As I said, I have no absolute predictions at this point as it's much too far from the match and the draw could obviously be a significant factor. However, I'll discuss the top 4's outlook, player by player. Be warned, per usual analysis thread for me, it's a rather long post
Go ahead and discuss, fire away, etc. #1 Novak Djokovic:Historical:
Match Record: 25-7 | 78.1%
(3 wins and 2 losses by retirement)
Set Record: 77-27 | 74%
Over the years, Mr. Djokovic has never made it to the finals in the clay major, not even in his great 2011 season, Djokovic 2.0 mode, in which he lost in the semifinals to Roger Federer.
His worst performance was his first at age 18 in 2005 where he retired in the second round (R64)
to Coria (temp. 30 C/86 F.). He followed that up in 2006 at age 19, with another retirement to Nadal in the QF
with what appeared to be lower back problems.
He has been upset there by #31 Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2009 in 3 sets (R32)
and #27 Jurgen Melzer in 2010 in a 5 set struggle in the QF
Other than that, his better performances consisted of 2 semifinal losses to Nadal
in 2007 and 2008, each in 3 sets.Most Recent:
Djokovic lost the semifinal
in 2011 in 4 sets to Roger Federer, Mr. Djokovic's best performance to date. Last year, his best by far, "2.0" Djokovic went into the Roland Garros semifinal riding an incredible 43 match streak and confidence level. Roger Federer played well to beat Djokovic in 4 sets with bookend 7-5 tiebreaker wins.
After winning the first set tiebreaker, Federer continued to play well in the second set, while Djokovic seemed a bit down following the tiebreaker loss. Djokovic seemed to have a lot of trouble with his footing, particularly on one side of the court where the clay was heavier. Then in the 3rd set, Federer suffered a loss of focus, and Djokovic raised his level and won the set fairly easily. Federer finally picked his level back up in the final set, playing some amazing shots at times, and Djokovic fought to stay in the match valiantly.
His best chance to wrest control was when he broke Federer to go up 5-4 and serve for the match. But Federer halted Djokovic's momentum, showing patience and fortitude, frustrating Djokovic to love-40. Djokovic served big to bring it to 30-40, but Federer returned the next serve deep to the Djokovic backhand, hit a harder inside out forehand stretching Djokovic on the backhand, and followed it with a winning forehand deep to the Djokovic open forehand side and broke back. Federer fought off 2 break points at 5-5 with clutch serving. Djokovic fought well at 5-6, hitting a scintillating backhand down the line winner at deuce and brought the match to the 4th set tiebreaker.
As darkness descended, neither player seemed in the mood to play long rallies, and each player went for big serves and winners, deft drop shots or stinging forehands. Federer proved to be too good in final stage of the tiebreaker, serving his 17th ace to go up 3 match points, 6-3. Djokovic bravely fought off 2 of those on his own serve, and Federer finally blasted his 18th ace to win the match. For Federer, a Roland Garros win wasn't to be, as Nadal once again proved too good in the final. For Djokovic, it was a courageous semifinal fight, but he simply could not get by an in-form Federer.Current:
Mr. Djokovic has not played on the clay thus far this year. In my estimation, he appears somewhat below his 2011 performance level, which was to be expected. His tremendous marathon match victory against Rafael Nadal may have contributed to a slight physical deterioration, but I sense that there is more of a mental loss of focus or desire in place since the AO and his best 2011 level. Also, he doesn't play in a vacuum; the other players are focused, motivated, and gunning for him.
Djokovic seems to have been able to raise his level in the key moments of a match, sometimes well enough to win, sometimes not, depending on the quality of the opponent and their play. He lost in the Dubai semifinal in a rather lackluster performance to Andy Murray, and at Indian Wells in a decent effort to an in-form John Isner. He defeated Andy Murray in the final at Miami, after wins over Monaco and Ferrer. Each of those matches had the same pattern. Good form and easy first set wins, and poorer second set form and tiebreak wins. He started well, then cruised and played well enough when he had to.Prognosis:
From various statements, Djokovic appears to be highly motivated to break through at Roland Garros and reach a final and succeed. We'll have to witness how his 2012 clay season progresses to judge his chances to do that. I feel he has to win at least one of the clay masters to go into Roland Garros with the confidence he needs to compete well.
