The French Open (aka Roland Garros) is officially underway! Here are my predictions:
This one’s pretty much a no-brainer. It’s all about Nadal, whose biggest opponent on clay is really himself, namely whether he can keep himself healthy. If he is, then he’s going to win. I know Federer beat him in Madrid (finally!), and Djokovic came as close as you can get, but it’s Grand Slam-time now, and if Nadal’s knees hold up, I don’t see anyone being better than him for three sets in Paris.
Semi Picks: R.Nadal d. G.Simon (I like Simon’s upset chances against Andy Murray); N.Djokovic d. R.Federer (Djokovic’s steadiness will outlast Federer on clay)
Final: R.Nadal d. N.Djokovic (in 4 sets)
The main character seems to be Dinara Safina, who as we all know, is the new Number One but has yet to win a Grand Slam. The big question is, can she finally do it here? Well, she’s had a strong build-up, winning at both Rome and Madrid. What’s been the most impressive with her is that she’s finally starting to tough out wins even when she’s not having a particularly good day (Steffi Graf used to do this so well). And I like how she’s become a perfectionist, criticizing her own play severely even after she’s won, instead of taking on the usual “I’m happy that I got through” attitude. It’s a trait that Evert, Graf, Seles, and Serena W. all shared; they almost never seemed satisfied with their games, win or lose. It comes off arrogant many times, but in a way, it makes sense. You need to DEMAND greatness from yourself before you reach it.
Dinara’s main hurdles are twofold: 1) her fitness, namely whether she has enough in the tank after playing so many matches in the warm-ups & 2) the one and only Serena Williams.
Serena’s powers are probably at their weakest on clay, but she’s still by far the best big-time player in this era. Nerves, what nerves? Serena LIVES for the big occasions. To put it simply, if Serena’s in a Grand Slam final (even at the French), there’s no way I’m picking someone besides her.
But Serena’s problem is that those troublesome knees of hers have been bothering her again. She’s 0-2 for the clay court season (three-set loss to unheralded Zakopalova and then an injury withdrawl after losing the opening set to Schiavone), and I think her lack of match play is going to catch up with her on clay, where you have to be consistent enough to endure the long rallies. I think Serena will get through Zakopalova this time in the 1st round (Serena’s ego alone will pull out the win), but I predict Serena saying adieu either in the 4th round to Pennetta or to Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
So does that mean I’m picking Safina for the title? Boy, it’s a tough one, but I’m actually going to say no. I think Safina has improved tremendously, but I think she still has some way to go before hoisting a Slam trophy. I’m picking last year’s winner Ana Ivanovic to edge Safina out in the quarterfinals (in a three-set thriller). Not only that, I’m picking Ivanovic to repeat her title.
I know I’m going out on a long, long limb. Ana hasn’t been playing well since… well, about 351 days ago, to be exact. But I like that she’s coming in with almost no pressure, and it’s always easier to do something you know you can do as opposed to something you’ve never done before. She just seems so due for another result, and I think her big game will finally come around again.
It won’t be easy, of course. She’ll likely have to play Venus in the semifinals. It’s a tough match, but Venus has some glaring weaknesses on clay. Her big game is awfully streaky (a big no-no on clay), and her incredible foot speed actually HURTS her at times, because it becomes all that harder for her to change directions when players hit behind her. I think Ana will use that to beat her (in fact, I think both Szavay and Li Na have a decent chance to upset Venus as well).
Who do I think Ana will play in the final? It’s almost a toss-up between Jankovic, Kuznetsova, and Dementieva. I’m going to pick Kuznetsova, because again, she’s been in the final before. Of course, so has Dementieva, but she seems to have peaked, and Kuznetsova has a bigger game than Jankovic. As for young gun-esses, Azarenka and Wozniacki, I don’t think they’re quite ready yet. And Maria Sharapova’s likely using this as a nice warm-up for Wimbledon, and I don’t see her getting by Petrova in the 2nd round.
Semi Picks: A.Ivanovic d. V.Williams; S.Kuznetsova d. J.Jankovic
Final: A.Ivanovic d. S.Kuznetsova (two sets, something like 6-4,6-3)
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite French songs to get us ready for Roland Garros. It’s “Double Jeu” (“Double Game”) by Christophe Willem. It probably has nothing to do with tennis, but I don’t care. It’s an awesome song (I still can’t believe that’s a guy singing, though; he makes Mika sound like Leonard Cohen!)