:

Roberto Bautista Agut (Doha)

Kei Nishikori (Brisbane)

Kevin Anderson (Tata Open)

Novak Djokovic (Australian Open)

Jo-Wilfied Tsonga (Montpelier)

Daniil Medvedev (Sofia)

Gael Monfils (Rotterdam)

Marco Cecchinato (Argentina Open)

Stefanos Tsitsipas (Marseille)

Nick Kyrgios (Acapulco)

Dominic Thiem (Indian Wells)

Benoit Paire (Marrakech)

Fabio Fognini (Monte Carlo).

Standing out from them all, is one player who has managed to win two titles this season:

Roger Federer (Dubai, Miami)

This broad mix of champions- from veterans to NextGen to elite champs to overachievers to underachiever- is great for the game. Many fan bases have seen their favorite win a title, a wide variety of styles is represented, and the tournaments are becoming more unpredictable.

While seasons in which the all time greats dazzle us with their ability to win one title after another, as we have witnessed in tennis season after tennis season throughout the decades, are also good for the sport, showcasing tennis’ ability to produce athletic and record breaking champions to compete with any sport, seasons such as this one are vital to the game’s health, motivating those once left out of the winner’s circle by their rival’s brilliance with new opportunities and creating tournament fields of players all believing they can win and striving for that goal rather than the first round of an event sounding the gun shot to start off a march to the inevitable.

That this season has been such an open one makes the at once frustrating and charming Fognini’s surprise win all the more logical.

The Italian has charmed and infuriated in divisive measures since he turned pro in 2007, breaking into the top 100 with his flamboyant attacking baseline game.

Fognini, the oldest champion ever at Monte Carlo, had 80 starts in ATP 1000 events before he finally won one. During that time, he’d won 8 ATP 250s, been a Roland Garros quarter-finalist in 2011, and been to the semis in Miami and Monte Carlo (‘17, ’13).

The Monte Carlo title makes his resume more worthy of his talents as ATP 1000s/Masters have done for other talented underachievers such as Grigor Dimitrov (Cincy ’17); Tsonga (Paris ’08; Toronto ’14); David Nalbandian (Madrid and Paris ’07) and Marcelo Rios (a five time winner).

Now all we need is for Gael Monfils, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis to come through and win big in 2019 and the crowning of the underachievers will be complete for now, and if this trend of unique champs week in week out continues, the tennis Gods might not need to play crowning catch up, for underachievers, overachievers and those somewhere in between, for a while.

Posted in Fabio Fognini, Monte Carlo, Opinion | Leave a comment

Men’s 2019 Clay Season Preview 5 Questions

Nadal
Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Is Rafa Nadal going to win Roland Garros No.12?

Nadal has been back practicing on Clay while everyone else was getting all hot and sweaty in Miami.

Clay is kinder to Nadal’s much troubled knees and its where his aggressive baseline game is most effective. He’s got an abbreviated serve to help with his ankles and he’s got a more efficient game to help with the ageing process and all those factors coupled with his natural affinity for the red dirt mean he’s got to be the favorite for every clay event he enters until his first worrying performance says otherwise.

Nadal did not play his best clay tennis last year and still managed to win Roland Garros. He will need to be a lot better this year with Djokovic, his greatest Clay Court rival, back to his Grand Slam best. That’s the kind of challenge players like Nadal live for and a dynamic that makes this Clay season a little spicier than it has been in recent years.

Is Novak Djokovic going to win the Djoker slam 2.0?

Tennis is clearly all about the slams right now for Djokovic. It’s also about politics and motivation and staying healthy, but somehow it’s at the slams where Djokovic gets focused, hungry and fights through whatever’s bothering him physically.

Should Djokovic win the French, he’ll have held all four slams at once twice in his career (Wimbledon ’15-Roland Garros ’16 the first time). Only Rod Laver has done that before in men’s tennis, doing it twice in calendar years in ’62 and ’69.

Djokovic has a high chance of achieving that Djokerslam again. He’s won the last three slams, he’s virtually unbeatable over five sets, and he’ll have his entire schedule built around peaking for the first week in June.

How is Roger Federer going to fare in his Clay comeback?

The 2009 Roland Garros champion hasn’t played on Clay since Rome ’16 when he lost in the round of 16 to Dominic Thiem in straights.

This year, Federer’s scheduled to play Madrid and one would expect to see him at Roland Garros. It’s no farewell tour either- the aim is to not go into the Grass season cold like he did last year.

