Posts Tagged ‘Tomas Berdych’
After Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal’s title victories in Rome, I was certain that the chances for drama at Roland Garros were slim to none. I’ll cover the women separately. But as far as the men were concerned, the only hitches in my theory were the two questions of how Rafa would be seeded, and where the current world No. 4 would be placed in the draw.
Now that the seedings and draw are out, I can say that maybe I was a tad premature in my drama forecast. The seeding committee stuck to protocol with seeds based on ranking. And with Andy Murray’s withdrawal from this year’s tournament due to a lower back injury, Rafa landed the #3 seed behind #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Roger Federer.
The second piece of the dramatic puzzle was the question of who would have to face Rafa for a spot in the final: Novak or Roger. That question was answered when Rafa was placed in the same half as Novak.
With both pieces in place, three compelling storylines have emerged for the top three men; and all can potentially lead to title victories for each. If Rafa were to win it would be his eighth title in Paris. But that’s not a given if Novak is his potential semifinal opponent.
If Roger were to win it would be his second French Open title. But Roger only has a realistic shot at lifting the trophy if Rafa doesn’t make the final. If Rafa does make the final, we’ll see a repeat of the Rome final.
The most compelling storyline belongs to Novak. This would be his first French Open title, and who would finally give him a career Grand Slam. His path is by far the toughest of the three since he’ll need to beat Rafa in the semifinals before taking on (and defeating) Roger, a guy he’s never beaten at the French Open, in the final.
Add to this the cast of characters that could cause trouble for all three of these guys along the way and you have the ingredients for one of the more interesting French Opens in years!
Here are my thoughts on the men’s top seeds, a handful of dark horses that could rock the boat, and some notable first round matches to start your Roland Garros viewing pleasure, and my picks for the quarters, semis, and final with three possible scenarios.
TOP MEN’S SEEDS
 Novak Djokovic
Novak desperately wants this title, but he’s got the toughest path to get there. If he can avoid early-round upsets, he will have to face Rafa in the semifinals. He came close to beating Rafa last year, but close wasn’t nearly good enough.
If he manages the win over Rafa (and I believe he’s the one guy with the best chance of doing it) he’ll have to face Roger in the final: the one man with the game to give him trouble on clay. He’s lost twice to Roger at the French, the last time ending with the infamous #1 finger wag by Roger after match point. Payback time, maybe?
 Roger Federer
Hands down, Roger got the best draw of the top three. He faces qualifiers in his first two rounds, and potentially won’t have to ever see Rafa on the other side of the net. He will, however, have to face both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer to get to the final and a showdown with the Novak/Rafa winner.
Jo could be tough physically for Roger, but will surely crumble mentally at some point to give Roger the win. After that, David (0-14 against Roger) won’t stand a chance. Roger in the finals if his body holds up. If Roger faces Rafa, hand the trophy to Rafa. If he faces Novak, he has a good chance to win…unless Novak pulls a stunner like at the 2011 and 2012 US Opens.
 Rafael Nadal
An eighth French Open title is no certainty for Rafa with Novak standing in the way. If it were anyone else in the semifinals, I’d give the win (and title) to Rafa. But Rafa facing Novak is a different animal. Novak is the one guy who makes him nervous because of his immunity to Rafa’s “topspin forehand to the right-hander’s backhand” strategy. And he defends just as brilliantly as Rafa. The Monte Carlo final was very telling because of how poorly Rafa played the big points when leading, and how poorly he handled the pressure of the second set tiebreaker.
Barring an early-round upset, Rafa’s whole tournament hinges on getting by his toughest mental nemesis in the semis. If he does, and that’s a huge “IF”, the trophy is his. But I wouldn’t bet any large sums of money on such an iffy proposition.
 David Ferrer
Hate to say it, but even though David has a good shot at the semifinals if he gets past Tomas Berdych, he has no chance at this title. The good thing is that he’s finally accepted his place at the top for what it is, not what it isn’t.
 Tomas Berdych
Tomas is playing some of his best tennis now, and has a good shot to beat Ferrer for a spot in the semifinals. Once there, he’s got an excellent chance at making life difficult for Roger. He can hit through Roger with the pace on his ground strokes. And he’s serving extremely well, and getting a lot of free points in crucial situations. He gets tight in tough situations though, which is what will ultimately keep him from getting by Roger.
