Defending champions Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal were on hand Friday morning as the draw for this year’s French Open was made.
Both players are hoping to make a little bit of history. If he wins another Roland Garros title, Nadal will become the first man to win nine titles at any Grand Slam event. Williams could win her eighteenth Grand Slam, putting her level alongside Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
They are both the bookies’ favourites going into the tournament. But, will they be victorious this time around?
Roland Garros is where Rafael Nadal has tasted the most success in his career. He has only lost once here – a fourth round defeat to Robin Soderling in 2009 – and has won eight titles.
Nadal’s clay season has not been as good as in previous years. One title, a runner-up and two quarter-final appearances are not what we have come to expect from the Spaniard. 2014 is the first year in his career that Nadal goes to Roland Garros with just one clay court title, but don’t be surprised if he demolishes everything in his path. Nadal will not let go of his title without a fight.
Rafa will begin his defence against the American Robby Ginepri. They have played once before, back in 2005, where Nadal picked up the win. American players aren’t known for their prowess on clay so Nadal should sail through this match.
Things don’t get easier for him though. Lurking in his quarter of the draw are Grigor Dimitrov and last year’s finalist, David Ferrer. Dimitrov has really come into his own this year, winning two titles and reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. Lucky for Nadal, he has a perfect record against Dimitrov and was the man to end his run in Melbourne.
Ferrer will be looking to emulate his form from last year’s tournament. He will take a lot of confidence from beating Nadal at Monte Carlo last month, his first win over his compatriot in ten years. David has got a lot of ranking points to defend here and will be looking to do well to hold onto his No.5 ranking.
Nadal is expected to face Stanislas Wawrinka in the semi-finals. This year has seen Stan become a Grand Slam champion and No.3 in the world. He beat Nadal in the Australian Open final and has flourished on clay. Many now see Wawrinka as a real contender at the Slams.
Should Nadal reach the final, he might face either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. He has got winning records against both players, but after a less than stellar few months for the champion, Federer and Djokovic will be thinking that they have got a shot at beating him.
Not only is a ninth title at stake for Rafael Nadal – so is his No. 1 ranking.
The last woman to successfully defend her French Open title was Justine Henin in 2007. Since then, there have been six different champions. It is probably one of the toughest Grand Slams for women to defend. Serena Williams will be hoping to break that streak and add a third French title to her collection.
Like Nadal, her preparations for the tournament have not been ideal after a thigh injury forced her to withdraw from the Madrid Open. That said, she won in Rome earlier this month and looked in good shape doing so.
Serena may be the hot favourite but things can go wrong for her. Remember her first round match against Virginie Razzano in 2012. She looked to be cruising into to the next round but lost 6-4, 6-7, 3-6. She will not want a repeat of that.
The American begins her defence against French wildcard and world No. 138 Alize Lim. Yesterday, Lim tweeted that she asked Serena who she [Lim] would play. Serena replied saying that she “doesn’t look at the draw.” Nonchalant or what.
Serena should have few difficulties in her opening match. In the third round, she is projected to play big sister Venus in what would be their 26th meeting. They met once before at Roland Garros – in the final no less – where the younger Williams was victorious. Venus has been handed a tough opening round opponent, 17 year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic, who was last year’s Junior French Open champion.
All eyes will be on the quarter-final though, where Serena could resume her rivalry with Maria Sharapova. The Russian has had a great clay court season, picking up titles in Madrid and Stuttgart. But, she hasn’t beaten Williams in ten years.
Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska could be waiting in the semi finals. Like almost everyone on the women’s tour, she has a losing record against Serena, including a loss in the 2012 Wimbledon final.
This year’s Australian Open champion, Li Na, could be a possible finalist. She has a great chance to reach her second French final. Li is comfortable on clay and has the game to upset the top players. Serena has never played Li on clay so, should both women reach the final, it could be an interesting match.
As Nadal himself said, only the stupid and arrogant don’t doubt themselves. That may be true but not many doubt the chances of him and Serena. It would take something special to beat them in Paris.
Eilis Brennan, Pundit Arena.
Coverage begins Sunday morning at 9.30am on ITV and Eurosport.