Saturday, May 24, 2008

French Open Preview: Nadal Begins Title Defense, Federer, Djokovic in Pursuit

Roland Garros - French Open
French Open Preview: Nadal Begins Title Defense, Federer, Djokovic in Pursuit

BIG 3 LEAD THE WAY – The Top 3 players in the South African Airways ATP Rankings have dominated the first five and a-half months of the season, combining to win seven titles going into Roland Garros. Top-ranked Roger Federer’s lone title came in Estoril last month while he reached ATP Masters Series finals in Monte Carlo and Hamburg (l. to Nadal both times).
No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Novak Djokovic lead the ATP circuit with three titles each, including two ATP Masters Series shields each. Djokovic won his first Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open in January (d. Tsonga). Federer has ranked No. 1 a record 225 consecutive weeks (as of May 19) since first taking over the top spot on Feb. 2, 2004 while Nadal has been a record No. 2 for 148 straight weeks since July 25, 2005. Djokovic has been No. 3 all but one week since July 9, 2007.

THE WORLD NO. 1 – Federer comes into Roland Garros as the top seed and as the world's No. 1 player for the 17th straight time in a Grand Slam tournament. His record Grand Slam finals reached streak of 10 came to an end in January when he lost in the semifinals to Djokovic at the Australian Open. He went 8-2 in finals during the streak, losing to Nadal in the last two Roland Garros championships. The 26-year-old finished last season No. 1 on the ATP circuit for the fourth straight year with eight titles in 12 finals, compiling a 68-9 match record. Federer enters Paris with a 26-7 match record, including 15-3 on clay (came in 24-4 last year, 10-2 on clay). His one title on the season coming into Paris is the fewest since 2001.

Federer is making his 10th straight appearance at Roland Garros (26-9 record) and the last player to win in Paris for the first time with at least 10 attempts was Andre Agassi in 1999. He won in his 11th visit at age 29. On coming into Roland Garros after his 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 loss to Nadal in Hamburg on May 18, Federer said, “For sure, it is a shame that I lost here. At the beginning I had the feeling that it could go fast. If I had won 6:1, I would have played up strongly.
But you get over it and honestly, now the focus is already on Paris. It was a nice match and it wasn’t funny to lose. Nevertheless, the focus is in Paris now.”

ALL-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONS – Federer is tied for second all-time on the Grand Slam champions list:
1) Pete Sampras 14-4
2) Roger Federer 12-2
Roy Emerson 12-3
4) Bjorn Borg 11-5
Rod Laver 11-5

THE MISSING SLAM TITLE – Federer is attempting to join an elite list of players who have won all four Grand Slam titles during their career: Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, and Andre Agassi. Other former greats who won three of the four except for Roland Garros: Arthur Ashe, Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, John Newcombe, and Pete Sampras. Agassi, who captured Roland Garros in 1999, is the last player to complete a career Grand Slam. The last player to win four straight Grand Slam titles was Laver in 1969.

JOINING THE GRAND SLAM TITLE CLUB – History indicates a player is likely to capture his first career Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In the Open Era, 21 players have notched their first Grand Slam crown in Paris, more than any other Grand Slam tournament. Of the past 19 winners since 1989 when Michael Chang captured his first and only Slam title, 12 claimed their first Slam crown in Paris, including Rafael Nadal in 2005. In addition, since ’89, only three players (Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Yevgeny Kafelnikov) have won another different Grand Slam title other than Roland Garros.

GRAND SLAM SEMIFINALS STREAK -- World No. 3 Novak Djokovic has reached the semifinals or better in the last four Grand Slam tournaments. Last year at Roland Garros he advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal and followed with a semifinal showing at Wimbledon (l. to Nadal both times).. He then reached his Slam final at the US Open (l. to Federer) before breaking through to capture his first Slam title at the Australian Open (d. Tsonga) in January. Djokovic has an opportunity to reach the No. 2 ranking for the first time in his career. If Nadal loses before the quarterfinals, Djokovic will rank No. 2. There are other scenarios as well and updates will be available throughout the tournament.

THE ROGER-RAFA RIVALRY -- Federer and Nadal have met the last three years in Paris with the Spaniard prevailing in the semifinals three years ago and the final the last two years. Nadal leads 10-6 lifetime against Federer, including 7-1 on clay. Nadal has finished No. 2 from 2005-07 and he is the first player to rank in that position for three consecutive years.

Nadal has won both of this year's meetings in the final at ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo on Apr. 27 and ATP Masters Series Hamburg on May 18..

