With the 2012 French Open draw now out, we can look at which players have the easiest and toughest paths to get deep in this tournament. As always, we will rank the quarters from toughest to easiest. These rankings aren’t determined by the number of top players in the draw. Rather, we will judge each section by how hard the likely paths of the top seed in that section are. Also, we will refer back to our preview several times throughout this draw analysis, so if you haven’t had a chance to see that yet it might be worth checking out.
In what is no surprise to conspiracy theorists and even level-headed tennis fans, Nadal drew Murray in his half while Djokovic drew Federer. Now, it’s unfair to ever count Murray out-he has been to the semifinals of the last five Slams-but it doesn’t quite look like Murray is anywhere near the rest of the top 3 right now, especially with his back injury. I would not be surprised at all if Murray didn’t make the semifinals, and that’s before seeing his draw.
Just in how the top 4 are looking before we analyze the draw, there is a pretty clear distinction between them. Nadal is a clear favorite now with his relatively easy (emphasis on the word relatively, not easy) victory over Djokovic in the Rome final. After that is Djokovic and then Federer, who looks like he is playing top-class tennis this year but can’t quite seem to keep up with Djokovic and Nadal on clay (at least the red stuff). Federer is still very close to Djokovic though and would take advantage of even the slightest lapse by Nadal or Djokovic. And after that is Murray, who had a very poor clay court season and who looks to be fairly troubled with a back injury.
Andy Murray’s Quarter:
Murray has a pretty easy first and second round. After that, however, it gets a whole lot harder. Bernard Tomic in the third round is always a very tricky matchup. Tomic has a very bland game that somehow manages to lull you to sleep and overpower you at the same time. He is also a good defender and Murray will have trouble winning points from the baseline. And if Tomic doesn’t reach the third round, Alejandro Falla could be his opponent. Falla somehow massively overperforms in Slams, reaching the fourth round here last year and almost beating Federer in the opening round of Wimbledon 2010.
In the fourth round, Murray will most likely meet either Richard Gasquet or Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dolgopolov is always a very tough opponent (well, when he decides to play well, that is) and Gasquet actually has a 3-3 career head-to-head against Murray. Interestingly enough, Murray has won all 3 of their matches in Grand Slams while Gasquet has won all 3 in Masters 1000 events. And after that, Murray will most likely face either David Ferrer or John Isner. Neither of those will get worn down by Murray over 5 sets, which is how he wins so many of his matches. I can’t really see Murray reaching the semifinals, especially considering his form of late and his back troubles.
Rafael Nadal’s Quarter:
Nadal should cruise through his first three rounds, though it could get interesting in the third if he meets Ivo Karlovic. Nadal has always had trouble with big servers and Karlovic fits the bill. Still, Karlovic has nowhere near the ground game of those who have troubled Nadal in the past. I wouldn’t expect even a small scare here. The fourth round, however, could make things interesting. Nadal will most likely meet Milos Raonic or Juan Monaco. Both have shown great form recently, Monaco in particular (even coming off a nasty ankle injury sustained in Monte Carlo a month ago). Raonic also has that big serve that troubles Rafa and has really started moving well on clay.
In fact, those fourth-round matches should scare Rafa more than any of his potential quarterfinal opponents. Nicolas Almagro has been playing well recently, but has never been able to challenge Nadal. Janko Tipsarevic and Philipp Kohschreiber both have potential, but neither are anywhere near consistent enough to be a concern. Even if they get that far, they shouldn’t scare Rafa. None of those players has ever shown the ability to keep up a high level of play into the second week. In the unlikely event that Nadal gets upset early, I would expect it to come in round 4, not 5.
Roger Federer’s Quarter:
It feels like Federer will get to run through some of his old foes here in the early rounds. A first-round matchup against Tobias Kamke should be a breeze before a potentially tricky match against David Nalbandian in the second round. Nalbandian, however, is not the player he once was and probably will not be able to hang with Federer for 5 sets, if he can even push the match far. Then, in the third round, Federer’s seed is Andy Roddick. Of course, it would be a fair upset in its own right if Roddick even won two matches on clay here. And no one else in that four-pack would give Federer even the slightest semblance of trouble if they reached him anyway.
The fourth round should not trouble Federer either, though Radek Stepanek or Feliciano Lopez could pose some trouble if they play their best. Federer could, however, have a tricky match in the quarterfinals. His most likely opponent there is either Juan Martin Del Potro or Tomas Berdych. I’m not sold on Del Potro for now, as he hasn’t really shown the form that took him to a US Open title in 2009 (and where he was up a break in the fifth set against Federer at Roland Garros). Berdych, on the other hand, has been playing some great tennis recently. He could challenge just about anyone with his form right now. We already saw him beat Federer at Wimbledon 2 years ago. Repeating that feat should not be impossible here.
In this section, keep an eye on Arnaud Clement. The elder Frenchman would love a good run at his home Slam, and he really has a fairly open space in the draw to get a few rounds.
Novak Djokovic’s Quarter:
Djokovic has a potentially tricky second-round match against Lleyton Hewitt possible, but other than that Novak has a pretty clear early draw. Hewitt did take a set off of him at the Australian Open 5 months ago, but Lleyton won’t have the home crowd urging him on this time. Nole’s first real potential challenge could come in the third round, where he will either meet a qualifier or Jurgen Melzer. We did peg Melzer as a “floating seed” before the tournament, but he is still out of form and never really could have challenged the top 3 anyway. No real susprises wait in the fourth round either, unless Fernando Verdasco manages to find his elusive top form of a few years ago. Andreas Seppi played inspired tennis in Rome, but he was routed by Federer and won’t pose Djokovic a challenge even if he gets that far.
Djokovic has a pretty easy road to the semifinals, that’s for sure. No one in the other half of this section even looks remotely like a challenge. Maybe Gilles Simon or Thomaz Bellucci on their best day can cause some trouble, but no one looks scary here. The 5-8 seed from this quarter is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who struggles on this surface and in this tournament. It would surprise me if he even reached the quarterfinals to face Djokovic.
And in this section, watch out for Brian Baker. I considered putting him on the “floating seeds” list (see below), but felt it was too early to pull the trigger on that because he hadn’t played on the main tour in years. Well, Nice showed that he was ready for it. Baker was a top junior player who has missed 6 years of play and had at least five surgeries due to injuries. Now he’s coming back and trying to make something of his career. He is a dangerous opponent, especially if he is taken for granted. He could cause some serious trouble if given the chance. Baker has a winnable first-round match against Xavier Malisse before he will most-likely face Gilles Simon in the second round. If he really wants to put an exclamation point on starting his comeback, that would be a great match to do it in.
In the preview, we gave our list of floating seeds. Jurgen Melzer became seeded due to withdrawals and is basically being fed to Djokovic anyway in the third round. Lleyton Hewitt is being fed to Djokovic in the second. There are a few players here and there who might be able to challenge a seed, but no one (other than Ferrero and Bellucci) where we can look at their draw and expect something.
Juan Carlos Ferrero has a first-round match that he should win easily against De Veigy. After that, he will most likely meet #21 seed Marin Cilic. Cilic has shown some top form in the past but hasn’t replicated it in over two years. This should be very winnable for Ferrero and a trip to the third round against Del Potro would not be unexpected.
Thomaz Bellucci has a winnable first-round match against Viktor Troicki, after which his draw is quite open. He could meet Tsonga in the third round, but with Tsonga’s troubles on clay I wouldn’t be surprised if Bellucci wins that match. Aside from that, only Gilled Simon stands between an in-form Bellucci and a trip to the quarterfinals. Then again, an in-form Bellucci is not such an easy thing to find.
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