By Josh Kramer
Paris. Roland Garros. Philippe Chatrier. It is time for the year’s second Grand Slam. Though this is not typically a favorite tournament for Americans (last Men’s winner was Andre Agassi in 1999, Women’s winner was Serena Williams in 2002), people love parity in sports. This is the closest thing that the tennis world has to March Madness. Before Rafael Nadal came along as the “Clay Court King,” the French Open had nine different men’s champions in a ten-year period. Despite Rafa’s dominance, this tournament is always scintillating as the clay court specialist come out in full force and enjoy their time in the sun. On the Women’s side, there have been four different winners the past four years. Strap in, and get ready for a little taste of Paris.
Champion: Rafael Nadal
How could you pick against this guy in Paris? He is the “Clay-Court King” for a reason. This will be the year that the one they call “Rafa” surpasses Bjorn Borg as the greatest clay court player of all time with his seventh title at Roland Garros. Coming off of a huge victory against Novak Djokovic in Rome, not even the world number one holds a mental edge on the star from Majorca. If I were Bjorn Borg, I would give Djokovic and Federer some serious advice on how to thwart Nadal on the clay.
Contenders: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer
I know what you all are thinking. Way to go with the obvious. Also take note that I left off Andy Murray, the fourth component of the “Fantastic Four.” I am becoming very impatient with the ”Great British Hope (yes I realize he is from Scotland).” Even at the ripe age of 30, Federer is still playing phenomenal tennis with four titles on the year and a stellar 31 and 4 record. Also do not forget that the 16-time Grand Slam winner won here back in 2009. As for Novak Djokovic. He is the number one player in the world and put up one of the most remarkable years in tennis history in 2011. Djokovic has won the last three Grand Slam tournaments and is looking to capture the “Djokovic Grand Slam” in Paris. Having advanced to the semifinals here three of the past five years, do not sleep on the “Djoker.”
Dark Horse: Andy Murray
My patience along with the entire United Kingdom is truly waning with Mr. Murray. The guy can really play. That is not the question. Can he string together seven consecutive victories? That is the real question. Unfortunately for Murray and all of his fans, that remains to be seen. Murray is the only player not named Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer that has a legitimate chance though.
Champion: Victoria Azarenka
Azarenka appears to have given the Women’s game their first legitimate number one in some time. She has finally brought some order to a previously wild and crazy WTA tour. Azarenka is 35 and 3 on the year with four titles. Plus she already won the year’s first Grand Slam down in Melbourne. Despite some recent issues with her right shoulder, do not sleep on this 22-year-old star out of Belarus. She is the number one player in the world for a reason and will show why in Paris.
Contenders: Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Li Na
Maria and Serena have been perennial contenders for the better part of a decade now and are used to the high expectations. Sharapova is currently 11 and 1 during this year’s clay court season, while Serena has won here before. Li Na burst onto the scene last year when she took home the 2011 French Open title. She is already off to a hot start this season having advance to the quarterfinals or better in six of her eight tournaments played.
Dark Horse: Samantha Stosur
Stosur is not only the reigning US Open Champion, but she has been to the finals here before (2010), and also has posted a 13 and 4 record on clay this season. We saw what she is capable of when she is on her “A” game and hitting her spots with her serve at Flushing this past September. Ask Serena. Stosur is a definite player to keep an eye on considering she has made the semifinals or better here two of the past three years.
Grab your popcorn. The wildest tournament in tennis is ready to begin.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.