Federer winning Madrid would not be entirely out of the question. He’s won it twice in its current Clay guise, in 2009 and 2012, he’s just won Miami in a positive and healthy mindset and physical condition, his serve and style are perfect for lower bouncing faster Clay and he’s going to get an amazing welcome back reception.

Is Thierev going to become a big thing this Clay season?

Dominic Thiem, 25 and Sascha Zverev, 21, are certainly of age to be winning grand slams and if these two are ever going to compete with each other for a Major title, it’ll most likely be on Court Philippe Chatrier than on Center Court, Rod Laver or Arthur Ashe.

Thierev have come a long way since they first met on Clay in their ’16 Munich semis. Thiem is a Grand slam finalist and an ATP 1000 champ and Zverev is a three time ATP 1000 champ, a WTF winner, and a Grand slam quarter-finalist (Roland Garros ’18).

Clay is the surface both men broke out on and where they’ve played five of their seven matches (Thiem leads the h2h 5-2, 4-1 on Clay). Zverev has won arguably their biggest match, in the Madrid final ’18, the German’s serve and ground strokes setting him apart from his good friend and rival that day.

These two seem destined to contest a Roland Garros final sooner or later. Ranked 3 and 5 respectively, with Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer the other names in the top five right now, when the changing of the guard does take place, these two should be leading that long awaited takeover.

A glimpse of two of what lies ahead Thierev wise this Clay season will be most welcome. While their last two matches have been a little disappointing, they can produce the goods as they did in Nice ’16 and Rotterdam ’17.

Are there any Clay loving pros we should be keeping an eye on?

The Clay season has become predictable the last 14 years to put it mildly, but sooner or later, once Nadal and Djokovic hang up their rackets, a whole new set of potential champs and storylines will come to the fore.

For now, pay attention to Felix Auger-Aliassime, who has had a great run since Rio, Gael Monfils who seems back on track and has played some of his best tennis at Roland Garros, Diego Schwarzman who will be bring his fierce competitive nature every match, David Goffin who is the lurker no one will want to see in last 32, and Pablo Carreno Busta, the Spaniard who got his heart broken in Melbourne in that fifth set tiebreak vs Nishikori and who will be looking to piece it back together again on the European red dirt.

Posted in Clay, Clay Court Season, Preview | Leave a comment

Roger Federer and his 101 Trophies #RF101

Rogers Cup
Photo courtesy of rffanaticism.tumblr.com

History does and does not repeat itself depending on your history and how you play on the day. For Roger Federer at the age of 37, it’s harder to predict how those days are going to unfold, but when he has his day, the history you get is the kind of glittering, legendary, all conquering kind.

When Roger Federer was involved in a tussle in his opening round Miami Open match versus Radu Albot, it looked like his 2018 history of odd drop shot choices in tight spots in losing IW finals and opening round defeats to underdogs in Miami was possibly going to repeat itself.

But, Federer, who said in his Miami Open final ’19 presser he was feeling more positive this Miami Open than he was last season after his Indian Wells final loss to Juan Martin del Potro, dug deep into that positive mindset and won through that opener versus Albot, and went on to repeat a different and far more glittering and familiar history altogether, winning the title in Miami as he did in ’05, ’06’ and ’17.

I was more positive this
year after losing Indian Wells over last year, because
last year I was, I don’t want to say frustrated, but I think
I was down on myself. I think it cost me a little bit on
confidence because I was so down. I was so, so close.
I was a shot away from winning.
So maybe this year I didn’t feel that way. I was just
able to say, Okay. Team played well. Moving on, let’s
go to Miami and have a good tournament. And I did

  • Roger Federer, Miami Open ’19 presser.

When Federer won the Miami Open for the first time, he was in his pomp. Not in the first flourish, but more in the heart of it. Fans might have expected him to win Miami for the first time earlier than he did, in 2004, but Rafa Nadal had other ideas, giving Federer an indication of what a thorn in his side he would be by giving him the first cut, defeating the Swiss 6-3, 6-3.

When Federer did finally win Miami, he had won 26 titles in a little over four years- he’s won 26 titles in the last seven years- and it was his 13th title in under a year- he’s won 13 titles in the last 2 and a half years. He had won titles such as Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open, the WTF, Indian Wells, Canada and Hamburg. Still to come was Roland Garros, Cincinnati, Shanghai and Paris-Bercy.

