Paris tennis

Roland Garros Rewind: Monfils Stuns, Nadal Survives, Sharapova and Radwanska Cruise

Welcome back to your daily review of the studs and duds at Roland Garros 2013.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Five sets and four hours.  Three tiebreaks and a 7-5 final set.  A two-set lead squandered by the man who eventually won—after saving triple break point midway through the fifth.  A home underdog firing 26 aces and 66 winners on his nation’s biggest stage to upset a top-eight seed who hit 72 winners of his own.  Rarely is the match that looks like the best of the day in the first round actually the best of the day, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych put on perhaps the best show of any men’s match that we will see all week.  The section has opened a bit for Monfils if he can defuse the equally dangerous dark horse Ernests Gulbis in the second round.  That match looks like the highlight of Thursday, although it has a hard act to follow.

Comeback of the day:  Last week’s Dusseldorf champion Juan Monaco looked well on his way to a routine victory when he won the first two sets by single-break margins and reached a tiebreak in the third.  Perhaps aided by his opponent’s fatigue, Daniel Gimeno-Traver thrust himself back into the match by snatching that tiebreak and stormed all the way back to an upset over the seventeenth seed.

Surprise of the day:  It was not an upset in the end,  but Daniel Brands surely turned more heads than anyone when he came within a tiebreak of leading Rafael Nadal by two sets to love.  The master of Roland Garros had not lost the first set in a first-week match there since 2006, although he once  survived a five-setter against John Isner.  Brands channeled his inner Soderling in explosive serving and bullet forehands that thrust Nadal on his heels for far longer than anyone could have expected.

Gold star:  Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios gave his nation something to cheer amid the latest Bernard Tomic controversy.  Kyrgios defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks, saving several set points in each of the last two.  The 53 total tiebreak points played might survive as a tournament record.

Silver star:  Allez les bleus.  While Nadal battled with Brands on Philippe Chatrier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled through in straight sets on Suzanne Lenglen.  Later in the day, second-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet did the same, and even Julien Benneteau won a match on clay for just the second time this year.  Combined with the Monfils upset, these victories added up to an excellent day for the hosts.

Wooden spoon:  When Andy Murray withdrew, Marcel Granollers moved up from unseeded to seeded position.  That promotion served him no benefit as he lost his first match to countryman Feliciano Lopez in five sets and two days.  By contrast, Tommy Robredo profited from the seed that he received with Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal by advancing further into the section vacated by Berdych.

Americans in Paris:  John Isner and Ryan Harrison, both of whom have struggled for most of the year, each notched comfortable straight-sets victories.  Assigned Nice champion Albert Montanes, Steve Johnson battled gallantly into a fifth set as he had against Nicolas Almagro at the Australian Open.  American men have no reason to feel shame so far at historically their worst major.

Question of the day:  Who comes out of Berdych’s section of the draw to reach the quarterfinals?

Question of the day, II:  Does Nadal’s first-round frailty reduce your confidence in him as a title threat?

WTA:

Match of the day:  None could compete with Berdych-Monfils or with Urszula-Venus the day before.  This award goes to a battle between two clay-courters who have produced outstanding recent results.  Rome semifinalist Simona Halep won the first set from world No. 20 Carla Suarez Navarro, but the Spaniard rallied with the form that brought her to two clay finals this year.  A pity that the draw forced them to meet in the first round, and a pity that the match was not scheduled on a televised court.

Comeback of the day:  Channeling a little of her inner Monfils, Garbine Muguruza scorched 46 winners and dropped serve just twice in three sets to ambush fellow power-hitter Karolina Pliskova.  The Venezuelan-born citizen of Spain recorded her first career win at Roland Garros barely a year after her first appearance in a WTA main draw.

Statements of the day:  Although they fell a bit short of Serena’s suffocating brilliance, top-four seeds Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska started the tournament in emphatic style.  Defending champion Sharapova conceded just three games to top-50 opponent Hsieh Su-wei, while Radwanska yielded just two games to former top-15 player Shahar Peer.  The latter result came as a mild surprise because of the newly blonde Pole’s struggles on clay this year.

Gold star:  Everyone thought that Laura Robson would knock off world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, and everyone thought very wrong.  Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by dominating the British teenager from start to finish.  Perhaps a movie night with Rory McIlroy the day before (they saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) allowed her to forget her recent futility.

