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Previewing the Favorites at the 2011 French Open Championships…

Posted on April 27, 2011 by JA Allen

French Open gets underway in less than a month.

Last season the 2010 French Open marked the culmination of a player sweeping the major titles of the entire clay court season––the final act of the Tao of Nadal.

No man has quite dominated the red dirt so completely since Bjorn Borg did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That said, no individual has yet to equal Chris Evert’s record on clay, man or woman by winning 125 consecutive matches on the red dirt, and seven French Open titles in nine final appearances.

Is it possible that Nadal could surpass even the ice maiden?

There are few mysteries abounding about the results on clay in 2011. If Nadal can hobble on to the court, then he will no doubt win, according to the odds-makers.

The only unknowns come on the women’s side of the draw where no one stands out as a favorite to win. In fact the bookies remain fairly clueless.

Past winners like Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova remain mired in unending slumps punctuated by an unexpected win or two along the way.

Francesca Schiavone who won it last year over the woman who was supposed to win, Samantha Stosur, may be the best bet.

The sure thing about watching the French Open is that it is not pretty. Play on the red dirt can be long and ugly on a hot afternoon with unending rallies from the baseline.  It often becomes truly survival of the fittest.

So, selecting who will be standing holding the trophies at the end of the French Open can be a futile exercise but here are the favorites and where they stand at the beginning of May…

Juan Martin Del Potro: The Dark-Horse Contender

Dark Horse Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina

After being listed as missing in action for almost a year, former World No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro is fighting his way back up the men’s ranking.

The winner of the U.S. Open in 2009, del Potro has struggled to regain the form that once took him to the top of the men’s game.

Now ranked in the top 50 at No. 46, del Potro needs only one more significant win to get himself seeded for the 2011 French Open.

In the meantime, the Argentine remains the most unpopular unseeded player on tour. No one is happy to see the big guy standing in their quarter of the draw.

The last time del Porto made an appearance on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros was in the semifinals of the 2009 French Open where he met eventual champion Roger Federer, extending the Swiss to five sets before losing 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, 1-6, 4-6.

Now at age 22, del Potro is perfecting his game once again, ready to win another slam title. If anyone is equal to Nadal on the red dirt and able to counter the Majorcan’s high kicking serve, it is this man from Argentina.

The dark horse of 2011 of the men’s draw is Del Potro….

Andrea Petkovic: The Dark-Horse Contender

Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

Andrea Petkovic became the first German woman with a top 20 ranking since Anna-Lena Groenfeld made it in 2007.

After reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart, Petkovic climbed all the way to the No. 15 spot. One year ago the German was ranked No. 50.

After reaching the final eight at the Australian Open, Petkovic has remained steadily in the tennis spotlight.

After defeating Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open and World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open, Petkovic has definitely convinced her opponents that she is a legitimate force to be reckoned with on the ladies tour.

Using deep penetrating groundstokes and employing patience, waiting for her moments, Petkovic’s game seems well-suited to clay.

Expect her to do well on the red clay in Paris. She may be the best dark horse in either draw…

Roger Federer: The Man for All Seasons and Surfaces

Roger Federer 2009 French Open Champion

After appearing in four French Open finals and winning the crown in 2009, Roger Federer is no longer being discussed as a potential rival to Rafael Nadal for the 2011 French Open Championship.

How quickly fame fades.

Last year the Swiss was dismissed in the quarterfinals by eventual finalist Robin Soderling. The loss ended Federer’s streak at 23 consecutive major semifinal appearances.

It also cost the Swiss the No. 1 ranking, leaving him one week short of equalling Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1.

Currently ranked World No. 3 behind Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Federer bides his time, ready to capitalize if the opportunity arises.

While the tennis world discusses the new rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic, they seem to have forgotten that Djokovic has never defeated Nadal on any surface other than hard courts while Federer has won a few––very few matches against the Majorcan on clay.

The one person who continues to believe in Federer is Federer and that is really all that matters.  As long as the Swiss keeps himself fit, mentally and physically, he is ready to win––especially when the majors roll around.

