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By Rohit Sharma
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When a player reaches a level that his name becomes synonymous with the premier sporting event then there is little that can be said about his opponents' chances of excelling at the same arena. For five years now, Roland Garros has been a witness to Rafael Nadal's astonishing play on the Parisian clay and the 2010 edition is bound to bring a similar on-court brilliance from the Spaniard's racquet as the year's second grand slam, the French Open kicks off in Paris, France.
Last year, the tennis world witnessed the triumph of arguably the best tennis player of all times- Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro's victory not only gave him a place in the history books, it also helped him take the monkey off his back and prove the critics that his style of play is impressive and strong enough to fetch him GRAND success on any surface. Federer's gain came at the expense of Nadal's loss, who unceremoniously bowed out of the event with a shocking defeat at the hands of Swede Robin Soderling. However, this year, Nadal's winning streak from Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid has put him in the league of his own. Will Federer emerge feisty enough to defend his title against all odds or is it going to be NADAL all the way..? This question is inevitably intriguing the tennis fans the world over.
Defending champion and world number one Roger Federer opens his title bid with a match up with Australian Peter Luczak but faces his first big challenge in Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who gave some impressive results during the European claycourt season. In order to reach quarterfinals in Paris, Federer may be required to fend off the challenge of either local favourite Gael Monfils or compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, who both have tasted defeats in their previous encounters with the top seed. Federer's possible quarterfinal clashes include three names - Albert Montanes, Ernests Gulbis and Robin Soderling, who have all registered wins over the 16 time Grand Slam champion this year. If Federer passes the quarterfinal test confidently, the road to finals will become a rather comfortable affair.
(Know more about Federer's possible opponents in the draw, click here.)
The second quarter of the top half features Australian Open finalist and a 'flop show' ever since, Scot Andy Murray. Murray opens his bid for the maiden Grand slam title with a tough face off with Frenchman Richard Gasquet. His probable Round of 32 clash with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis is infact so difficult to overcome that Murray will have to put in his best efforts together to repeat last year's impressive run. Other big names in Murray's quarter are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tommy Robredo and Tomas Berdych, who all are in good shape and great form as a result of their recent performance. With an exception of a couple of names, Murray's road to semifinals is smooth and as a semifinal finish is expected from him.
The bottom half of the draw echoes only one name - Rafael Nadal. The four time champion, seeded second here, opens his title campaign with a possible second round clash with a talented Argentine Horacio Zeballos. Nadal may be tested by the Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the Round of 32 and Indian Wells champion Ivan Ljubicic in the pre-quarterfinals, but his entry into the last eight of the draw is almost a sure shot. Clay court King's real test will come in the names of compatriots - Fernando Verdasco and Nicolas Almagro, who both are in extremely good form and have come through some amazing runs in cities like Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Madrid. As mentioned earlier, the Spaniard is most likely to reach quarterfinals without much ado and the road ahead is bound to bring the best out of the champion that he is.
(Find out more about your favourite Rafa's progress in the draw, click here)
Novak Djokovic was on the receiving end for most of 2009 and his unceremonious exit from last year's championship at the hands of German Philipp Kohlschreiber had disappointed fans and critics alike. The reason behind the high level of expectations was Djokovic's second best status during the European claycourt season where he made two finals and one semifinal with defeats handed by none other than Rafael Nadal on all occasions. This year however, is already a concern for the Serbian camp as Djokovic's losses to Fernando Verdasco and little known Filip Krajinovic have raised questions about Djokovic's match strategy and the ability to handle pressure on crucial stages. Djokovic opens his bid with a match up against Evgeny Korolev. His first real time scare comes in Spaniard and 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who had a near-perfect South American Spring with back-to-back titles in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. If the Serbian gets past Ferrero, a much tougher hurdle is waiting for him in the quarterfinals. Spanish veteran David Ferrer is like an old wine, he gets better and better with time. His awe-inspiring runs in Barcelona, Rome and Madrid have been a true testimonial to the Spaniard's improved match play and ferocity. By the virtue of their current form, it's David Ferrer who is more likely a semifinalist from this quarter of the draw.
It is presumably easier to predict the winner at this year's championship, but it is not just the opponents but fitness, form and concentration that make a real champion. Rafael Nadal may be everyone's favourite at this year's event, but the truth is that Federer is equally capable of going all the way at Roland Garros. And who can forget David Ferrer's superb performance this European Spring which is worthy of pulling any upset on a given day. But if after careful consideration, four semifinalists are to be chosen then Roger Federer, Marcos Baghdatis, David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal will emerge as the front runners. However, the real question is - Who will overcome the insurmountable Nadal out of the entire lot.....?
Follow the nail-biting action on the Parisian clay at Roland Garros and get the minute-by-minute updates of the 2010 French Open.
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