Silver star:  The most unsurprising surprise of the day came when the 2009 Roland Garros champion dispatched compatriot Ekaterina Makarova.  In Serena’s quarter, Kuznetsova could meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open three-set thriller.  Sveta bounced back impressively from one of the worst losses of her career in Rome.

Wooden spoon:  Outstanding performances on grass last year meant that Tamira Paszek received a seed at Roland Garros despite winning only one match in 2013.  When the slightly less moribund Melanie Oudin dispatched her with ease, Paszek will head to the grass season with the vast majority of points at stake.  Early losses at Eastbourne and Wimbledon will push her ranking down an elevator shaft.

Americans in Paris:  In addition to the aforementioned Oudin, several other women from the United States fared well on Day 2.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands set up a second-round meeting with Li Na, while newer talents Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys cruised.  Vania King also advanced in straight sets to complete a perfect record today for the USA.

Question of the day:  Which American woman of those who won day will go furthest?

Question of the day, II:  Should we feel more impressed by Wozniacki or more disappointed by Robson?

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Serena Shine on Day 1; Venus Falls

Today marks the first in the series of brief daily recaps that will keep you updated on several of the key storylines at Roland Garros.  Roland Garros Rewind will be followed by Roland Garros Fast Forward each day, a preview of the next day’s notable matches.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Defending fourth-round points in Paris, Andreas Seppi brought little momentum here after staggering through a miserable clay season.  His opening match against unheralded Argentine Leonardo Mayer showed plenty of the reasons for his 2013 woes, but the Italian finished strong to win in five after several momentum shifts.

Comeback of the day:  Gilles Simon never had rallied to win a match after losing the first two sets, so things looked grim after he won just four games in two sets against Lleyton Hewitt.  On the other hand, he had not lost in the first round of a major since this tournament five years ago.  That statistic endured as the other disappeared when Simon eked out a 7-5 fifth set after blowing a 5-0 lead.

Surprise of the day:  None.  All of the men’s seeds won their matches, most much more comfortably than Simon.  Marcel Granollers did end the day in a spot of bother against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, suspended for darkness before starting the fifth set.

Gold star:  Pablo Carreno-Busta had sparked plenty of chatter among tennis fans for his success earlier this clay season and long winning streak at ITF events.  Roger Federer showed him no mercy in conceding just seven games on Court Philippe Chatrier, the first Grand Slam match of the qualifier’s career.  The combination of opponent and setting proved too much for the youngster to overcome.

Silver star:  David Ferrer took care of business efficiently too, meeting little resistance from Marinko Matosevic.  Ferrer has a very promising draw this tournament as he seeks his fourth semifinal in the last five majors.

American in Paris:  Aided by a severely slumping Lukas Lacko, Sam Querrey won just the second match of his Roland Garros career and did so handily.  In other words, the USA avoided the ignominy of its top-ranked man losing in the first round of a major.

Question of the day:  Three tall men won today:  Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Querrey.  Who will go the furthest this year?

WTA:

Match of the day:  In over three hours filled with tension, Urszula Radwanska upset Venus Williams for arguably the most impressive victory of her career.  Urszula easily could have faded when Venus slipped away with the second set in a tiebreak, but her youth may have helped her outlast a fading veteran troubled by back injuries this spring.  An all-Radwanska match could end the first week.

Surprise of the day:  The Puerto Rican phenom Monica Puig knocked off 11th seed and former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova.  Granted, Petrova has not accomplished much this year, building her ranking upon two hard-court titles last fall.  Puig still deserves a tip of the hat for rallying from a one-set deficit despite her lack of experience.

Comeback of the day:  The first step often has proved the last for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year, as it had in Madrid and Rome.  Déjà vu lurked just around the corner when Andrea Hlavackova served for the match against her in the second set and came within two points of the upset in the ensuing tiebreak.  Pavlyuchenkova not only held firm at that tense moment but managed to hold serve throughout a tight third set, a good omen for her future here.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes.  Gone in the first round last year to Virginie Razzano, Serena Williams sent home Anna Tatishvili with a gift basket of a bagel and a breadstick.  The world No. 1 looked every bit as intimidating as she had in her dominant Rome run.

Silver star:  The last woman to lose at Roland Garros last year was the first woman to win at Roland Garros this year.  Now the fifth seed rather than an unknown dirt devil, Sara Errani responded well to the target on her back by conceding just three games to Arantxa Rus.