It is never smart to count out the Man for All Seasons and Surfaces.

Caroline Wozniacki: World No. 1 Without a Slam to Her Name

World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki

World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki took over the top spot from Serena Williams in October of 2010. She has been ranked in the top spot for approximately six months.

Like Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic before her, Wozniacki has been severely criticized for holding the No. 1 ranking without winning a major.

The fallacy in this thinking, however, is simply that she has earned the points to be there and there is no requirement that states she must hold a slam title in order to be accorded the top ranking.

The fault dear WTA is not in our stars…but in our ranking system.  The fact of her failing does not seem to affect the 20-year-old Wozniacki whose patience continues to be her primary virtue.

The Dane is content to wait until the right moment to win that first crown.  It is the press whose impatience continues to unravel the nerves.

Wozniacki’s chances of winning the French Open are as great as anyone else’s at this point. She wins a great many titles. None of her wins so far, however, have been majors.

You must give credit to Wozniacki for her bravery and her work ethic. She is not afraid to win. At present, she works on perfecting her game, growing into her role as a champion.

The rest will come in time.  Maybe even at this year’s French Open.

Robin Soderling: Third Time the Charm?

Swede Robin Soderling ready for another French Open final.

The Swede Robin Soderling will forever be remembered as the first man to defeat Rafael Nadal on the red clay of Stade Roland Garros.

The upset occurred during the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. It is, perhaps, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the great sport of tennis.

Seeded No. 23, Soderling met Nadal with no one expecting the Swede to win. No one.

Soderling won 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 which ended Nadal’s 31-match winning streak at the French Open.

Subsequently the Swede went on to defeat Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals and Fernando Gonzalez in the semifinals to reach his first ever grand slam final.

He met Roger Federer in the final which Soderling lost in straight sets 1-6, 6-7, 4-6.  Federer won his first and only French Open to date. Soderling climbed to the No. 12 ranking.

In 2010, Soderling once again found himself facing Federer. This time the two met in the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open where the Swede defeated the Swiss for the first time in his career and ended Federer’s consecutive semifinal streak at 23.

For the second year in a row Soderling defeated the French Open defending champion.

The Swede went on to defeat Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.  This took him into the finals where he faced Rafael Nadal, losing 4-6, 2-6, 4-6.

Soderling contends that he has the right stuff to defeat Nadal again for the championship.

After all, Soderling beat him once so he must believe that with a little luck and some good weather, his third try at the French Open crown will find the Swede the winner in 2011…

Kim Clijsters: Dancing Her Chances Away?

Kim Clisters of Belgium

Certainly Kim Clijsters would be the favorite to win the 2011 French Open had she not damaged her ankle while dancing at her cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago.

Clijsters was a finalist in Paris in 2001 and 2003, losing to American Jennifer Capriati and country woman Justine Henin respectively.

The world No. 2 has been out of action after enduring “a severe strain of both the medial and lateral ligaments of the right ankle and torn ligaments, a torn capsule of the ankle joint, a hematoma and torn tendon sheath.”

Clijsters is currently rehabilitating, expecting to miss at least six weeks of the season.

Right now Clijsters is walking without crutches and the expectation is that if her progress continues, the Belgian may be able to compete at Stade Roland Garros  as action gets underway.

That assumes that she can get at least two weeks of training in before action begins.

Those seem to be a great many “ifs” and “maybes” to overcome. Her status remains uncertain at this point.

Clijsters may have danced her way right out of contention for this missing jewel in her grand slam crown.

Novak Djokovic: Stings Like a Bee

World No. 2 Novak Djokovic from Serbia

So far in 2011, Novak Djokovic has not lost a match.  He won the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells and the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

He stands currently at 24-0 and feels he is up to the challenge of unseating Rafael Nadal for the No. 1 spot in men’s tennis.

The Serb surpassed Roger Federer for the No. 2 ranking on March 21, 2011.  He states emphatically that he no longer fears playing either Nadal or Federer regardless of the tournament or the surface.