In that first Miami winning final (his first Miami final was in ’02, losing to Andre Agassi), Federer avenged his shock Key Biscayne ’04 defeat to Nadal, coming back from two sets down to beat the player who would become his career nemesis in a match Federer would, in his post match 2019 Miami Open final presser, describe as ‘beautiful’.

This 2019 final was less so when it came to match play and competition, but there was still plenty of beauty to be found. There was the serving and the returning and the forehand and the backhand and the volleys and the shot making and the movement and the sight of a 37 year old tennis champion who has won 100 titles playing his heart out for no. 101.

Federer achieved his latest historic feat in a new Miami Open venue, at the Hard Rock stadium, which also plays home to the Miami Dolphins.

Conditions were said to be slightly faster than Miami has been known for, the main court, where Federer played all his matches as legends do, playing like a medium paced hard court rather than medium slow.

Like Federer has with his more aggressive game and focus on the serve over the last few years, Miami has had to make changes to its game to compete with the other tournaments, namely its biggest rival, Indian Wells.

This new look to the Miami Open may not be popular with those who like their tennis history well maintained, but the tournament had few options in light of its changing status in the tour schedule.

Miami is a tournament which has been in a state of flux the past decade or so. Back in the day, when Federer was first competing and in finals and winning it, Miami was in the final days of its reputation as the fifth slam. In the last ten years, Indian Wells with its shiny new venue, stellar entry list and successful Tennis Paradise branding has surpassed its East Coast rival status wise and Miami’s placing in the calendar, just after IW, a pit stop before the Clay season more than the Masters Grand Prix, has made it, while still a prestigious tournament in the grand scheme of things, no longer the fifth slam, or even the seventh or eighth, with Cincy, Shanghai, and Madrid all arguably more prized.

If the Miami Open is actively trying to get back to its former Golden days, this Federer win was some way to start. The new Miami Open home and court conditions suited the Swiss, who said post match he came to Miami to check the new venue out more than anything else, and tournament director James Blake, who Federer beat on his ’06 run, could not have hoped for a better champion popularity wise to get this new era underway.

Federer mirrored his 2006 run in its form set wise, the Swiss dropping a set in the opener and then running to the trophy podium in straight sets performances, though things were a little different back in ’06, Federer playing an extra set in the best of five ’06 final which he won in three tiebreaks versus his current coach Ivan Ljubicic no less, an architect of the game that has kept Federer still not just relevant but trend setting.

On this run, Federer defeated Radu Albot, then Filip Krajinovic, Daniil Medvedev, Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and John Isner.

Versus defending champion Isner, three tiebreak sets would not have been absurd considering Isner had made the final winning every set bar one on a breaker, but the American was injury inflicted – a stress fracture in his foot-and the best he could do was 1-6, 4-6 to a man he praised in the final as being just too good, and not just that day but throughout his career.

Federer holding a trophy on final’s day was history repeating itself for the 101st time. 28 times at ATP 1000 level, 20 times at slam level, 6 ATP Finals, (‘big titles’ making up 53.5% of his haul), 22 ATP 500 (9 of them Halle, which could arguably have been an ATP 1000 if the ATP calendar, which has a Grass slam but no Grass ATP 1000, made more, or any, sense) and 25 of them ATP 250s.

At 37, he’s still got a good chance of overtaking Jimmy Connor’s record of 109 titles. It would not be unfathomable for Federer to win 9 more titles before retiring, which would likely not be until 2021 or beyond.

Federer has attributed his longevity to many factors- the money that makes it more attractive to stay on tour a little while longer than the previous generations did; the governing bodies which have slowed down the courts meaning one style executed well can work week in week out; his own commitment and passion for the game, and, most vitally of all, the health that allows him to compete in lengthy phases such as the Indian Wells- Miami stretch.

But this is a good phase, a
good stretch for me right now. I really feel super
healthy. That’s why I have been able to play every day
for the last four weeks. That’s something that maybe
hasn’t always been the case for the last few years. So
you appreciate these moments.

  • Roger Federer, Miami Open final ’19 presser.

Not only is Federer keeping his game together with a little help from his health, but his opponents are offering a helping hand, too, struggling to stop their games and bodies falling apart or staying together for more than a couple of tournaments in a row- Djokovic is very on-off in ATP 1000s, Nadal has been injured and should be a factor only on Clay, and the Next Gen and the recent grads are still not ready to step up on a consistent basis.

If Federer keeps turning up, serving well, playing his aggressive game and staying positive and healthy, the history books are open for him to write whatever numbers he wishes in them.

Roll on #RF102.

Posted in Miami, Review, Roger Federer | Leave a comment