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RG Men’s preview with Annabel Croft

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Originally published on: 22/05/10 16:32

tennishead: First and foremost, can we even contemplate looking beyond the king of clay after his record-breaking recent form on the red stuff?
Annabel Croft: Obviously with his recent three Masters 1000 wins on clay (in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid), Nadal seems to have found his form at exactly the right time going into the French Open. It’s certainly going to be hard to see him not getting back the title that was taken away from him last year.

th: And what hope for the defending champ?
AC: Roger Federer has not had great form since the Australian Open, but he seems to be getting back to his best. It’s amazing the way he doesn’t get flustered when he’s not winning the smaller events and just seems to peak at exactly the right time. I remember this time last year going into the French Open – of course he’d never won it – and his form was not good at all. People were writing him off and thinking that he was never ever going to win it, and then of course the draw opened up for him, Nadal went out to Soderling, everything changed, and the rest is history. That obviously gave him confidence going into Wimbledon, and now he’s got 16 Grand Slams when it looked like he wasn’t going to complete the set and maybe we’d seen the best of him. That taught us that you can never ever write off Federer, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts going back as champion. I think he will relish the chance to take Rafa on with a different mindset now that he’s won his career slam.

th: And if the unthinkable happens, who else could stake a claim for the Coupe des Mousqetaires?
AC: Fernando Verdasco has had an amazing 12 months. People have said he’s a bit flaky, and that he’s a hot head, a bit lazy even, but I don’t see that at all. I’ve seen him at close quarters over the years and seen how hard he works. He’s got so much talent, and yet he’s harnessed it all together of the last 18 months or so. I think he’s a really exciting player to watch.

th: His ‘flash in the pan’ days are over then?
AC: What’s impressive about him is that he’s managed to bring everything together in a much more contained way. He’s always going to be a bit hot-headed, but that’s what makes him such an exciting player to watch. I wouldn’t pick him to get past Nadal, but I just admire the way he’s improved. I remember when be beat Murray at the Australian Open in that really tense match. He could have blown apart but he held his nerve and was very astute on the hard courts. He’s always been more atuned to the clay courts and I think he’s a very dangerous opponent for anyone. He’s right up there in the top six or seven players that could really contend the Grand Slams.

th: Ranked outside the top 100 last September, how about Ernests Gulbis – now world No.27 – as a dark horse?
AC: I remember watching him at the French Open when he beat Tim Henman (in 2007). It was a victory that seemed to put it in Tim’s mind that there were some really good youngsters coming through and that sparked the end of his career. But Gulbis – as a lot of them do – came out on tour and couldn’t keep up with the relentlessness and the really high level that everyone was playing at. He didn’t really break through like everyone expected and the forehand started to go a bit amiss – he was just erratic. And now something’s clicked. It’s really exciting to see because he’s such a nice lad. It’s all coming together for him.

th: What about Andy Murray? It may be clay, but it’s a Grand Slam after all, and we know that’s what he really wants...
AC: Well the Australian Open final really knocked him for six, but he did quite well last year at Roland Garros (in reaching the quarter-finals) and he’s just started to find a bit more form on clay. I think it’s the grind of the tour and the pressure and expectation at Grand Slams that really got to him. With each one that he hasn’t won, the pressure has built even more, and it gets even tougher. Then there’s those like Verdasco and Robin Soderling who seem like they’re almost level with him now. It feels like there’s more challengers at Grand Slams now. A year ago it was just Novak Djokovic and Murray as the one’s that should be taking up the mantle, but it doesn’t quite feel like that any more. Tennis on the whole is quite unpredictable at the moment, and that can only be exciting for the second Grand Slam of the year…

 
Annabel Croft will be co-presenting live Game, Set and Mats, British Eurosport’s French Open daily round-up show.
British Eurosport provides LIVE complete coverage and in stunning high definition on Eurosport HD of the 2010 French Open from Roland Garros. British Eurosport is available on Sky Channel 410 & Virgin Media Channel 521.British Eurosport 2 is available on Sky Channel 411 & Virgin Media Channel 525. Eurosport HD is available on Sky Channel 412 & Virgin Media Channel 522. British Eurosport channels & VOD streamed online via the Eurosport Player: www.eurosportplayer.co.uk
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