Previewing Roland Garros: The Matches That Defined the ATP Clay Season

(You can read Andrew’s piece on the matches that defined the WTA clay season here.)

Monte Carlo Final: Stanislas Wawrinka d. Roger Federer 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2

Back in the days when he was still “Stanislas”, the current Swiss number 1 built upon his Australian Open success by defeating best friend and countryman Roger Federer, to win his first ever Masters 1000. The topsy-turvy match boasted a competitive 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 scoreline, and an impressive fight back from Stan to silence any critics who called his Slam victory a “fluke” (is any Slam victory a fluke? Isn’t the point that you’ve got to do a lot of winning to lift the trophy?).

Perhaps just as notable as Wawrinka’s victory was Federer’s loss, a heartbreaker for those fans who thought the former world number 1 was finally going to round out his trophy cabinet with the Monte Carlo crown. It was an impressive run from Federer, however, and reminded us all that he’s very much still in the mix in 2014 despite many haven written him off during a lacklustre* 2013.

The Swiss stars currently sit at rankings of 3 and 4, which feels about right as they head into their respective French Open campaigns.

*by his incredible standards.

Madrid Final: Rafael Nadal d.Kei Nishikori 2-6, 6-4, 3-0

It’s been a strange old clay season for Rafael Nadal*. The world No. 1 has looked to be lacking in confidence since his surprisingly straightforward defeat in the Miami final at the hands of Novak Djokovic.

It’s perhaps unfortunate then that his sole title this season was in Madrid as the result of a retirement by Kei Nishikori, after the young Japanese had battled to a spectacular victory against David Ferrer in his semi. In a year where young players are really making themselves known, Nishikori dominated the first set 6-2 before Nadal battled back to win the second 6-4 and lead 3-0 in the third before Nishikori retired.

Nadal may be low on confidence but his trade-mark fight certainly hasn’t left him, and Nadal’s determination looked to be pulling back the lead even before Nishikori appeared to be hurting. It’s certainly not a victory to discount due to its unfortunate ending, and Nadal remains one of the favorites heading into the French Open.

Meanwhile, comfort should come to Nishikori as his efforts in Madrid make him the first Japanese player to break into the ATP Top 10.

*by his incredible standards.

Rome Semifinal: Novak Djokovic d. Milos Raonic 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 6-4

2014 has so far been all about unrest on the ATP tour, so to skip over this surprisingly close battle would be to ignore one of the stories of the year. Canadian “serve-bot” (please, let that phrase die) Milos Raonic isn’t exactly a player many would have picked to perform well on the red dirt but he gave Djokovic an incredible contest and looked at times like he might come through and make the final. The match is yet another reminder that the younger generation is shaking off its nerves, and the players are finally realizing they can compete with the current greats of the game.

On the other side of the net, Djokovic’s 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 6-4 victory seemed to be just the battle the world No. 2 needed to propel himself into the final, where he’d yet again come back from a set down, this time against Nadal, to take the Rome title. Doubts still remain about the state of Djokovic’s wrist, which has hampered him since the beginning of the clay season, but his intense desire to be crowned champion on the red clay of Roland Garros may well see him fight through any remaining soreness.

As for Raonic and his fellow young challengers, it will be interesting to see if they can continue to stir things up under the scrutiny of the ever-vocal French crowd.

What Does It All Mean?

Chaos. Utter chaos. Nadal has to be considered the favorite at the French Open, always, but if Novak’s wrist holds up then he may be able to capitalize on the slight psychological edge he currently has over the world No. 1.

That said, if I had to choose between Nadal, Novak and the field? I’m calling it for the field.

You be you, 2014.

Andrew can be found in the mountains of Switzerland, watching tennis and trying not to eat too much Swiss cheese. You can follow him on twitter @BackSwings

2 Responses

  1. Matt Vidakovic
    Matt Vidakovic May 23, 2014 at 7:35 am |

    Its gonna be an interesting RG, to say the least – I must confess that I’d also give an edge to “the field” but for one factor: the five setter. Sustaining a level of excellence required to beat Rafa or Novak on clay is something not many can do.

  2. RZ
    RZ May 23, 2014 at 1:03 pm |

    I think for “the field” to win out, a lot has to do with how the early rounds go. Long matches could really affect Rafa’s knees and back (and confidence) and Novak’s wrist.

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