26 May, 2013

Roland Garros 2013 Bracket Breakdown - The Men

Apropos, no?
It's the most wonderful time of the year to be a tennis fan.  The annual European swing between Monte Carlo and Wimbledon heralds the start of the northern summer which means as many hours on court as a man can stand, not to mention on TV, two of the tennis calendar's crown jewels - Roland Garros and Wimbledon; to say nothing of the most venerable events on tour jammed into this period: Monte Carlo, Rome, Stuttgart, Queen's Club, and on and on.

With Roland Garros, aka, the French Open upon us, we take a look at the draws to find out who will leave Paris with shiny new hardware and who will leave as annoyed as a Parisian waiter who was just asked for ketchup.  First up, les hommes (the men).

For the 2013 French Open women's bracket breakdown, click here

Weeks before any players or player entourages set foot into the Bois de Boulogne, most handicappers had narrowed the list of contenders for the Coupe des Mousquetaires to two men.  Going off as chalk are world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and seven-time champion Rafael Nadal.  At the time of this writing, William Hill had Nadal going off at 4:5 odds; Djokovic at 5:2.  That said, the withdrawal of World No. 2 Andy Murray due to a back injury, put both of the presumed top contenders on the same side of the draw, rendering their projected semifinal, the de facto final.  If they get there, Nadal's got to like his chances, he's played eight events this year and won six (losing finals in the other two events).  Djokovic ought to like his chances too though, he's won their sole matchup this year, right in Nadal's kitchen, denying the Spaniard a mind-boggling ninth title at Monte Carlo.

The third man, at 9:1, is the only other active man to win Roland Garros in the Rafaelite Era, one Roger Federer.  While it would be foolhardy to count out the 2nd seeded Swiss, he's a surprisingly mediocre 4-5 versus top 20 players in 2013.  Skipping most of the claycourt season to rest his body, presumably for his Wimbledon defense, Federer is just 4-2 for the year on the red stuff.  That said, there are plenty of positive signs for Federer as well.  He reached the final of the Rome Masters a week ago, he is guaranteed to face qualifiers in his first two rounds and even better, he is clear on the opposite side of the draw from Djokovic and Nadal, with David Ferrer as his projected semifinal opponent.

David Ferrer at Roland Garros (Retro Shot)
Outside of the Big 3, the "Second Spaniard" David Ferrer, would be the man to watch.  The fourth seeded "Little Beast" is one of the toughest outs on the ATP Tour, but he's 9-44 against the Big 3: Djokovic, Federer and Nadal; worse yet, he's never beaten his projected semifinal opponent, Federer...not once in fourteen attempts.  That said, Ferrer is getting closer to the citadel.  He's played Nadal VERY close on clay almost upsetting his countryman in the Barcelona final a year ago and a couple weeks ago in the semis of Madrid.  Can he find the belief against the Big 3 at a major though?  On paper, we would say no; but as we're fond of saying, paper is not an officially sanctioned surface.

First Round Five (five first rounders to watch):

(5) Berdych v. Monfils - Arguably the most exciting tennis player to watch and a former top ten player on a long comeback trail from injury, Monfils, on paper, should be a tough first round matchup for the surging Czech, but he's not found his best tennis yet in his comeback and he has only cost Berdych one set in their three matches to date.

(8) Tipsarevic v.  Mahut - The French fans love Nicolas Mahut, while Janko Tipsarevic can't seem to get out of his own way of late.  Tipsarevic's struggles seem to be mostly mental at the moment, but with a solid opening stanza from Mahut and all bets would be off for the Serb coming through.

(26) Dimitrov v. Falla - He canoodled with Maria Sharapova, kicked Novak Djokovic's ass and almost did the same to Rafa Nadal, it's been a good few weeks for the Bulgarian.  That said, now it's not a warm up, but a major and the Colombian is as solid as they come, especially on clay.  We're predicting a barnburner.

(24) Paire v. Baghdatis - Two entertaining players with a lot of game.  Baghdatis may be rapidly approaching his sell by date, but he always plays his best ball on the big stages.  Roland Garros vs. the surging Frenchman would qualify in our book.

Stepanek v. Kyrgios - Another old timer versus young comer battle as 18 year old Aussie wildcard Nick Kyrgios match up.  The kid, in the draw due to an untimely injury to his countryman John Millman, has been playing futures all year and has lopped almost 600 places off his ranking this year.  Nonetheless, the Czech is a big step up.  A strong showing would be a nice boost for Aussie fortunes.

How many times can we engrave the same guy's name onto this trophy?

The Final Four

Semifinals: Federer d. Ferrer, Nadal d. Djokovic

Championship: Nadal d. Federer

Rafael Nadal has arguably the toughest road to the Roland Garros title of the top seeds.  He's likely to face a rejuvenated Stanislas Wawrinka and his nemesis Novak Djokovic BEFORE playing in the final. That said, this tournament has been the focal point of the Nadal tennis season since time immemorial, or at least since 2005.  His run on the Latin American clay, his Euro clay swing, everything the Spaniard has done since removing himself from the fray after Wimbledon last year, has been building toward a return to glory at Roland Garros, a 12th major, tying Roy Emerson for third on the all-time list.  

Novak Djokovic, though, has been remarkably inconsistent this year.  David Ferrer lacks belief on the big stages against the top competition and if Roger Federer faces Nadal, chances are we know the score.  The other guys in the draw certainly matter, but we haven't seen much evidence that the current generation of non-Big 4 talent can win the big ones.  It's doubtful we find that proof in Paris...not this year.



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