start of the year, there's been a big change in the top five of men's tennis. The
undeniable number one is now Novak Djokovic - whatever the rankings say for the
become one of the two major contenders for the French Open, which begins this
no arguments that Djokovic has dominated tennis this year - nobody can deny it,
simply because nobody has beaten him. He has beaten Rafael Nadal four times
this year - twice on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami, and twice on
the clay of Madrid and Rome.
Nadal lose on a fast surface is one thing, but to see him lose his supremacy on
clay is another altogether.
will be a very special one because it's the first time that Rafa is going to
Roland Garros as an outsider.
obviously shell-shocked mentally because this change has happened very quickly.
reassured by the way he's spoken recently, which betrays a dejected man.
is providing a real tactical headache for him - Djokovic doesn't offer any open areas,
has no weak shot or flaws in a specific aspect of his game, so Nadal does not know where to
start in order to beat him.
aggressive game led by his forehand against his opponent's backhand isn't
effective because Nole's backhand serves as a counter-punch, taking the
ball on the top of the bounce. Other opponents find themselves dominated because
they let Nadal's top-spinning shots go too far.
is every inch a champion and I anticipate a strong reaction from him. He has no
choice; he has to throw all his energy into this battle because if he lets the
Serbian continue his domination, he could soon reach the point of no return.
imperative he reacts now; Roland Garros has to remain his property. If not, he
could lose his number one ranking for a long time.
Open could be one of Nadal's most important challenges of his whole career, and
it could prove a turning point one way or another.
to find the words to describe what the Serb is achieving at the moment because
it is becoming even more impressive every week.
Davis Cup final, the commitment, focus, and confidence he showed added to the eventual victory
have helped create his remarkable temperament.
discussed him at the start of the year with Tony Roche, one of the most successful
coaches in the world, he told me that Novak was his favourite for the
Australian Open because of what he had been through in the Davis Cup.
personality which makes him such an out-of-this-world competitor - much like
his main rival. His game has not changed, but the Serb is more serene, more
confident in his performance and his ability to succeed.
impressed by how flawless it all seems. His defensive and counter-punching
tactics are outstanding. He's staying on the baseline perfectly and takes
advantage of the first little flaw of his opponents, of every first, minute
opportunity. He's serving well and returning amazingly - and on top of this all
his nature makes him a ferocious fighter.
sure everyone yet realises how decisive the French Open will be in the careers
of Nadal and Djokovic. If the Serb wins, his era of dominating men's tennis
begins. Beating Rafa at Roland Garros after having bested him on hard courts
too would mean that Djokovic would have an almost permanent psychological hold
To my mind
Murray is the man with the next best chance at the event. He's finally out of
his post-Australian Open crisis, moving well on the clay, and has played two
key matches on the surface already - one against Nadal in Monte Carlo and the
other against Djokovic in Rome.
he's finally mastering clay at the exact moment he has decided to stop working
with the coach, Alex Corretja, who was hired for this reason.
The Scot is
always a dangerous opponent, able to beat anyone. For the moment, though, he's
missing the final ingredient because he hasn't gained the confidence required
in order to conquer the Grand Slams.
feel as if I'm saying the same thing over and over again with Andy but it is
still the same problems and the same consequences - not having a coach with a
strong vision is harming his overall gameplan for the season.
that, at Roland Garros he is for me the player most able and likely to upset the top two.
star is going through some tough times. He's on the slide even if he remains a
more than dangerous player. He's now noticeably below the top two players at
the moment, even below Murray when the Brit gets it right, but he still has the
edge over the rest of the field.
It's not an
insult to Federer to notice areas where his game has got worse with age, and
it's not to deny his outstanding career if you say that today he is not the
is less efficient, his footwork has lost its speed and crushing power, he is not
able to get around backhands and on to his favoured forehand as often as before
and as a result he makes more mistakes on his weaker side.
to compensate by moving to the net more often, but for now it is not working as
game, technically accurate, is lacking instinct. He's not covering the net like
a player who has spent time and years training on it, and is too easy a victim
for Nadal and Djokovic to pick off with passing shots. Clay only accentuates
It will be
tough for him to win the French Open even if the balls are going to be harder
and faster and play into the hands of the players who enjoy fast surfaces.
Juan Martin del Potro
Argentine is back to a very good level. The first part of his year was great
despite having spent the whole of 2010 out with injury. He's among the tiny
group of players who can genuinely compete with Nadal and Djokovic at their
for him, he had to go back home to have a hip problem examined, so we cannot be sure quite how the injury is healing and how well his preparations have gone.
The best of the rest
players have hope at Roland Garros this year. Among them is Richard Gasquet, who has been rebuilding
himself and, after working with Sebastien Grosjean and Riccardo Piatti, is
slowly but surely realising his potential. He is getting closer to the
baseline, stronger with his shots, and becoming more daring on the court, and
could have a great tournament.
Robin Soderling has always enjoyed Roland Garros, playing in
the last two finals, but seems to be on the slide since he stopped working with
Magnus Norman. Norman changed this gifted but unsettled player into a solid
one, and it is not clear how he will do this time.
It is tough
not to talk about David Ferrer because
he has such an impressive will to win. His fitness and type of game make him a
real contender on clay, but yet he has never excelled at the French Open, or
overall at the Grand Slams.
Thomaz Bellucci was surprising in Madrid and looked very good
at times in his semi-final against Djokovic, but showed his fragility with an early
exit in Rome.
also consider the French players Jo-Wilfried
Tsonga and Gael Monfils.
Tsonga is a
factor because he has things to prove. He claims he's ready and ambitious - and
he has a big ego and some incredible hitting power.
Monfils, clay is his surface and the French Open is the event he's most
motivated for. In Paris he has often been able to express himself with his
best tennis. Without much to show for this season he seems unprepared but has
succeeded in the past in the same circumstances.