American in Paris:  In her first main-draw match at Roland Garros, Mallory Burdette started her career here 1-0 with an impressively convincing victory over teenage talent Donna Vekic.  Nerves surfaced when Burdette squandered triple match point as she served for the match, but she saved two break points before closing it out.

Question of the day:  Ana Ivanovic started proceedings on Chatrier with a bizarre three-setter that she could have won much more easily than she did.  Should we chalk up her uneven performance to first-round nerves on the big stage, or is it a sign of (bad) things to come?

See you shortly with Day 2 previews.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Federer, Serena, Venus, Headline Day 1

Today features the first edition of a daily Roland Garros preview series that offers a few notes on the next day’s most interesting matches.  After each day ends, moreover, a recap of similar length will guide you through the key headlines.

ATP:

Pablo Carreno-Busta vs. Roger Federer:  This qualifier reeled off a long winning streak at lower-level events over the last year and reached the Portugal semifinals, also as a qualifier, with victories over Julien Benneteau and Fabio Fognini. Carreno-Busta also upset defending champion Pablo Andujar in Casablanca, shortly before the latter stormed to the Madrid semifinals, and won a set from Stanislas Wawrinka in Portugal.  Paris is not Portugal or Casablanca, though, nor is it even Bordeaux, where Carreno-Busta lost in the first round of a challenger.

Gilles Simon vs. Lleyton Hewitt:  This tournament might mark Hewitt’s final appearance at Roland Garros.  If it does, a match on a show court against a fellow grinder, likely with a strong crowd, seems a fitting way to go.  Simon has flown under the radar for most of the year, stringing together some victories at small events and upsetting two top-ten opponents.  He reached the second week at the Australian Open despite largely unimpressive form, so he should muddle through here too.

Andreas Seppi vs. Leonardo Mayer:  The Italian must defend fourth-round points at Roland Garros, where he won two sets from Novak Djokovic last year.  Seppi’s 14-14 record this year does not bode well, and he has survived his first match at only one of six clay tournaments.  Fortunately for him, Mayer lost his only clay match this year.

Marcel Granollers vs. Feliciano Lopez:  A quarterfinalist in Rome, Granollers owes Andy Murray twice over in recent weeks.  First, the world No. 2 retired from their match there, allowing the Spaniard to gobble extra ranking points.  Then, Murray’s withdrawal nudged Granollers into a seeded position at Roland Garros.  He should take advantage of it against the fading serve-volley specialist Feliciano Lopez, although matches between two Spaniards often get trickier than expected.

WTA:

Serena Williams vs. Anna Tatishvili:  Everyone remembers what happened to Serena in the first round here last year.  Nobody remembers it more clearly than Serena does.  Expect her to put this match away early, exorcising Razzano’s ghosts.

Urszula Radwanska vs. Venus Williams:  Both of these women must cope with being the second-best women’s tennis player in their respective families.  Hampered by a back injury, Venus has played just one match on red clay this year, losing routinely to Laura Robson.  Urszula is not quite Robson at this stage, but she recorded clay wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic this year.  Venus should pull through in the end after some edgy moments.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Andrea Hlavackova:  When Pavlyuchenkova gets through her first match, she has reached the semifinals at four of five tournaments this year, winning two.  The problem is that she has lost her first match no fewer than seven times against opponents of varying quality. (Azarenka and Ivanovic are understandable, Lesya Tsurenko and Johanna Larsson less so.)  Since reaching the second week of the US Open, Hlavackova has won one main-draw singles match,  over the hapless Melanie Oudin. Surely Pavlyuchenkova won’t double that total?

Kiki Bertens vs. Sorana Cirstea:  Their big weapons and questionable movement would seem better designed for fast-court tennis.  But both of them have found their greatest success on clay, Cirstea reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals four years ago and Bertens winning her only WTA title so far at Fes last year.  This match looks among the most evenly contested of the day with plenty of heavy groundstrokes to go around.

Mallory Burdette vs. Donna Vekic:  One of the top American collegiate prospects, Burdette left Stanford last fall to turn pro and has reaped some solid results.  Her victims so far include Lucie Hradecka, Ksenia Pervak, and Sabine Lisicki as well as fellow American rising star Madison Keys.  Burdette will train her vicious backhand on Croatian rising star Donna Vekic, who reached her first WTA final last year as a qualifier.  Vekic has not accomplished much above the challenger level since then, losing her only clay match this year to Chanelle Scheepers in Madrid.