Djokovic has to surmount a few obstacles to get to the finals and have a chance to win. One, there are a number of clay court adepts who have the ability to beat Djokovic earlier than the semis if he is not performing at his best level. Two, up to now, Nadal and Federer have been the superior players at Roland Garros. Even Djokovic at his absolute best in 2011 was not able to get by Federer. Would he have gotten by Nadal last year at Roland Garros? Maybe, maybe not, we'll never know. If all goes to form, and Federer is on his side of the draw, he probably has to get by both of them to win. If Federer and Nadal are on the same side, it would make it easier for Djokovic. And finally, to a lesser extent, the crowd never seems to be on his side, which can get to a player after a while. Maybe by now, he's used to it, who knows.#2 Rafael Nadal:Historical:
Match Record: 45-1 | 97.8%
(1 win by retirement)
Set Record: 136-13 | 91.3%
Rafael Nadal has been the Roland Garros King of his era and is arguably one of the greatest to ever play on the red clay in Paris. His 6 Roland Garros titles
are only equaled in the Open Era by the great Bjorn Borg. Nadal hit the dirt running in 2005, winning in his rookie effort, and has only suffered one hiccup with his lone surprise loss in 2009 to Robin Soderling in the round of 16. He is responsible for keeping the #1 Roger Federer from winning 2 if not 3 consecutive Grand Slams, dealing him is only losses in a major in the 2005 semifinal and the 2006 and 2007 finals of Roland Garros.Most Recent:
Mr. Nadal defeated Roger Federer in 4 sets in their 4th final meeting. The match was much closer than it looked and Nadal did well to win it. Perhaps if 2 or 3 points had gone the other way, it might have been a 3 set win for Federer.
Mr. Federer got off to a good start, no doubt fueled by his big win over Novak Djokovic and led 5-2 in the first set. On Nadal's serve, Federer got to set point and missed a set winning drop volley that was out by millimeters. After that reprieve, Nadal won the game, and roared back to take the set 7-5.
Nadal continued his momentum into the next set, breaking Federer immediately, while Federer's level was did not approach his earlier level in the opening set, until he broke Nadal to even the set at 4-4. Then followed a break by Nadal, then a rain delay, followed by a break by Federer to 5-5 and then finally Nadal took the second set in a tiebreaker after Federer served and played mediocre to spot Nadal a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker.
Two sets down and a break down at 4-2, Federer came right back to break for 3-4 and broke again at 5-5 and served out the 3rd set. In the 4th, Federer appeared to finaly run out of gas and got broken at 1-2. This time Nadal held his serve and went up 4-1, broke Federer again and served out the set to win the championship.Current:
Mr. Nadal has not played a tournament on clay this year. After the defeat in the marathon final at the Australian Open at the hands of Djokovic, Nadal took a break. He did not play again till Indian Wells where he looked pretty good all the way up to the semifinals including a excellent 3 set quarterfinal victory over a in-form David Nalbandian in the desert heat. However, in his next match against Roger Federer, the conditions changed from hot and dry to quite cool (50F/10C), moist, and windy. The ball was not bouncing as high as on the previous warm days and Federer took full advantage, played well and unplayable at times, defeating Nadal in a relatively easy 2 sets. Nadal did win the Indian Wells doubles with Marc Lopez. In Miami, the conditions were hot and humid and slow, normally ideal conditions for Mr. Nadal. He also entered the doubles in this tournament, this time losing in the second round with Marcel Granollers. In the singles, he had a relatively easy first 3 rounds winning all in 2 sets. After this, he mentioned that his knee tendonitis was hurting him again. He then played a tough 3 sets against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after looking like he would take it in 2, but his level dropped a bit, while Tsonga raised his level, and it went to a 3rd set where Nadal finally took it 6-4. Nadal then withdrew from his next match vs. Andy Murray to let his knee recover.Prognosis:
The clay season will always be the most important for Mr. Nadal. This year will be no different. It starts with Monte-Carlo. I feel he must get his mojo back against Novak Djokovic prior to Roland Garros. Monte-Carlo would be a good a place as any with Nadal having won the last 7 tournaments there. If Nadal can face Djokovic and win there, I think he would have a lot of confidence going into the other clay masters and Roland Garros. Then, as long as Nadal can stay at #2, not letting Federer overtake him prior to Roland Garros, I think he has an excellent chance to win his Open Era record 7th title. However, if his knees start hurting him more, or his play suffers, he could lose #2, and possibly lose at Roland Garros.#3 Roger Federer:Historical:
Match Record: 49-12 | 80.3%
(1 win by retirement)
Set Record: 146-52 | 73.7%
It took a while for Federer to get going on the red clay of Roland Garros. From 1999 to 2004, he made it only as far as the quarterfinals once in 2001. After he lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2005 semifinals, he has only had one result worse than the finals, a quarterfinal defeat in 2010 to Robin Soderling. So his overall record is skewed a bit. Since his first semifinal in 2005, he has a 40-6 87% match record and a 124-27 82% set record.
