French Open Preview: Can anyone stop the 'Fed Express'
Attentions will turn to Roland Garros at the end of May, as the world’s best assemble on the Paris clay to compete in the 109th edition of the French Open.
The men’s singles will see the imperious Roger Federer defend the title he won with a straight sets victory over Robin Soderling of Sweden last year.
Soderling conjured the biggest shock of the tournament in 2009, when he ended Rafa Nadal’s hopes of a fifth straight title in the fourth round and inflicted the Spaniard’s first defeat at Roland Garros.
Federer followed that triumph with victory on the grass at Wimbledon, and added grand slam number 16 at the Australian Open this January.
Meanwhile his great rival Nadal missed Wimbledon through injury, fell at the semi-finals of the US Open and was forced to retire in his quarter-final match at the US Open against Andy Murray.
The power shift was as swift as it was unexpected.
Nadal has slipped to third in the world, and any hopes of a French Open challenge hang on the success of rehabilitation on his recurrent knee injury.
If Nadal can’t stop Federer’s march to grand slam number 17, the task will fall on one of four challengers.
Juan Martin del Potro reached the semi-final last year in Paris and went on to claim a maiden grand slam title at the US Open.
The Argentine beat Nadal and Federer at Flushing Meadows, becoming the first player to down both at a grand slam. It was bold statement of intent.
Serbian Novak Djokovic is another who will fancy his chances. A two-times semi-finalist at Roland Garros, Djokovic has reached a career-high number two in the rankings and should arrive in Paris in confident mood.
Then there’s Nicolay Davydenko of Russia, who’s reached the quarters or better at four of the last five French Opens. With a game suited to clay, he’ll be very hard to beat.
As for Murray, even he would admit that the French Open is not a tournament that plays to his strengths and probably represents his least likely chance of a first grand slam title.
The British No 1 is not a clay specialist. That said, his improved fitness levels and sheer competitive drive could see him into the final four – and from there, anything can happen.
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