Ayumi Morita vs. Yulia Putintseva:  Is Paris ready for Putintseva?  The volatile French crowd pounced on fellow pocket rocket Michelle Larcher de Brito, but the distant venue of Court 7 should take some of the scrutiny off the strong-lunged youngster.  Putintseva took Serena to a first-set tiebreak in Madrid but will have her work cut out with Morita’s double-fisted strokes.  Unlike Coco Vandeweghe, the Japanese star will win points with more than her serve.

The Fab Five (WTA): Previewing the Roland Garros Women’s Contenders

This look ahead at the Roland Garros women’s field mirrors the format used for the men’s companion article yesterday.

The smart money:

1) Serena Williams:  Looking back at last year’s preview of WTA Roland Garros contenders, Serena held exactly this position at the head of the list.  Virginie Razzano saw things differently, of course, scoring a shocking first-round upset that extended Serena’s drought without a final here to ten straight years after winning the 2002 title.  So you might ask why many of us did not learn our lesson in again choosing her as the consensus favorite.  One reason is that Razzanos, like Soderlings, are rare events that do not happen in consecutive years.  Another is that Serena’s clay titles last season, as impressive as they were, came on green and blue clay, whereas she completed the Madrid-Rome double this year on the red dirt featured at Roland Garros.  She also moved as crisply on clay as she ever has when she won the latter tournament, and the chronic injury woes behind her Australian Open exit have subsided for now.

But the main reason to dub Serena the Roland Garros favorite emerged from her dominant efforts against the two women just below her in the rankings and on this list.  The world No. 1 now owns a 25-4 advantage over world No. 2 Sharapova (13-2) and world No. 3 Azarenka (12-2) after she won the Madrid final from the former and the Rome final from the latter.  Outside a slight lull in both second sets, those matches served as brilliant displays of Serena’s talent rather than featuring genuinely competitive tennis.  Serena’s greatest challenges may come early in the draws from the Razzanos of the WTA, players whom she overlooks before dialing up her focus in the second week.

Knocking on the door:

2) Maria Sharapova:  The defending champion will arrive in Paris after a spring strikingly similar to what she produced last year.  Compiling two titles and four finals since the beginning of March, Sharapova lost just one match during the clay preparatory tournaments for the second straight year.  That loss came against Serena in Madrid, as it did in 2012, and the Russian has not lost to any other opponent since the Australian Open.  Although she won a set in their Miami final, Sharapova likely cannot reverse this head-to-head should she face a healthy world No. 1 in Paris.  But she cannot meet Serena until the final because of her No. 2 seed, and much can happen throughout the course of a fortnight.

Sharapova’s own health poses a minor concern, for a viral illness hampered her during Madrid and forced her to withdraw from Rome after two matches.  Assuming that she recovers by the weekend, she should overpower any of the clay specialists whom she can meet early in the draw, for she has evolved into a much smoother, smarter shot-maker under coach Thomas Hogstedt.  Fellow former champion Li Na defeated Sharapova at Roland Garros two years ago and again at this year’s Australian Open, suggesting that she represents the second-most significant obstacle for the Russian behind Serena.  Sharapova has won their last two clay meetings and four of their last five overall, however.  Consistently plowing deep into draws, she has not lost before the quarterfinals in ten months and reached the semifinals at all of her 2013 tournaments until she withdrew from Rome.

3) Victoria Azarenka:  Unlike Sharapova, the two-time Australian Open champion has defeated Serena this year.  That Doha victory in February could provide Azarenka with some belief should they meet again, as could their epic in last year’s US Open final when she came within two points of the title.  More recently, Serena’s rout in Rome laid bare the vulnerability of the younger champion’s serve, constantly under threat as the veteran with the much more imposing serve extended her lead in their matches to 12-2.  When she maneuvered herself into the rallies, however, Azarenka often stood toe to toe with a Serena near her best in an encouraging sign for the future.

Most effective on hard courts, Vika never has advanced past the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and weathered the first week only narrowly last year.  Understandably unimpressive when she returned from an ankle injury in Madrid, she shone more brightly in Rome by defeating two women with strong clay credentials in Stosur and Sara Errani.  Those former Roland Garros finalists should have held a surface edge on Azarenka, but that advantage could not compensate for her balanced weapons and relentless focus.  The world No. 3 holds the recent momentum in her rivalry with Li Na and, on outdoor courts, with Sharapova.  Those trends will make her difficult to stop if she stays healthy and composed—two huge “ifs” at the most physically and emotionally demanding major of all.