Since 2005, Mr. Federer has been a bit unfortunate to play in the same era as the great clay and Roland Garros King Rafael Nadal. It has made the clay at Roland Garros appear to be Federer's worst surface, as he has only 1 major to his credit there. But in reality, without the great Rafael Nadal in his way, he might have 4 or 5 more Roland Garros titles to his credit, but more importantly, he might have won 2 or 3 consecutive Grand Slams. The one time he did not have to face Nadal since 2005, he beat Nadal's conqueror Robin Soderling, to win his only championship at Roland Garros in 2009.Most Recent:
See Rafael Nadal's Most Recent above.Current:
Roger Federer has played singles once on the clay thus far in 2012, where he lost in the Davis Cup on extremely high bouncing clay to John Isner in Fribourg, Switzerland. However, his recent play suggests that he may be in the best form since 2007. He followed up his 2011 17 match streak from Davis Cup Australia to the World Tour Finals with very solid 2012 performance thus far. After losing in a tough semifinal to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open and to John Isner in the Davis Cup mentioned previously, he knocked off 3 straight titles. These were on the indoor courts of Rotterdam (250), the faster Dubai hard courts (500), and the slower courts of the Indian Wells Masters, defeating both Nadal and Isner. Following that, he played in the warm and humid Miami and lost to an inspired Andy Roddick.Prognosis:
Federer is currently on a 42 day rest period, where he is not scheduled to play until Madrid. He would set himself up well for Roland Garros by winning or getting to the finals there. A better performance in Rome wouldn't hurt, and he has a slight chance to get to #2 in the rankings prior to Roland Garros should Nadal falter. If he does get to #2, it improves his chances at Roland Garros, especially if Nadal gets put on the Djokovic side of the draw. Otherwise, as #3, he would have to beat both Nadal and Djokovic again, assuming they make it that far and I don't see him doing that. #4 Andy Murray:Historical:
Match Record: 14-5 | 73.7%
(1 win by retirement)
Set Record: 46-24 | 65.7%
Andy Murray has had a tough time in his career at Roland Garros, with his best showing last year, losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinal. Prior to that, he had 1 quarterfinal appearance, losing to Fernando Gonzalez.Most Recent:
In 2011, Andy Murray made it to his first semifinal, but was beaten in 3 sets by the King of Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal. His road to the semifinals was not overly difficult rankings wise, facing only 1 player in the top 20, #15 Viktor Troicki who took Murray to 5 sets. Thereafter he defeated Chela in 3 sets then went down to Nadal. His service game was not that good, winning only 54% of the points on his serve with only 5 aces (contrast that with 18 aces by Federer vs. Djokovic). His return game was also not so good with only 37% of the points won there.Current:
Murray has no clay court performances in 2012. He has been up and down so far this year.
He started out the year well in Brisbane, winning the title there. He carried that good form into the Australian Open with an excellent performance in a tight 5 set losing effort against the eventual winner, Novak Djokovic. Murray lost the first set, came back to be ahead after 3 sets, but his level dipped too much in the 4th set, and then couldn't overcome Djokovic at the end of the 5th. Murray continued his good form into Dubai and revenged his AO loss, by defeating Djokovic in the semifinal with a very good performance, especially on serve. However, he then lost to Federer in the final.
Following that stretch, he inexplicably lost form at Indian Wells and lost in his first match to #92 Garcia-Lopez. In Miami, he recovered to make it to the finals, courtesy of two opponents withdrawals (Raonic, and Nadal), but then lost in a rather poor performance (perhaps also due to the withdrawals) to Djokovic.Prognosis:
To have a serious chance of getting to a Roland Garros final, Mr. Murray must attempt to play more aggressively, and it starts with his serve. He also has to do better on return on the clay. Otherwise, I can't see anything higher than a semifinal appearance for him.Honorable Mentions:#6 David Ferrer
Mr. Ferrer is one of the most hard working men on tour, fighting hard on almost every point, and was recently voted as the best player in ATP Perfect Player category for Stamina by other players.
This quality has enabled him to get 3 titles, 2 of them on clay thus far in 2012. He simply hasn't had good luck in Roland Garros, never making it past the quarterfinals. Perhaps his luck might change this year and he can be a contender.#10 John Isner
Mr. Isner is my dark horse pick for Roland Garros. He has the ability to beat any of the top 3 on this surface. Last year he came very close to eliminating Rafael Nadal in the first round in a tough 5 sets, where he led after the first 3 sets. This was Nadal's only 5 set match at Roland Garros in his career.
Since then John Isner has improved both his play and stamina. He defeated Federer at the Davis Cup in Switzerland and proved that the Nadal match was no fluke as he pummeled the high bouncing ball in Fribourg.
Now that Mr. Isner is higher ranked, he might be able to get much further in the tournament, and becomes dangerous to the top players in the later stages. He will be the one player that the top 3 hope they don't get in their draw. The one question mark for Isner is stamina. Will he have enough to go the distance?#11 Juan Martin Del Potro
Mr. del Potro is another player without luck at Roland Garros. Between injuries, and having to face Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal in earlier rounds, he's never made it past the semifinals, losing in a tough one to Roger Federer in 2009. If he can get a good draw here, perhaps the gentle giant can make an impact here.Younger players:
American Ryan Harrison looks to have a good all court game and he took a set off of Robin Soderling here last year.
German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe plays well on the clay, perhaps he'll jump into the mix this year.