French Open: Time for Nadal to unleash himself once again

Updated: May 26, 2014, 15:28 PM IST

The French Open promises another enthralling period of tennis at its best and the moment couldn’t have come at a better time for Rafael Nadal. The world No. 1 who is seeking a ninth Roland Garros title, and 14th overall, has been the supreme leader on clay and his authority is out to be justifiable once again. After losing the Rome Masters final to Novak Djokovic last week, Nadal looks to make amends with a victory at the big stage.

2014 has seen Nadal win two tournaments in Rio Open and Madrid Open. The Spaniard, in between, has lost four other tournaments in Monte Carlo, Miami, Barcelona and Indian Wells. In the season opening Australian Open, Nadal was denied the honour in Melbourne by the other Swiss, Stansislas Wawrinka – who won his first ever Grand Slam.

But Nadal has won four successive French Open titles twice and lies way ahead of the rest in the big league.

Recently, the Spaniard hasn’t been at his best and sometimes has been caught on the wrong foot. Based on current form, he could face a stiff challenge by an in-form Novak Djokovic and a fresh looking Wawrinka. Nadal’s Madrid Open is the only clay-court win this term and there too, he was trailing against Kei Nishikori before the latter retired hurt which handed Rafa the victory. In Rome, he has been pushed to the limits by the likes of Giles Simon and Andy Murray, before losing for the second time on clay in his career to Djokovic.

But, when he is in France, it is a different ball game altogether. Nadal holds an unprecedented 59-1 win/loss record in Paris and has pocketed eight titles out of the last nine. Such is his stature! Going into the French Open, here is a look at the other stars who are vying to end Nadal’s run.

1. Novak Djokovic: The Serbian world No. 2 is the one who is being touted as a co-favorite with Nadal to win the 2014 French Open. Djoker is yet to win a title in France and his recent victory over the former in Rome has served as a major confidence booster. Djokovic started the year with a wrist injury that saw him falling down to Roger Federer in Miami and a withdrawal from Madrid Masters. Since then the ‘Djoker’ has been prolific over the week in Rome and the wrist looks in better shape. Djokovic has won the last four finals against Nadal and he will hope to snatch the top ranking back. If the two meet in final, the world can expect a long battle with absorbing rallies, especially with the No. 1 ranking at stake.

2. Roger Federer: The father to a second set of twins, Federer will look to expand his happiness on court. The 17-time Grand Slam winner won the 2012 Wimbledon and since then, has floundered in the big hurdle. He had a forgettable 2013 and dropped down to No. 8 in the rankings. This year, Federer hasn’t started that bad and his early exit in Rome was understandable after the birth of his twins. The world’s best ever men’s player has gone down in the duel over the years against Nadal and he has a similar challenge especially in Rafa’s territory. Federer had stated he still has the fire in him to win another major and starting on Sunday a lot will be unfolded. The Swiss still has the Wimbledon next month and no matter what outcome he will face in France, he will count the grass-court event as his major chance to add the elusive 18th Slam to his tally.

3. Andy Murray: The 2013 Wimbledon winner, who not only won the trophy but a million hearts, faces a daunting task going into the French Open. He underwent a back surgery last year and hasn’t found a new coach. The Scot recently stated he is looking for someone who can teach him something new. Despite a quarter-final three-set loss against Rafael Nadal in Rome, Murray will definitely take some confidence from that match. He hasn’t looked at his best form this season and is still finding a way to get his fitness back on track. Murray will hope to go as far as possible in Paris and that might serve him well as he begins to prepare his Wimbledon defence.

4. Stansislas Wawrinka. The 2014 Australian Open champion was the first person to break the top four’s dominance in the Grand Slams. Wawrinka followed his dream with the Monte Carlo Masters title and since then has looked a bit shaky. After early round exits in Madrid and Rome, Stan will look to set the standards high just the way he did it in Melbourne. He has played some exceptional tennis in recent times and he is one player who stands in the way of the `big four` as it presents him with a chance to repeat his Oz Open heroics.

The other good brand generation of players such as Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych have played hard tennis in recent times. They will provide the much-needed intensity and fight that we have been noticing in big tournaments and like always, Ferrer & Co. will hope that this time they don’t fall short against the heavyweights.

Paris is like Nadal’s second home and he will want to complete a fifer there, much to the joy of his fans. The Spaniard has set a unbelievable era of clay court dominance and no matter what current form he is in, the World No. 1 looks all set to roll the dice in his paradise.

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