Roland Garros Predictions

Following a tradition I started with the blog, I will pick the winner and finalist for Roland Garros and then sit back and let the embarrassment ensue. I will also take a quick look at how I see the draw unfolding.

Men's Singles:

Winner: Nadal

Finalist: Federer

Pick against Rafael Nadal, who appears healthy and hungry and just about unbeatable? Folly. This is the only “duh” aspect of the entire tournament, especially with title contenders Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko out of the action with injuries. Not that the No. 2 Spaniard has an easy ticket to the final. But first, the top half of the draw.

Defending champ Roger Federer has a brutal section, with possible meetings with either 2008 semifinalist Gael Monfils or fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round and Marin Cilic or Nadal-beater Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. Though all dangerous, none of those four has been particularly impressive or consistent this spring, which is why I like Federer to reach the last four and take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

My upset special in the first round is Richard Gasquet over Andy Murray, who is competent on clay but has kind of lost his way and his swagger since Australia. There are some other excellent dirtballers in the second quarter – Mikail Youzhny, Tommy Robredo, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Gasquet among them, but I going with Tsonga, who is due for a big result even if clay can take the patience out of his big game. In the semis, a roughed up but resilient Federer will school Tsonga and reach his fifth Roland Garros final in a row.

The top of the bottom half is also packed with quality claycourters such as Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, and the top seed in the quadrant, No. 3. Novak Djokovic. No. 6 Andy Roddick, the USA’s best hope, has a tough road, and if he survives Eduardo Schwank in round two and Juan Monaco in round three, I don’t see him boxing his way through Ferrer, who had had one of the best springs on clay and is back in top-10 form. But I’m going with Djokovic to find his way into a third RG semifinal. The Serb will have to suck it up after a lackluster campaign on dirt, but he has the talent, pedigree and, when he is in the right frame of mind, the fight to some day win in Paris.

But reaching the semifinals is no picnic when Nadal is across the net. Nadal, 49-1 in best-of-five set matches has too much stamina, spin, mental toughness and now confidence to go down to anyone early. He has some obstacles – wily veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the third round, resurgent Ivan Ljubicic in the fourth and a potential clash with fellow Spaniard and No. 7 Fernando Verdasco in the last eight. They might push Nadal – or maybe not – but he won’t bend. In the semis, Djokovic will not have the game plan or enough big match play under his belt to bother Nadal, who will cruise into his fifth final in six years. Nothing I’ve seen with Federer tells me he’s solved the Nadal riddle. The Spaniard will continue his domination of the Swiss on clay and walk away with his fifth Coupe des Mousquetaires while continuing his Borg-ian march on claycourt history.

Some interesting first-round matchups beyond Gasquet-Murray include Sam Querrey vs. Robby Ginepri, Julien Benneteau and Ernests Gulbis, Roddick vs. Jarkko Nieminen and Verdasco vs. Igor Kunitsin.

Women's Singles:

Winner: Henin

Finalist: Rezai

The top half of the women’s draw is by far the tougher section, with the first quarter loaded with talent. 2002 winner Serena Williams, if she is to complete the second leg of a calendar-year Slam, has her work cut out. While she may rise to the occasion, I like four-time champ Justine Henin to dust off her clay credentials and make a big run in Paris. She’s going to have to get by the big-hitting Maria Sharapova in the third round, who just won her second title on dirt. And then possible last year’s surprise semifinalist Sam Stosur, who has backed up her run with a fine clay season. Then it’s another clash with Serena, who took Henin out in the Melbourne final. Although the 22nd seeded Belgian has been hot and cold this spring – winning Strasbourg, losing in the first round at Madrid – I give her the edge because of her movement on clay. She’s simply the best. So she will eek past Serena in what should be the tournament’s best quarterfinal.

I like No. 4 Jelena Jankovic from the second quadrant, which features Yanina Wickmayer, last year’s finalist Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva, No. 8 Aggie Radwanska and 2008 winner Ana Ivanovic, who is unseeded. Jankovic is the most complete player on dirt in this group. She’ll probably struggle along the way or have a lapse or two, but the Serbian desperately wants to prove she belongs in the title conversation. She’ll push Henin in the semis, but the Belgian has too much power and repertoire and will prevail.

I have little faith in the big names in the bottom half of the draw. My upset special for round one is Sorana Cirstea of defending champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has a losing record this year. The highest seed in the third quadrant, No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki, has been playing on a bum ankle for weeks and has barely won any matches. I’m tipping Na Li of China to emerge from this quarter, but it would not surprise me to see someone like Maria Kirilenko or Flavia Pennetta come through. 

I’m going out on a limb with Aravane Rezai in the last quarter. Though Venus has shown flashes of the player who reached the RG final eight years ago, she has done little in Paris since and I find her game too inconsistent on clay. Rezai will take her out in the fourth round, if the second-seeded American survives Nadia Petrova in the third. The Frenchwoman will power past Elena Dementieva in the quarters to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal and then, riding a wave of French support, blow into the final. But it will end there with Henin, who after her loss to Rezai at Madrid will have learned her lesson. Henin has the experience and variety and will make mince meat of Rezai this time around for a fifth French Open championship.

Some first-round matches to watch include Alize Cornet vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Safina vs. Kimiko Date Krumm and Venus Williams vs. Patty Schnyder.


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