For the 15th time in the last 19 Grand Slams, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are on the same side of the draw. The trend may be getting old, but their semifinal matches are not. If it happens again and it’s anything like the 2011 French Open or the 2011 U.S. Open, we’re in for another instant classic.
Like it or not ("it" being Djoker-Fed matches one after the other), the Roland Garros draw ceremony got a lot of things right on Friday. Even though Djokovic is the No. 1 seed, Nadal is a six-time champion and coming off a Rome title, so he has to be considered the favorite. Thus, the second-ranked Spaniard deserves the weaker of the 3-4 seeds—which is obviously Andy Murray instead of Federer. Nadal also finds himself with the worst of the 5-8 seeds (Janko Tipsarevic), while Murray is pitted against the best (David Ferrer, at least on clay).
On paper, the early rounds leave a little bit to be desired. But that's not necessarily bad news, because it means basically all of the big names should be sticking around in Paris for a while. Starting with the third round or so, count on some serious high-quality drama.
Djokovic should be able to sleepwalk into the semifinals this fortnight, but a few of his opening matches will at least generate headlines. The top-ranked Serb is on course for a rematch of his Australian Open four-setter against Lleyton Hewitt, who may be making his swansong at this event. Djokovic is then likely meet Jurgen Melzer, to whom he lost in the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open after five sets. Intriguing storylines? Sure. Competitive matches? Absolutely not.
With Gael Monfils out of the tournament, pressure is even bigger on Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon. They are both in the second half of this section and should be able to play their way into a fourth-round showdown. Stanislas Wawrinka hopes to crash that potential party (in the third round against Simon), but the fans hope to see Tsonga and Simon battle for the right to take on Djokovic in the quarters.
Best first-round matchup — (22) Andreas Seppi vs. Nikolay Davydenko
One of the biggest stories of this season (maybe the biggest outside of Djokovic-Nadal-Federer-Murray mainstream news) was Seppi's recent run to the Rome quarterfinals. It included a three-set upset of John Isner and an improbable back-from-the-dead victory over Wawrinka, both of which took place in raucous atmospheres. Davydenko has mostly been dreadful in 2012, but he should have a glimmer of confidence after reaching the Nice semifinals. This could be the best of match of the entire first round if Davydenko shows some semblance of the Davydenko of old.
Best potential second-round matchup – (11) Gilles Simon vs. Brian Baker
Best potential third-round matchup – (5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Fabio Fognini
Possible surprises —Baker may have used up enough surprises for a lifetime already in Nice, where he has made a dream run to the title match. The resurrected American, who will face Nicolas Almagro on Saturday, has taken out Gael Monfils, Mikhail Kukushkin, and Davydenko all in dramatic fashion and in succession. If he has anything left in the tank, Baker could capitalize on a favorable draw in Paris. He opens with Xavier Malisse and nobody is unbeatable until Djokovic all the way in the quarterfinals. I know that's a longshot, but I’m drinking the Baker Kool-Aid. Who isn’t?
Federer’s path is similar to that of Djokovic, except it is even easier during the first week and likely more difficult in the quarterfinals. The third-ranked Swiss could run into fellow veteran David Nalbandian in the second round. That is a popcorn match, no doubt, but it’s hard to imagine Nalbandian even winning one set. Rounds one (Tobias Kamke), three (Andy Roddick? Doubtful.), and four (Feliciano Lopez and Radek Stepanek are the potential seeded opponents) will be even more routine for Federer.
The other half of this quarter, on the other hand, is absolutely loaded. It includes Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson, and Juan Carlos Ferrero. A Berdych-Delpo fourth-round collision is arguably the most highly-anticipated matchup of this tournament, but Del Potro will likely face the Cilic-Ferrero winner in round three. Berdych will go up against either Michael Llodra or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his second match before getting Anderson.
Best first-round matchup — (23) Radek Stepanek vs. (LL) David Goffin
Needless to say, there aren't many intriguing matchups in this section of the bracket. In fact, before Goffin was put in here the best first-rounder was Llodra vs. Garcia-Lopez! Goffin is making a name for himself in 2012 and is a win or two away from breaking into the Top 100. This will be an intriguing matchup in styles, and clay will help Goffin more than it will Stepanek even though neither man is particularly strong on the slow stuff. Stepanek is a clear favorite, but his current form (or lack thereof) will give Goffin a chance.
