This week, the second grand slam of the year begins in Paris. The Roland Garros French Open has been dominated in recent years by the world #1, Rafael Nadal. However, the women’s draw has been much more open with a different champion each year since the first retirement of Belgium’s Justine Henin in 2007. Also, the French Open is a chance for underdogs to shine with Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, 2008 and 2010 respectively, picking up their first grand slam titles in the French capital.
In the women’s draw, much of the talk has been whether world #1 Caroline Wozniacki can capture her first grand slam title, especially during the absence of the Williams sisters. The Danish 20 year-old announced herself firmly among the top contenders in women’s tennis when she reached the final of the 2009 US Open, but since then critics have questioned whether she has what it takes to become a grand slam winner. Nevertheless, she will come out full of confidence after winning her 4th title of the year only a few days ago in Brussels. However, Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka (#4) and Russia’s Maria Sharapova (#8) have both shown good form on clay this year and look like strong candidates to take the title. Of course, Kim Clijsters (#2) of Belgium and Vera Zvonareva (#3) of Russia are also always tough competition and have winning records against Wozniacki. Of the lower ranked players, Germany’s Julia Goerges (#18) will be a dark horse after a good clay season, which included one title and two victories over the world number one, Wozniacki.
In the men’s draw, two players are playing at a few levels above the rest at the moment…
Those two are of course the world’s top two, Spaniard Rafael Nadal (#1) and Serbian Novak Djokovic (#2). Nadal is the five-time Roland Garros champion and holds a 38-1 win/loss record in the event, his only loss coming to Sweden’s Robin Soderling when he struggled with a chronic knee injury in the 2009 tournament. His heavy top-spin driven
game and unparalleled defensive skills are perfectly suited to the clay courts having earned him the nickname, “The King of Clay”. However, he’ll be up against Novak Djokovic, who is on an incredible 37 match unbeaten streak in 2011 having never lost this year. After winning the first grand slam of the year, Australian Open, Djokovic has picked up another six titles, beaten Roger Federer three times, and beaten Rafael Nadal four times, twice on clay. Surely, these two must be the favorites, Nadal because of his great form in Roland Garros and Djokovic because of his absolute dominance in 2011. Aside from these two, Switzerland’s pride, Roger Federer (#3), and Britain’s hope, Andy Murray (#4), are the biggest obstacles for the top two. Another possible obstacle could be Robin Soderling (#5) considering he’s reached the final these last two years, but after being annihilated 6-3, 6-0 by Djokovic three weeks ago in Madrid, his chances of upsetting Djokovic or Nadal look minor.
Women’s Champion: Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)
Despite not having played her best tennis yet this year on clay, Wozniacki has been without a doubt the most consistent player on tour these last two years, which has earned her the number one ranking. However, I believe if she peaks at the right time in this competition she can snatch her first Grand Slam title and silence her critics.
Men’s Champion: Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
At the moment there is no question about it: Djokovic is the best player in the world. His form in 2011 has been truly remarkable and I believe the confidence he’s playing with and perfect blend of offensive and defensive baseline skills can earn him his first French Open crown and his third career Grand Slam.