 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
I love Jo, but his mind will be his biggest deterrent at the French Open. This is the guy who infamously stated last year, “Let’s be clear, there is no chance that a French win Roland Garros…” Nothing about his play this spring leads me to think anything will change about that statement.
 Stanislas Wawrinka
Stan has had an excellent 2013 clay season. But even though a quarterfinal run is definitely doable, he stands little chance of getting out of Nadal’s quarter.
Ernests Gulbis – Ernests is, by far, the “darkest of the dark horses”! He was two points away from knocking Rafa out of Rome and, apart from occasional mental lapses that cost him in that match, is playing excellent tennis. He’s confident and feeling like he can compete with the best. We’ll see if he can back it up in best 3 of 5 when it matters. We’ll know more about his chances after his match with Berdych in the second round.
Juan Monaco – Pico always surprises when least expected to do so, and could do that in Paris after a title run in Dusseldorf at the Power Horse Cup. He doesn’t have the weapons to effectively battle the top guys, but could knock out some contenders along the way.
Nicolas Almagro – Nico can never be counted out of the hunt to make the quarters, but typically lacks the mental strength to go further.
Fernando Verdasco – Fernando has been slightly more “hit than miss” this spring, and could make some noise at the French. He could also flame out in the first two rounds.
Tommy Haas – Best 3 of 5 matches over a two-week period will be a little too tough on the body for this resurgent German, but you never know.
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND MATCHES
Tomas Berdych v Gael Monfils – Maybe Gael will re-find his magic in Paris while also making Tomas’ first match a tricky one.
Gilles Simon v Lleyton Hewitt – This match could be long and ugly, or long and feisty. I guess we’ll have to tune in to find out which.
John Isner v Carlos Berlocq – John needs this win, or else his entire spring will have been a bust after Houston.
Benoit Paire v Marcos Baghdatis – Two of the more interesting guys on the tour could provide for some good first round entertainment.
Grigor Dimitrov v Alejandro Falla – Dimitrov is definitely the “it” guy these days, and is at least worth watching to see if/when his Paris cramping issues will begin.
Steve Johnson v Albert Montanes – With Montanes’ win in Nice, Steve will either have a chance to capitalize on Albert’s fatigue from winning and travel, or will go down easily to a guy who’s definitely in a winning groove.
Djokovic v Haas/Youzhny/Verdasco
Nadal v Wawrinka
Berdych/Gulbis v Ferrer
Tsonga v Federer
Djokovic v Nadal
Berdych v Federer
Nadal v Federer = Nadal #8
There’s no way Roger beats Rafa in the final.
Djokovic v Federer = Federer #2
Roger’s variety will ultimately see him through for the title.
Djokovic v Federer = Djokovic #1
Novak channels his US Open “match point miracle” mentality and defeats Roger for a career Grand Slam.
- Before the start of the Rome tournament, I had even odds that Serena would finish the week without a withdrawal. It wasn’t a question of her fitness, it just wouldn’t have surprised me to see her be overly cautious heading into the French Open. Well, she proved me wrong and then some, laying a beating of gargantuan proportions on each of her opponents not named Anabel. Her destruction of Vika in the final, along with her destruction of Maria in the Madrid final, underscore the huge difference between Serena and the game’s other elite women. If not GOAT, Serena is hands down the Greatest of Her Generation (albeit GOHG is a much less catchy acronym).
- Vika had minimal preparation for clay this season as she recovered from her nagging foot injury. Still, it must have been disheartening to play as well as she did to reach the Rome finals only to score four games against her nemesis Ms. S. Williams. Just when it seemed as though she was finally turning around their one-sided rivalry after her win in Doha, Serena schooled her on the art of clay court power tennis. It remains to be seen whether this will make her work harder in Paris, or just simply hope for an early round Serena upset.