With a hope and a prayer:

4) Li Na:  The champion at Roland Garros two years ago, she blitzed four straight top-ten opponents to claim Asia’s first major title.  Enormously talented and enormously unpredictable for most of her career, Li appeared to have found some stability midway through 2012 when coach Carlos Rodriguez joined her staff.  The man partly responsible for Justine Henin’s greatness oversaw Li’s impressive run to the brink of the Australian Open title this year, which included victories over world No. 4 Radwanska and world No. 2 Sharapova.  Through the end of April, her consistency had improved so distinctly that she had not lost a match to a lower-ranked opponent in 2013.

But Li staggered to early losses at both Madrid and Rome, surprising in view of both her recent form and her affinity for the surface.  Her previous success on clay, which had extended outside Paris, stemmed in part from her ability to hit through the slow court while covering it with her crisp movement.  When Li’s weapons misfire even for a short period, though, matches can slip away from her quickly because of her slim margin for error.  And the cauldron of intensity that builds throughout the Roland Garros fortnight may unhinge her, as it did last year when she attempted to defend her title.  Li will not bear that particular burden this year, but her nerves will bear watching as much as her game.

5) Sara Errani:  Somehow, she’s in the top five despite never beating a top-five opponent in her life.  The day of reckoning may arrive for Errani now that she defends the mountain of points that a major final comprises.  Or it may not.  Schiavone backed up her championship performance in 2010 with a runner-up showing a year later, after all, and Errani has matured into a consistent achiever throughout the season.  Her clay results this year include a Premier title in Acapulco and consecutive semifinals at the marquee events in Madrid and Rome.  Both of those ended in similar fashion:  competitive in one set against a top-three opponent, Errani was overwhelmed in the other and never a real threat to win.

Like David Ferrer in the men’s draw, then, she needs more than a little help to go one round further in Roland Garros than she did last year.  The pieces of the puzzle fell neatly together for her countrywoman Schiavone, though, who maneuvered through an upset-riddled draw almost without anyone noticing it.  Such unexpected narratives can unfold more often at Roland Garros than at any other major because most of the WTA elite plays its least convincing tennis there of all the majors.  Not a celebrity or fan favorite like the others on this list, Errani will fly relatively under the radar and should like it that way.

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Compared to the men’s field, the women’s field contains a greater potential for surprises, as Errani herself illustrated last year.  Among them are last year’s semifinalists Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur, capable of producing championship tennis at a moment’s notice.  They’re on the outside looking in after generally disappointing seasons, a Dubai title for Kvitova the exception.  Still, keep an eye on where they fall when the draw appears on Friday.

A panel of Tennis Grandstand contributors will offer thoughts on both Roland Garros singles draws by the end of Saturday, and I will publish my usual full quarter-by-quarter preview of both draws on Friday or Saturday at Tennis View Magazine’s website.  My daily coverage from Sunday onward of the year’s second major will follow on Tennis Grandstand and possibly elsewhere as well.

The Fab Five (ATP): Previewing the Roland Garros Men’s Contenders

One man looms above the rest in Paris, as usual.  But a few other champions could step into his shoes if he stumbles.  Meet the men to watch at Roland Garros.

The smart money:

1) Rafael Nadal:  What more can be said about the greatest clay player ever to brand his mark on the terre battue?  Nadal has reached the final at all eight events that he has entered this year, seven of them on clay, in a career-best streak that has accompanied ATP-leading tallies in titles (six) and matches won (36).  Not since he won Roland Garros for the first time in 2004 has he suffered three or more losses in one clay season, and he already has dropped two this year.  The Monte Carlo loss to Djokovic did not seem to derail Nadal’s confidence for long against other opponents as he swept through Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome to claim a top-four seed.

Even his most fervent fans could not have expected such an impressive comeback from the Spaniard, yet his detractors will note with some accuracy that he has produced form less overwhelming on this surface than in years past.  Nadal has played more final sets on clay this year, going the distance against players like Dimitrov, Gulbis, and Ferrer, and his movement looks a shade less naturally explosive on some days.  But those niggles are far from enough to consider him anything less than the presumptive favorite at the tournament where has lost only once.  He holds a perfect record there against his current archrival (Djokovic) and his former archrival (Federer), neither of whom even has taken him to a final set in Paris.

