Thursday, May 17, 2012

FRENCH OPEN 2012: MENS SINGLES PROSPECTS

With the French Open just around the corner this year the men’s singles looks tough to pick.  Here is a summary of 10 players likely to feature at the business end of the tournament.

Djokovic goes into the French Open 2012 as favourite
Novak Djokovic: prospects 8 ½ /10
Winning is a habit and Djokovic has had a really messy lead-up to Roland Garros this year. He still has the strongest game amongst the men and the grit to win multiple victories against the top prospect listed here.

Djokovic is the hot favourite this year and has a mental advantage over the other top players.  No one goes into a match with Djokovic confident of victory, however any loss effects a players confidence no matter what the reasons for the loss. 

Federer is in form but can he get past Nadal
Roger Federer: prospects 7 ½ /10
Federer has done really well to keep up the pressure on Djokovic and Nadal.  The fire still burns inside and he knows how to win at Roland Garros. 

He’s had a great tournament in Madrid that would have done his confidence a lot of good leading up to the French Open 2012.

Federer will probably only struggle against Nadal, Djokovic or Isner but they will be significant challenges. With all his experience and talent I’m not sure why he has not devised an effective strategy for Nadal or Djokovic by now but the fact is he’s tactically really poor and seldom turns a match around if he’s losing. 

You can expect Federer to be around and challenging for the title but I don’t think he can win the title unless someone else has eliminated at least one of the big three, Nadal, Djokovic or Isner first.

Nadal has the pedigree
Rafael Nadal: prospects 8 ½ /10
“Mr.  Clay Court”, with perhaps the best record ever on clay.  How can he be over-looked after his 6th singles title at Roland Garros last year.

While he dominates Federer on clay, he also has had problems against Djokovic so therefore the draw will be important. He may need someone to eliminate Djokovic and avoid a confrontation with his most difficult foe.

Nadal is also a master at presenting himself as the underdog.  He will talk up an opponent and often take “injury”              breaks from his tournament schedule. I think Nadal enjoys the underdog tag and likes Djokovic to go into Roland Garros as the favorite.  What Nadal does struggle with however is a clear strategy that can beat Djokovic. 

Nadal will be extremely difficult to beat on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

A lack of maturity will hurt Murray at the business end
Andy Murray: prospects 6/10
I have been saying for quite some time that Andy Murray does not have the maturity to win a Grand Slam.  If he could discipline his response to pressure he would be my first pick because he has the ability. 

What gets in his way is his arrogance, blaming his equipment and support team for imagined problems during the crucial periods during a match. The more at stake the more it happens.

Lendl was a good choice as coach for Murray because Lendl had the strength of character to demand more discipline from Murray.  Unfortunately the signs are that he has not been able to help Murray mature.

Expect a good performance from Murray at the 2012 French Open but a disappointing loss at the business end of the tournament.

The biggest threat this year...
John Isner: prospects 7 ½ /10
John Isner is on the verge of big things.  His exploits in Davis Cup competition on clay against France were monumental.  He’s playing very smart and if he can execute his game plan he’s extremely difficult to beat.

Isner is following a strategy based on…
·       Getting a high number of 1st serves in play, making it near impossible for opponents to break serve
·       Attacking the return on every opportunity in the knowledge that if he can convert on some return chances he will break serve
·       Shortening the groundstroke rally by attacking anything high or short. Opponents don’t get a chance to establish any patterns from the baseline and Isner is able to compete on his terms.

The Davis Cup tie on clay against France who were playing at home showed that Isner can do some serious damage at Roland Garros. 

One more thing I like about Isner’s chances, he’s in a very good place mentally.  Isner will not self implode at the up-coming French Open, he is a humble guy who can keep each round in perspective  and go all the way this year.


Others:
David Ferrer has done great throughout the first half of this year. I don’t see Ferrer winning a Grand Slam because it’s tough to sustain that level of physicality for two weeks. However none of the top players will want to meet Ferrer early in the tournament when he is at his toughest. An out of form Jo Wilford Tsonga may be energized playing in Paris in front of his countrymen. He has the respect of his peers but is under-performing lately and it’s tough to suddenly find inspiration. Final verdict, he may have one big win in him but not two weeks of great results.  Tomas Berdych has the game to win but seems to slip up mentally.  I’m sure the other players wait for the “brain freeze” moment when he will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!  Juan Martin Del Potro and Milos Raonic are the sharks in the draw, able to beat anyone with their big games and confident demeanors.  They are the type of players who create chaos in the draw by eliminating the big names and thus open up the draw for others to shine.