A draw is a conversation starter, but it may be more valuable as a conversation killer. Once the men and women are locked in their brackets, we can leave behind the airy speculation about “favorites”—a meaningless word ...
A draw is a conversation starter, but it may be more valuable as a conversation killer. Once the men and women are locked in their brackets, we can leave behind the airy speculation about “favorites”—a meaningless word if you’re a player—and stop pondering the endless “what ifs” about who might play whom in what round. Now everyone has their path, and they must walk it. Or, if they can, slide it.
Who has the easy road, and who has the tough one to the Coupe de Mousquetaires in 2013? Let’s take a look at what awaits us over the next two weeks. (Draws are here).
The primary question on the men’s side, to my mind, concerns Novak Djokovic and his recent form. Will his early losses in Madrid and Rome, and his ongoing recovery from an ankle injury, carry over to Paris? Judging from his play over the last three years, it won’t: No matter what he’s done at the Masters events, Djokovic has reached the semifinals or better at the last 11 Grand Slams. Whether he continues that streak could decide who wins this French Open.
Djokovic has said that Roland Garros, which would complete his career Grand Slam, is his highest priority in 2013. He has also wanted to prove that he can knock off Rafael Nadal here since at least 2006. That year in Paris the two played the first of their 34 professional matches against each other. Nadal won, but afterward Djokovic stunned many by claiming that Rafa was “beatable” on clay—in this gentlemanly era, that was enough to put the stamp of brashness on Nole. Since then, Djokovic has proven himself correct by beating Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome; everywhere, that is, except Paris. Rafa is 4-0 in their head-to-head at Roland Garros, but Djokovic won his first set from him there in last year’s final. He also walked away believing that the experience of playing his first French final had helped him.
This year Djokovic and Nadal are scheduled to play in the semifinals. But each needs to win five matches first, and given Djokovic’s recent form, that’s not a lock for him. He has, relatively speaking, a difficult opener against Belgium’s David Goffin, a talented player who made his mark with his run to the fourth round here in 2012. It might not get any easier for Djokovic in the third round, where he could face Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who upset him in Madrid two weeks ago.
Theoretically, though, things should get better for Nole after that. He’s scheduled to play Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round, and his countryman and whipping boy Janko Tipsarevic in the quarters. And there don’t appear to be many dangerous types in this section—Dolgopolov, Haas, Isner, and Youzhny are the other seeds. If trouble comes for Novak, it looks like it will come early. But if he makes it to the fourth round with his body intact, he becomes a co-favorite with Nadal to win the tournament.
Americans in Paris: Isner and Ryan Harrison. They could face each other in the second round.
Question Mark: Tommy Haas. The ancient German is having a good year, but will he struggle with three-out-of-five on clay? He lost in the first round in the year’s other major, in Australia.
First-round match to watch: Djokovic vs. Goffin. They’ve never played each other.
Nice to have you here: Bernard Tomic. He opens against Victor Hanescu.
As of this morning, the second big question of this draw was: Where will the fourth-seeded Rafael Nadal land? Now we know he’s on Djokovic’s side. Does it make a difference if they play in the semis or the final? Probably not. Nadal does tend to raise his game for finals, and he did that in Rome and Madrid; but this match would have all the trappings of a final anyway. It’s possible that it could end up hurting the wi