Best potential second-round matchup – (21) Marin Cilic vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero
Best potential third-round matchup – (9) Juan Martin Del Potro vs. (21) Marin Cilic
Possible surprises — You just know every unseeded player in the draw wanted to land in the same pod of four as No. 26 seed Andy Roddick. The American has always been horrendous on clay and his year even on hard courts has been bad aside from a shocking Miami upset of Federer. Nicolas Mahut, who faces Roddick in round one, could be the beneficiary. Don’t be surprised if it's Mahut instead of Roddick going up against Federer in round three. The door is also open for the Stepanek-Goffin winner to make the second week.
Murray's section was always going to be the most wide open, simply because he is nowhere near the class of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer at the moment. That is even more the case now that the draw has been revealed, because the contenders in this quarter are plentiful. Potential quarterfinal opponents for Murray include Ferrer and Isner, but the fourth-ranked Scot would probably have to get past either Richard Gasquet or Alexandr Dolgopolov just to make it that far.
Of course, don't count on Murray surviving the first few days at Roland Garros. He is slumping and also dealing with a back problem. If Murray gets past Tatsuma Ito, he will collide with either Jarkko Nieminen or Igor Andreev. The winner of a likely second-round clash between Bernard Tomic and Santiago Giraldo would await Murray in the third round. Veteran Tommy Haas, who qualified for the main draw, will also be looking to take advantage in this section.
Best first-round matchup — Jarkko Nieminen vs. Igor Andreev
These two veterans have faced each other only once before and that one also came at Roland Garros (2005 second round, Andreev won in four sets). It's safe to say that neither one is on top of his game anymore, but this could still be good one. Nieminen actually won a title earlier this year (Sydney) and Andreev remains dangerous on clay with his heavy topspin forehand. Breaks of serve will be the norm in what should be an entertaining baseline battle.
Best potential second-round matchup – (25) Bernard Tomic vs. Santiago Giraldo
Best potential third-round matchup – (16) Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. (17) Richard Gasquet
Possible surprises — There isn't a single seed in this section that is unbeatable at any stage of the tournament; not even Ferrer. Although Ferrer seems to be in a state of perpetual state of good form, he never steps up at Roland Garros. The sixth-ranked Spaniard has reached the quarterfinals only twice and he has been past the third round just twice in his last six appearances. As a result, watch out for Mikhail Youzhny and France’s own Paul-Henri Mathieu in Murray's quarter. Mathieu is rusty, but he could go a long way if he somehow upsets Isner (who has cooled off in a hurry) in round two.
French Open draws don't really matter when it comes to Nadal, at least not when he is on the opposite side from Djokovic. So when Nadal won Rome and assured himself of being the No. 2 seed, he all but booked his spot in the Roland Garros final. There a few scenarios that at least would have made early-round life relatively difficult for Nadal, but they did not come to fruition. The defending champ will do nothing more than waltz into the fourth round, at which point his title defense will really begin against either Juan Monaco or Milos Raonic.
The intrigue in this section involves the battle to meet Nadal in the quarterfinals. Tipsarevic is seeded to be the one, but he won’t have an easy time making it through four matches. Rounds two and three should not be difficult for the Serb, but he opens with Sam Querrey and could run into Almagro in the last 16. Almagro has played amazing clay-court tennis in 2012 (as always) and he is in the Nice final after destroying Simon. The Spaniard is on a collision course for the third round with Munich champion Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Best first-round matchup — (8) Janko Tipsarevic vs. Sam Querrey
Yeah this could be a blowout…but maybe not. Querrey is working his way back from injury and has firmly entrenched himself in the Top 100. He won a Challenger title in April then qualified for Rome and beat Nieminen before losing to Almagro. Tipsarevic is in the midst of a fine season, but he is not at his best on clay (don’t be fooled by his Madrid semifinal) and he is wasting energy this week in Dusseldorf. If Querrey serves well, this will be a match.
Best potential second-round matchup – (13) Juan Monaco vs. Carlos Berlocq
Best potential third-round matchup – (12) Nicolas Almagro vs. (24) Philipp Kohlschreiber
Possible surprises — They are playing for second, third, and fourth here, but second, third, and fourth could be anyone. Tipsarevic’s nearest seed is Julien Benneteau, who has not played since taking a nasty fall in Monte-Carlo. Any unseeded played in that 16th of the draw could reach the fourth round. In the other half of the section, Nadal’s fourth-round opponent could be Berlocq. The Argentine is enjoying the best season of his career and almost all of his results have come on clay. Whoever wins Berlocq-Monaco will have a great chance against Raonic in round three.
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|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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