Irrespective of how he plays in the weeks leading up to the French Open, Rafa Nadal is still going to be the odds on favourite to win at Roland Garros where BNP Paribas celebrates its 41st year as the premier sponsor.
The issue is that two of his biggest rivals, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will go into Roland Garros short on match practice with the biggest concern being Djokovic. Both pulled out of the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid for different reasons, Federer because of the birth of his twin boys and Djokovic because of his right arm injury, and neither are being specific about when they return to the tour.
Federer has said he will see how things go and decide on a case-to-case basis about his run up to Paris which he will be playing for the 16th consecutive year. This year’s Roland Garros will be his 58th consecutive major, which would break his own record, but with Rome he will decide at the last minute. It is totally understandable that he wants to spend as much time as possible with his wife and now four children.
The last time Djokovic played was a semi-final loss to Federer at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, his only clay court event so far in 2014. It was at that time he revealed that he was very troubled by the arm situation and he was not sure when he would be able to play again.
It was later the next week that he was cleared of any problems with the right arm and was given a clean bill of health. He was set to play Madrid and was looking forward to being back on court but then pulled out before hitting a ball. The Australian Marinko Matosevic gained the “lucky loser” slot to take Djokovic’s place in the draw and won his first round.
“I did everything possible in order to play in Madrid which is one of the biggest events of the year but unfortunately my right arm injury has flared up again,” he said. “Now I will take some time to recover and heal my injury hoping I will be ready for Rome.”
At the moment Djokovic appears to be playing the Internazionali BNL d’Italia but we wait and see if that will be the case.
Certainly Novak is a class act on pretty much every surface but will the arm injury be in the back of his mind when he plays in Paris?
Playing on red clay there is so much more heavy topspin that is produced and the ball bounces high which means the arm has to do more work.
The question about lack of match play on red clay maybe fine against some lesser names but if he comes up against a seasoned clay court player in one of the first couple of rounds, someone like a Santiago Giraldo who may narrowly miss being seeded, it could be disastrous.