- Part 1: Rafa’s victory over Roger, his 20th in 30 meetings, cemented his status as favorite for the French Open. Though he didn’t get to meet Novak Djokovic in the semifinals as many had hoped, he still managed to dispatch Tomas Berdych after epic battles against Ernests Gulbis and David Ferrer. By the time Rafa got to the finals, he’d already played the equivalent of three and had come out on top in each. Only one man realistically stands in the way of Rafa’s eight French, and he’s played less than his best in the final clay tune-ups. So I guess maybe no man realistically stands in the way now…
- Part 2: Sadly, Rafa’s victory over Roger also highlighted the desperation that Roger feels when playing the one man he hasn’t been able to figure out on tour. His strategy of running around his backhand to hit forehands, and bad ones at that, felt panicky right from the start. In fact, it felt like a strategy that you’d see in my 4.0 league with guys who don’t have decent backhands: not something you’d see from a man who is commonly referred to as the greatest of all time (GOAT). I realize that Rafa’s lefty topspin cross court forehand to Roger’s singlehanded backhand is a BAD match-up for Roger, but that strategy felt undignified. And more to the point, it was about as bad a strategy as one could have used. Honestly, things don’t look very good for Roger’s French Open prospects.
- Men’s Doubles: The Bryan brothers won yet another title in their stellar career over the very accomplished pairing of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. It was their 88th title overall, their 6th of the season, their 24th ATP Masters 1000 title, and ONLY their 3rd Rome title. These numbers are simply astounding. The best part is that they still love the game and look forward to many more years of playing. So we better start looking for suitable adjectives now to describe their accomplishments if they keep this up.
- Women’s Doubles SHOCKER: Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the No. 1 doubles team, lost in their home tournament to the Chinese team of Su Wei Hseih and Shuai Peng. I’m pretty sure that NOBODY saw that one coming.
- Aga Radwanska pulled out of her last clay court warm-up tournament this week because of a bad shoulder, and is in doubt for the French Open. The same is true for Andy Murray, who retired in his match against Marcel Granollers last week in Rome with a back injury that also left him in doubt for the French Open. I hate to say it, but these items would be more newsworthy for both if either of them were playing at the level you’d expect from them on a surface that is well-suited to the smart, defensive play in which they both excel. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case this spring.
- I was chatting with a buddy today at the tennis courts about possible contenders to Nadal at the French Open, and a guy walking by said “Dimitrov”. Hear me now: Grigor Dimitrov is not a serious contender in Paris. He’s a nice guy and great talent, but you can’t be considered a serious contender if you can’t play three solid sets without cramping. And in case you haven’t watched him play, he cramps easily and often.
- I’ve often viewed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych as two guys who were both on the cusp of big breakthroughs into the top group with the Big Four (plus David Ferrer). Based on results this spring, I’d have to give the edge to Berdych. His game has always been strong, but now his resolve is better and he’s stepping up on the big points instead of wilting. If he could tough it out against Djokovic in Rome, you never know what might happen in Paris.
- Speaking of Djokovic, Novak has had some uncharacteristic breaks in concentration the past few weeks. I’m not sure why, but he needs to rediscover whatever he’s lost so that he doesn’t get sidetracked in Paris. The French Open is the one Slam he hasn’t won, and winning it would make him the newest member of the career Slam club. An early round loss to an inspired opponent, like his loss to Dimitrov in Madrid, would be devastating.
**Special Mention 1: Anabel Medina Garrigues, world No. 63 from Spain, was two points away from beating Serena in Rome. She even handed Serena her first bagel set since 2008. Though she lost the final four games in the third set to lose the match, she came closer to beating Serena than many others with much higher rankings, including Sharapova. If that doesn’t deserve a special mention, then I don’t know what does!
**Special Mention 2: Viktor Troicki arguing a line call with Cedric Mourier at the Italian Open was an epic meltdown that included a threat to retire from the match, and grabbing a TV camera (and cameraman) so that he could broadcast the true mark on TV for the world to see. He lost the match 1-6 1-6 to Ernests Gulbis.
As the title says, here are my quick picks for tomorrow’s matches. I’m prepping for a stint in Napa as an umpire, so gonna keep this short and sweet.
 Serena Williams (USA) v [Q] Simona Halep (ROU)
Simona has taken plenty of notable scalps this week, but I can’t imagine a scenario other than “another viral illness” that would allow her to get by Serena. She has no weapons, and Serena has beaten women badly who have weapons. Enough said.
 Sara Errani (ITA) v  Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Though Sara struggles against a power player like Maria, I think she’s going to be able to frustrate Vika enough to get the win.
 Tomas Berdych (CZE) v  Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Rafa has already played two matches that were worthy of a final (Gulbis and Ferrer). I expect another one against Tomas, with Rafa coming out on top. BTW, kudos to Tomas for knocking out Novak!