Knocking on the door:

2) Novak Djokovic:  The only man to defeat Rafa during the European clay-court swing, Djokovic joined Nadal in completing the trio of Masters 1000 titles on this surface.  Perhaps even more important is his trio of victories over the greatest clay player ever at each of the clay Masters 1000 tournaments, the most recent in Monte Carlo this year.  Nobody else has defeated Rafa at any of those three events since 2009, which shows how far Djokovic stands ahead of the Spaniard’s other rivals.  His Monte Carlo victory reminded observers how well his backhand matches up to Nadal’s heavy topspin and how he can cover a clay court as suffocatingly as the man who built his reputation on it.

Responding to adversity in that match with poise, the Serb stood less tall at the other 2013 clay events and brings little momentum to Roland Garros.  He has won just one set in their four meetings there, although he took a step forward by reaching his first final last year at the only major that he has not won.  Not seeking a Nole Slam of holding all four majors simultaneously, Djokovic may feel less pressure if he returns to that stage and especially if he faces Nadal before it.  He arrives in Paris with the momentum in their rivalry even if a host of more general concerns about his form surround him.

3) Roger Federer:  Not until Rome had he even reached a final, playing a reduced schedule and navigating around a back injury.  Other than Nadal, Federer is the only active man who ever has won Roland Garros, and his knowledge of what it takes to win there arms him mentally against the challenges that will arise.  Since that title in 2009, he has produced mixed results in Paris from a quarterfinal loss to Soderling and a tepid effort against Djokovic to a transcendent masterpiece that toppled the Serb in 2011.  Federer never has defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, of course, and he has registered just one victory over the Spaniard since his peak period in 2007.  That one win came with a  significant asterisk, a day after his rival’s 243-minute semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid.

Outclassed again by Nadal in Rome, Federer will hope to land in the opposite half of the draw and for someone to conveniently remove him in advance.  If that surprise should happen, he could repeat what he did in 2009, for the week in Rome restored him to normal operations after the Madrid fiasco and earlier concerns over his back.  Amid all of the scrutiny surrounding his futility against one particular opponent on the surface, people forget too often that Federer is clearly the second-best clay player of his generation.

With a hope and a prayer…:

4) Tomas Berdych:  A semifinalist in both Madrid and Rome, he bounced back from a dismal start to the clay season to become its second-most reliable performer behind Nadal.  Two monkeys have climbed onto his broad shoulders in recent years, from one of which he probably cannot escape at Roland Garros.  Perhaps as the result of some bad karma (google “Berdych Nadal Madrid 2006”), Berdych has gone winless against Rafa since the start of 2007 and rarely wins even a set from him.  On the other hand, he ended an 11-match losing streak against Djokovic in astonishing fashion with a three-set comeback over the world No. 1 in Rome.  His only other previous win in their matches came at a major, Wimbledon 2010, where he also upset Federer, so he does not shrink from the grand stage.

The same year, Berdych came within a set of the Roland Garros final after a straight-sets demolition of Andy Murray.  His explosive forehand penetrates even the slowest surfaces, and he benefits from the extra time to set his feet.  The closest equivalent in this year’s draw to two-time finalist Robin Soderling, Berdych has become more consistent than ever over the last year and grows more dangerous as he settles into a tournament.  The best-of-five format allows him to find his range, lose it, and find it again.

5) David  Ferrer:  Among the most consistent performers in 2012-13, the Spanish veteran has reached semifinals at three of the last four majors, including his first ever at Roland Garros.  If not for Nadal, Ferrer’s grinding baseline resilience should have earned him a title or two at the major traditionally designed for that playing style.  Years of subservience to Rafa have trickled into his lack of belief against other elite contenders, however, and at 31 that fatalism may have become too ingrained to erase.  Ferrer came very close to winning some notable matches this year, such as the Miami final and his Madrid meeting with Nadal, which might either encourage or discourage him.

Unlikely to halt a 16-match clay losing streak to his countryman, he never has defeated Federer on any surface.  Ferrer thus needs help from others in the draw, although he has earned his share of success against Djokovic on clay and against Berdych more generally.  A first Masters 1000 title at the Paris Indoors last year marked a late-career breakthrough that many doubted would ever come, so a larger breakthrough might not be inconceivable.

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Return tomorrow for a look at the women’s title contenders in Paris.