Welcome all to WHAB's inaugural tennis post! The short claycourt season culminates in Grand Slam fashion for the French Open at Roland Garros over the next two weeks. Rafael Nadal heads into this year's Open as three time defending champion with a perfect record of 21 from 21 matches played at Roland Garros; the question is can anyone stop the Raging Bull?
With one look at this physique, the short answer is no. But let's have a look at the two main challengers.
Rafael Nadal does Roger Federer's head in on the clay. Federer has only one victory against him in nine matches on the surface despite having opportunities in many of those matches. If they clash again here and you're on Federer, don't get too excited if he cruises through the first two sets. The likelihood of him winning from there is not much better than it is before play starts. Federer's problem with Nadal is that he can't put him away. When the Fed Express is in control of a match, nine times out of ten his opponent won't offer too much resistance but Nadal is the ultimate fighter who believes he can win from anywhere.
Novak Djokovic has already signalled his intentions to Federer and Nadal; he wants to be World number 1 by the end of the year. His first Grand Slam win at the Australian Open and a recent victory at the Rome Masters have him high on confidence. However, he has not beaten Nadal in four attempts on clay and was beaten in three sets in the semis at Hamburg just two weeks ago by Nadal. One gets the feeling that he, like Federer, just can't match it with Nadal over a best of five sets match on the most gruelling tennis surface.
It is very difficult to see the winner not coming from these three. Fourth favourite is Nikolay Davydenko who couldn't possibly win. It's more than likely that he'll go down under suspiscious circumstances (with betting on the match suspended worldwide) to a relative unknown, with shady Russian Mafia-like characters scattered through the crowd. You then go out to David Nalbandian and David Ferrer at $41. The best roughie looks to be Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at $201. Although clay doesn't appear to be his best surface, he is sure to have the home crowd pumped up and could get on a roll to take him deep into the tournament.
The 2008 French Open will be the last for one of the most popular winners at Roland Garros, Gustavo Kuerten. The French crowd fell in love with "Guga" who was French Open winner in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Kuerten's trademark victory celebration was to draw a giant love heart in the clay, which wooed the Parisians with a case of the Frenchy fag-nasties.
Some say the French Open is boring. Purists say it is enthralling, a battle of minds, tactics and physical endurance. The sliding and the angles. The fact that you won't get ass-punched with your bets by dodgy line calls. No need for hawkeye here people. For those of you who don't yet appreciate claycourt tennis, do yourself a favour and watch as much as you can of Nadal en route to a fourth successive French Open crown.