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Friday, May 21, 2010
French Open matches I'd rather not see


At present, everyone's nose is buried in the French Open draws, scanning the fine print for the matches they'd most like to see, or engaging in the tennis fan's version of astrology, which is commonly known as bracketology.

Bracketology goes something like this: If Gulbis can get by Mayer and Tipsarevic shoots blanks against Federer, a win by Lorenzi over Beck opens up the path for Hajek (if he beats Wawrinka) to lose to Federer, meaning Roger goes to the quarters opposite Gulbis. So I'll leave bracketology to those of you given to wearing pointy black hats with appliquéd gold stars and planets. I'll stick to parsing the draw, thank you, but I'll go better and choose some of the matches that, for a variety of reasons, I'd least like to see.

Here we go:

Stephane Robert (France) versus Qualifier: On paper, one assumes this could be close. The fact that Robert is a 30-year-old Frenchman ensures it will be really close, given how many French players suffer from Mauresmo Syndrome, or the inability to embrace and meet the home crowd's expectations. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll save my appetite for 14-12 in the fifth at twilight for the Federer-Nadal final.

No. 6 Andy Roddick versus Jarkko Nieminen: Roddick has played exactly zero matches on clay this year, having pulled out of Madrid with a stomach bug. I like Andy Roddick; it pains me to see him lose early in tournaments, and Nieminen is a crafty, somewhat eccentric stylist with a deep bag of tricks. This is a perilous one, and it's way too early in the tournament to bite my fingernails down to the quick.

No. 7 Fernando Verdasco versus Igor Kunitsyn: Given that Verdasco is playing a match in Nice as I write this (he's striving to take his sixth tour title), and that he's won more matches so far this year than all but two men (Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer), he's going to be exhausted by the time he makes his way to Paris for the last clay-court roundup.

In the battle between confidence (from matches won) and exhaustion (from matches played), I'd give the nod to exhaustion. Kunitsyn has won only three singles this year, but even if Verdasco survives this, it's unlikely he'll make his seed, so why bother?

No. 3 Novak Djokovic versus Evgeny Korolev: Djokovic has become a real mystery man. Besides, it's gotten to the point where they have an ambulance and EMS squad standing by at all of his matches. It's tough to be a top player when you have persistent breathing problems (which are different from but no less debilitating than choking problems). Korolev hasn't garnered a lot of attention but the guy has a nice, clean game even if he hasn't played all that well so far this year. This isn't a bad choice for the shocking-upset derby.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal versus Gianni Mina: Even if we had public executions in the U.S., I wouldn't attend them. I'm sure you get my point.

No. 9 Dinara Safina versus Kimiko Date Krumm: Safina would be on the comeback trail, if only she could find it. Instead, she's lurching around in the woods, bumping into trees, boulders and falling into sinkholes. It's an understatement to call Date Krumm a veteran; she's 39 (that's no typo) years old and missed 12 years before she made a comeback in 2009. Either way, it will be sad to see a comeback player lose.

No. 12 Maria Sharapova versus Qualifier: La Sharapova struggled enough on clay when she was healthy and a dominant force on the tour; it's likely to be painful to see her slip-sliding around in Paris when she seems to have so little chance of going deep.

Jelena Dokic versus No. 24 Lucie Safarova: The Dokic saga, while interesting and sad, just seems to go on. And on. And on. I wish her all the luck in the world but my operative words are "enough already." And you should never feel that way on the eve of a Grand Slam tournament.