Rafa and Djoker destined for final
Forget about Madrid. Rafael Nadal's preparation for the French Open went swimmingly.
Not only did Nadal win in Monte Carlo and Rome, but, just as he wanted, the world No. 2 ended his seven-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic in the process. All of a sudden, Nadal has a two-match winning streak in their head-to-heads -- and, with it, a serious boost of confidence.
Will the top four of Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray reach the semifinals, as they did at the previous U.S. Open and Australian Open? Bank on Nadal getting there. After Friday's draw, however, Djokovic, Federer and Murray have work to do. Here's how it looks:
First quarter: Potential roadblocks for Nole
Talk about the dangerous floaters in Djokovic's quarter.
There's Lleyton Hewitt, who put a fright into Djokovic at the Australian Open. Matches or no matches under his belt, and irrespective of the surface, Rusty always manages to make things interesting against the elite. He's a potential second-round foe.
Then there's the go-for-broke Jurgen Melzer, who beat Djokovic in a five-set thriller at Roland Garros two years ago. He's a potential third-round foe.
There's Nikolay Davydenko, who has showed signs of life in Nice this week, and Fernando Verdasco, a standout on clay in 2010 and buoyed by his victory over Nadal in Madrid. One of the two could confront Djokovic in the fourth round.
American men have found it difficult at the French Open since the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang departed, and it says much that wild card Brian Baker might be the second-biggest threat. Baker reached the semifinals in Nice.
But he must be tired. Baker had to go through qualifying, and making the adjustment to best-of-five sets will be tricky. His first-round opponent, Xavier Malisse, is tricky too, even if clay isn't his surface of choice.
Second quarter: Danger for Roger
Federer was at his finger-wagging best in the semifinals against Djokovic last year. In one of the finest battles in tournament history, Federer prevailed in four sets to end Djokovic's 43-match winning streak.
Federer wasn't as sharp when the pair met in Rome nearly two weeks ago. If Djokovic didn't get tight, he'd have won in lopsided fashion.
We'd all take a rematch at Roland Garros, but Federer will have to be sharp as early as the second round since David Nalbandian is his likely opponent. Nalbandian seems to be more committed to tennis now that he's 30, though several surgeries have slowed him down. In their lone encounter at the French, in 2006, Nalbandian led by a set and 3-0. He later retired with an abdominal injury.
How about a Federer-Andy Roddick third-rounder? Yes, Roddick toppled Federer in Miami in March, but that was on a hard court. Roddick's buildup to the French was composed of one tournament, the World Team Cup, and he struggled. The good news for Roddick is that his first two rounds, starting with Nicolas Mahut, are winnable.
Third quarter: Daveed, Izzy and Andy
John Isner reaching the quarterfinals in Nice was encouraging, right? Well, maybe not.
Isner was the top seed and received a bye into the second round, which meant he needed one win to get to the quarters. His clay swing promised much after his Davis Cup exploits, but it amounted to nothing.
He can make up for it with a deep showing at the French -- where it really matters. Given he's seeded this edition, there's no Nadal waiting in the first round. Instead, a qualifier awaits Isner.
But in the second round, Isner could be tested by Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. Mathieu is back on the tour after a serious knee injury, knows how to play on dirt and will have the locals firmly behind him.
If Isner finds himself in the fourth round, David Ferrer figures to be on the other side of the net. It's about time Ferrer achieves another quarterfinal at the French (not since 2008).
As for Murray: Don't make your back worse. He has more important tournaments ahead on British soil, Wimbledon and the Olympics. To advance to his first French Open final, he'd have to, from the fourth round onward, probably oust Richard Gasquet, Ferrer and Nadal. Unlikely.
Murray versus Bernard Tomic would be fun to watch in Round 3.
Fourth quarter: Rafa, Rafa and Rafa
No matter who popped up in his quarter, Nadal always was going to be the one who emerged. This year Nadal's path to the semis is particularly gentle.
Only two rounds could be classified as interesting. In the fourth, barring an upset or two, he'll meet good buddy Juan Monaco or Milos Raonic. Monaco, in his comeback from an ankle injury, snared a set off Djokovic in Rome and is approaching the top 10.
Raonic will be in the top 10 soon enough. His temperament, not to mention his serve, are assets, and the Canuck made significant progress on European clay this year.
Past the round of 16, one player is capable of pushing Nadal: countryman Nicolas Almagro. His confidence, though, must have dropped after an encouraging first three months of 2012. Almagro didn't exceed the third round in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid or Rome.
Semifinals: Djokovic def. Berdych, Nadal def. Ferrer
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