Federer (8) and Nadal (3) have accounted for 11 of the last 12 Grand Slam titles and 13 of the last 15 (except 2005 & '08 Aust. Open) going back to 2004 Wimbledon.

THREE-TIME DEFENDING CHAMPION – Rafael Nadal is trying to become the second player in the history of the French Championships (since 1925) to win four consecutive titles. Bjorn Borg won four straight years (1978-81) and six overall titles. The 21-year-old Spaniard (turns 22 on June 3) is undefeated in his career (21-0) at Roland Garros and he enters with a 15-1 clay court record on the season. Since the beginning of 2005 Monte Carlo in April 2005, Nadal has won an amazing 108 of 110 matches on clay, losing only to Federer in the final of ATP Masters Series Hamburg on May 20, 2007 and to countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round (bye) at ATP Masters Series Rome on May 7. Nadal has a career record of 21-1 in clay court finals. Last year Nadal set an Open Era record with 81 consecutive clay court match wins. Nadal said after his win in Hamburg, “The most important thing is to win Hamburg, not the last tournament before Roland Garros. This tournament is very important, it was the only Masters Series I hadn’t won on clay. I’m happy for that, for sure that will give me more confidence for Roland Garros.”

THREE-TIME WINNERS – Nadal is attempting to become the third man (since 1925) to win at least four titles at Roland Garros. Here are the players with three or more titles:
No. (Years)
Bjorn Borg 6 (1974-75, ’78-81)
Henri Cochet 4 (1926, ’28, ’30, ’32)
Rafael Nadal 3 (2005-07)
Gustavo Kuerten 3 (1997, 2000-01)
Mats Wilander 3 (1982, ’85, ’88)
Ivan Lendl 3 (1984, ’86-87)
Rene Lacoste 3 (1925, ’27, ’29)

TOUGH TO BEAT IN FIVE – Nadal enters Roland Garros undefeated in his career (34-0) in best of five set matches on clay. In fact, he’s been extended to five sets only twice, defeating Guillermo Coria in the 2005 Rome final and Roger Federer in the 2006 Rome final (both 7-6 in the fifth).

HEALTHY FIELD – As of Friday, 48 of the Top 50 players were expected in the main draw. The withdrawals were No. 6 Andy Roddick (shoulder) and No. 37 Tommy Haas (shoulder).

YOUNGEST, OLDEST IN MAIN DRAW – French wild card Jonathan Eysseric, who turns 18 years old on Tuesday, is the youngest player in the main draw while Jonas Bjorkman, who is making his 15th straight showing at Roland Garros, is the oldest player at 36 years, 2 months.

GUGA BIDS FAREWELL – Three-time Roland Garros champion Gustavo Kuerten is playing in his last professional tournament in Paris and he takes on Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round. The 31-year-old Brazilian has been hampered by injuries the last four years. Kuerten has a 36-7 career record in Paris, winning titles in 1997, 2000-01. He also compiled a 20-9 career mark in finals and is the only South American to finish No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings in 2000.

FRENCH ANNIVERSARY – It was 25 years ago that Yannick Noah captured the Roland Garros title in 1983 (d. Wilander). Noah is the only Frenchman to win a singles Grand Slam title in the Open Era. Henri Leconte reached the final at Roland Garros in 1988 (l. to Wilander) and is the last Frenchman to advance to the final since Noah’s triumph.

BRYANS ON A ROLL – The No. 1 team in the Stanford ATP Doubles Race, Bob and Mike Bryan, have reached the final in their last three tournaments, winning in Barcelona and ATP Masters Series Rome while reaching the final at ATP Masters Series Hamburg. The Bryans have compiled a 35-9 record this season and are 3-5 in finals. They won their first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2003 and they have been finalists in 2005-06. The Bryans have a 5-7 career record in Grand Slam finals.

- Five years ago (in 2003)…Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain captures his lone Grand Slam title by defeating unseeded Dutchman Martin Verkerk 61 63 62 in the final.
- Ten years ago (in 1998)...Carlos Moya of Spain defeats countryman Alex Corretja 63 75 63 to win his lone Grand Slam title.
- Twenty years ago (in 1988)…Mats Wilander wins his third and final title in Paris (1982, ’85) by defeating Frenchman Henri Leconte 75 62 61.
- Twenty-five years ago (in 1983)…Yannick Noah defeats defending champion teenager Mats Wilander 62 75 76, becoming the first Frenchman to capture Roland Garros since Marcel Bernard in 1946.
- Fifty years ago (in 1958) Mervyn Rose of Australia defeats Luis Ayala 63 64 64 to capture his second Grand Slam singles crown (1954 Australian).