 Roger Federer (SUI) v Benoit Paire (FRA)
Benoit has played incredible tennis this tournament, but it’s doubtful he can keep up the level needed to get by Roger. In Madrid, Roger looked rusty and old. In Rome, he looks like the problem-solver we have come to expect. Simply put, if he can get by Jerzy he can certainly get by Benoit.
No blah blah, just straight into the picks…
 Serena Williams (USA) v Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
Serena (Carla’s had a nice clay season but isn’t at SW level)
 Sara Errani (ITA) v  Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Maria (French Open redux)
[Q] Simona Halep (ROU) v Jelena Jankovic (SRB)
Jelena (Great Cinderella run by Simona ends with JJ)
 Samantha Stosur (AUS) v  Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Vika (Sam isn’t nearly confident enough to beat Vika)
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) v  Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Novak (Heavier conditions hurt Tomas)
 David Ferrer (ESP) v  Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Rafa (Déjà vu for David)
Jerzy Janowicz (POL) v  Roger Federer (SUI)
Roger (Jerzy’s had a great tournament, but Roger is too smart)
Benoit Paire (FRA) v Marcel Granollers (ESP)
Benoit (Because in the battle of nerves, Marcel will win)
My WTA Plea
I don’t know why this has been allowed to go on as long as it has, but you need to figure out the broadcast rights issues with the early rounds of the women. You have a product that you’ve struggled to sell to the masses with few exceptions, yet you shoot yourself in the foot by not allowing it to be telecast on either ESPN or Tennis Channel. Sorry to say this, but you gain nothing and lose lots.
Here are some quick thoughts at the end of a great day of quarterfinal action…for the men! Because of broadcast rights issues, the women were nowhere to be seen until later in the day on Tennis Channel. I’m really hoping that I’m not the first to say this, but this situation is wholly unacceptable!
The men’s quarterfinals, however, were very satisfying. David Ferrer gave his all against Rafa Nadal, and almost came out on top. Unfortunately, there’s a huge distance between “almost” and a win. Up a set and 4-2, David ended the match with a third set bagel. (Admittedly, Anabel Medina Garrigues had it worse today since she was only 2 points from victory over Serena before losing 3 straight games.)
Stan Wawrinka continued great form, and belief, in taking down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The same could be said of Tomas Berdych in his win over Andy Murray. Pablo Andujar? He’s had a great Cinderella run to the semis, but that’s where it ends.
From what little I know of the women’s matches, a Williams-Sharapova final seems destined. That is, unless Serena plays as inconsistently against Sara Errani as she did against Medina Garrigues. And Ana Ivanovic looks to be gaining form and momentum with each match, and could prove to be a spoiler.
Here are my semifinal picks.
 Serena Williams (USA) v  Sara Errani (ITA)
H2H: Serena leads 4-0
I’d hate to give Serena the edge and then see her play like she did against Medina Garrigues, but I’m hard-pressed to see any other way that Sara even has a chance in this match.
 Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v  Maria Sharapova (RUS)
H2H: Maria leads 6-2
Maria leads the H2H, but that doesn’t seem to making much of a difference for many of the matches in Madrid. Ana easily beat Angelique Kerber, and Maria had a solid win over Kaia Kanepi. Given her newly-found clay prowess, my nod goes to Maria.
 Rafael Nadal (ESP) v [WC] Pablo Andujar (ESP)
H2H: Rafa leads 1-0
They played once on Clay at the French Open and Rafa won in three tight sets. Even if Pablo keeps it tight, it still won’t be enough for the win.
 Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) v  Tomas Berdych (CZE)
H2H: Stan and Tomas are tied at 5-5
Stan is looking confident and, more importantly, confident on clay. Beating Tsonga was big for him, and this match against Tomas should play out the same way. Nod to Stan.
Andy Murray 2.0 is having a hard time remembering his lessons learned from 2012 and is looking like Andy 1.0. He needs to step it up in Rome to be considered a legitimate threat for the French.
David Ferrer played one of his best matches in a long time against Rafa in the quarters, and still lost. To his credit, he seems to shrug off suggestions at what he can do to overcome the Big Four by acknowledging what we all know: “I think they’re really good … They’re the four best players of the world.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a heartbreaker!
Enjoy the semifinals.