(DtL! contributor Jimmy takes a look at the year's second major and offers insight into the big stories to watch out for on the men's side. I'll be taking a peak at the ladies so check back tomorrow for that preview. Take it away Jimmy!)
Another intense clay court season comes to a close with the grand daddy of 'em all: the French Open! The obvious question here is whether or not Rafael Nadal will be able to continue his dominant streak and win a fourth consecutive title. As always, Roger Federer is breathing down his neck (although he’s dealing with a few issues of his own) and Novak Djokovic has emerged as a top contender for the title as well. Let's take a look...
It’s been a given that Rafa owns the terra bateau but not much else, thanks to Federer’s dominance on every other surface. But the Spaniard has prevented R-Fed from a complete domination of the men’s game, stopping the world no. 1 from achieving a calendar grand slam in 2006 and 2007. For years people assumed the Swiss would just naturally fall from grace and cede the #1 position to Rafa, who is several years his junior. Judging by Fed’s game recently, it appears 2008 could be the year it happens.
But not so fast! That young whippersnapper Novak Djokovic has become a serious threat to the established order. The Serb came within one set of taking the #2 spot away from Nadal in the Hamburg semifinal this year. And he’s already come up with big wins in Melbourne, Indian Wells, and Rome so far in 2008. Suddenly, instead of patiently waiting for Federer to stumble from his perch, Rafa is in a tight three-way race for #1, and youth is no longer on his side, with Nole a full year younger than him.
It’s been a tough few months for Nadal. The Mallorcan matador had to defend a ridiculous amount of points during the clay court season, and now more than ever the pressure is on to be the best. However, despite Nole's ascension I still think Rafa has a lot of life in him, and he may not even have peaked yet. He always turns it up when the going gets tough, and I still pick him to win the title this year, but his road to the top may be bumpier than ever.
Speaking of bumpy roads, no one has had it tougher than Federer. He's only picked up a single title this year: the Estoril Open in Portugal. The last several years Fed has felt the pressure of winning the French Open and completing a career Grand Slam. But ironically, losing the Aussie Open means the pressure of the Slam could be off this year. Plus, he's been picking up his game considerably since the win in Portugal. Could this be Fed’s year at Roland Garros?
Of course, the ATP doesn’t revolve around the top three players, as much as it may seem. There are more than a few stories to keep an eye on during the next two weeks in Paris:
Can the always-reliable Nikolay Davydenko maintain his game this year and finally contend for the title? (He reached the semifinals in 2005 and 2007).
Can any of the up-and-coming players make an impression? I think Stanislas Wawrinka has a decent shot. He made it to the semis in Barcelona and the final of Rome.
And what about the sad case of Frenchie Richard Gasquet? He’s having a terrible year and has been threatening to skip the tournament, to the disappointment (or is that delight?) of the French fans.
Who do you think are the top picks + darkhorses on the boys side?
Like the ladies? Click here for their preview.
(image via Getty)