Djokovic feels he has paid his dues and he is now ready to reap the rewards of his hard work and sacrifice.

Of course defeating Nadal on clay is not the same thing as defeating the Majorcan on hard courts. Djokovic has never defeated Nadal on clay.

So far, Nadal has won both tournaments he has entered on clay in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona.

Perhaps, the two will have the opportunity to test their mettle against each other in Madrid which begins next week on May 1, where Nadal will be the No. 1 seed and Djokovic No. 2.  The Serb is playing his first tournament on clay this week at the Serbian Open where he is expected to win against token opposition.

Djokovic has much to prove on clay where the red dirt can eat into your soul and soften your resolve.

The sting of the confident Serb may find itself ground underfoot by long rallies dictated by Nadal who refuses to give up especially when the challenger is so vocal and so bold.

Samantha Stosur: From “Also-Ran” to Queen of the Court

Samantha Stosur from Australia, finalist in 2010.

In 2010 Samanta Stosur played a magnificent tournament all the way to the French Open final.

She defeated some real heavy weights to reach the final including three time French Open champion Justine Henin, World No. 1 Serena Williams and former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

The Aussie advanced through the draw utilizing her powerful serve and her devastating ground strokes.

After such impressive wins over former World No. 1 players, Stosur, unfortunately, did not seize the day against Schiavone during the final.

The Italian played unorthodox tennis and stole the championship away being aggressive and unpredictable.

She rushed Stosur all during the match and never allowed the Aussie to settle into the match.

This year, perhaps the Australian has learned better how to win the big match.

Stosur certainly has the right game to win on clay.  A victory in 2011 would help heal the wound left by losing the championship in 2010.

No doubt Stosur feels compelled to win it all this year to prove that she can.  It will take great resolve as well as another great run to accomplish it in 2011…

Rafael Nadal: With Six You Nudge Immortality

Rafael Nadal will be the No. 1 seed at the 2011 French Open

There is an aura these days enveloping Rafael Nadal––a cloud of nervous energy tinged with desperation.

You cannot help but wonder why this barely discernible sense of panic exists.

It is not as if the Majorcan has had any real competition so far in the clay season. Twice he has met and defeated countryman David Ferrer in the finals at Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

With a rare week off to ready himself for Madrid followed quickly by the tournament in Rome, both ATP Masters 1000 events, Nadal seems more than capable of repeating his clay feat of 2010.

Last year the Majorcan became the first man ever to win all three Masters 1000 tournaments on the red dirt, polishing off that record by capturing his fifth French Open crown by defeating Robin Soderling in the final.

It was Soderling who dismissed Nadal in the fourth round on the center stage at Stade Roland Garros during the fourth round of the 2009 French Open.

It was this same Soderling who in 2010 sent the defending champion, Roger Federer, home after the 2010 French Open quarterfinals.

This year Nadal claims he can be beaten. One suspects he anticipates an attack by Djokovic on the top ranking.

With a massive number of points to defend on the clay, Nadal senses his own vulnerability.  But we suspect that this makes the Majorcan even more dangerous on the red clay…

Francesca Schiavone: Happy to Be a One-Slam Wonder

Italian Schiavone was the surprise winner of the French Open in 2010.

While Francesca Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win the French Open crown in 2010, she will not repeat as champion.

This is because no woman has repeated as champion at Stade Roland Garros since Justine Henin won the the title three straight years from 2005-2007.

The chances of the feisty Italian making it back to the finals in 2011 would be quite remote.

That said, however, there is no real favorite coming into the 2011 French Open in the women’s draw.

Schiavone played inspired tennis to defeat Samantha Stosur 6-4, 7-6 in the 2010 French Open final, often standing inside the baseline in order to offer some surprise returns against the huge Stosur serve.

No one expected the Italian to win, especially the way Stosur had dominated coming into the final.

But Schiavone retained a firmer grasp on her nerves than the Aussie Stosur. She deserved to win the title in 2010.

But so far the oddsmakers have not given Schiavone the nod as the favorite coming into Stade Roland Garros…

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