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Roland Garros: Let battle commence

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:12

The French Open begins in Paris on Sunday and, in our view, the 2008 event could be one of the most intriguing of recent years.

For the first time in a while, there are three players fighting for the men’s singles title while Justine Henin’s retirement has thrown the women’s event wide open.

Although Rafael Nadal will be gunning for a fourth successive title and despite him never having lost a match at Roland Garros, in truth, the Spaniard, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic all have a real chance of climbing onto the winner’s podium on Sunday June 8.

The world’s top three are so far ahead of their rivals, in fact, that bookmakers have the fourth favourites (Nikolay Davydenko, David Nalbandian and David Ferrer with William Hill) out at around the 25-1 mark to win the title.

Rafa is still the red hot favourite, particularly after beating Federer and Djokovic in Hamburg and his odds of 8-11 or 4-7 reflect this.

But if the Majorcan produces anything below his very best towards the business end of the fortnight – or if he is anything short of 100% fitness – his closest rivals will pounce.

Although Federer has endured another two clay court defeats at the hands of Nadal this spring, the world No.1 was in commanding positions in both matches. Despite letting those leads slip, he must feel he is getting closer to beating Nadal on clay all the time.

World No.3 and Australian Open champion Djokovic also has the game to unseat the defending champion, particularly with greater belief since winning his first grand slam in Melbourne back in January and his first major clay court title in Rome.

Much could depend on Friday’s draw. Whoever out of Federer and Nadal is placed in the same half as Djokovic will have one heck of a semi-final on his hands. A draining encounter in the last four could count against them two days later in the final.

While the men’s title seems to be between three of the world’s best, the women’s winner could emerge from a handful of players.

Serena Williams is the bookies’ favourite – she is 2-1 or 11-4 with most – but she will face stiff competition from new world No.1 Maria Sharapova, world No.2 Ana Ivanovic and world No.3 Jelena Jankovic.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing is that, Jankovic aside, none of these players have truly shown us what they’re capable of on clay this spring.

A series of shock results, injuries and withdrawals have meant we’re unsure who is in the right physical condition and form to step up to the plate in Paris.

Serena Williams is the only one of the favourites to have won the title before (2002) so has a head start on the rest of the pack.

The world No.5 won on American clay in Charleston in April (beating Sharapova along the way), but since then lost to surprise eventual champion Dinara Safina in Berlin and withdrew in the last eight in Rome.

Sharapova has only managed a quarter-final defeat in Charleston and a semi-final default in the Rome semis, while Ivanovic has posted semi-final / second round defeats at the two clay court Tier 1s in Germany and Italy.

Indeed, it’s Jankovic who can claim to be in the best form of all after she defended her Italian Open title two weeks ago, beating Venus Williams en route.

Of the rest, Venus comes under the ‘each way bet’ category along with Berlin finalist Elena Dementieva. The Russian beat Ivanovic and Jankovic in back to back matches in Germany and won in Dubai earlier in the season. She’s also been to a Roland Garros final before (2004) so knows the routine.

So where will our Tennishead tenners be going this year? On Rafa and Ana, that’s where. Nadal is still the man to beat in Paris and despite some erratic recent form, Ana is getting better and better with each grand slam. We think this will be her breakthrough Major.

Tennishead picks

Men’s singles
Winner: Rafael Nadal (8-11 with William Hill)
Each way bet: Stanislas Wawrinka (100-1 with Paddy Power)

Women’s singles
Winner: Ana Ivanovic (6-1 with Ladbrokes)
Each way bet: Elena Dementieva (20-1 with Victor Chandler)
(Odds as at May 22)

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