All eyes on Djokovic, Nadal at 2011 French Open
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both have reason to like their
chances at the French Open.
Djokovic is unbeaten so far in 2011, a 37-0 record that includes
seven titles from seven tournaments and victories over Nadal in
finals the past two weeks on clay – the surface used at Roland
Nadal, for his part, can derive confidence from his success at
past French Opens: He is 38-1 with five titles over his career at
the year’s second Grand Slam tournament.
When play begins in Paris on Sunday, the focus squarely will be
on those two men – No. 1-ranked Nadal of Spain and No. 2-ranked
Djokovic of Serbia – and whether they will meet in the June 5
Roger Federer’s only-by-his-high-standards slump is among the
other stories of interest. A wide-open women’s draw is missing both
Williams sisters but features Kim Clijsters’ first French Open
appearance since 2006, Maria Sharapova’s bid to win the only Grand
Slam title missing from her resume, and top-ranked Caroline
Wozniacki’s pursuit of her first major championship.
The main questions, though, concern Djokovic and Nadal.
Can Djokovic win his second consecutive Grand Slam title and
break John McEnroe’s Open era record for best start to a season,
42-0 in 1984?
”He is playing fantastic,” Nadal acknowledged.
Can Nadal equal Swedish great Bjorn Borg’s record of six French
”Let us be clear: He is the ‘King of Clay,’ and he is the best
player ever to play on this surface,” Djokovic said about
Hard to argue with that.
Since the start of the 2005 season, Nadal is 193-8 on clay,
including an 81-match victory run during one stretch. At Roland
Garros, he’s won 113 of 123 sets in his six previous appearances,
and his only loss came to two-time French Open runner-up Robin
Soderling of Sweden in the fourth round in 2009.
As none other than 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer put it at
the start of the European clay-court season: ”Look, we all know
how good Rafa is on this surface.”
Indeed, Djokovic is the only player to beat Nadal twice in one
season on the slow, red stuff, accomplishing that with straight-set
victories in the championship matches in Madrid and Rome this
Entering this season, Djokovic was a combined 13-29 against
Nadal and Federer, the two players who have finished ahead of him
in the rankings the past four years. But he’s 7-0 against them in
2011, losing a total of only three sets in those matches.
Djokovic’s 4-0 record against Nadal was compiled entirely in
tournament finals, and they only could meet at that stage at the
French Open, too. If they do, it would be a rematch of September’s
U.S. Open final, which Nadal won for his ninth Grand Slam title and
third in a row.
Djokovic stopped that streak by winning the Australian Open in
January for his second major trophy. Now, thanks to his remarkable
start to this season, Djokovic could replace Nadal atop the ATP
rankings for the first time. To remain at No. 1, Nadal must win the
French Open and have Djokovic lose before the final, according to
the ATP World Tour. Another way to look at it: If Nadal fails to
take home the title, Djokovic will become No. 1 – no matter what he
does in Paris.
For so long, it was 2009 French Open champion Federer who owned
that top ranking and who was the center of attention at Grand Slam
But as he approaches his 30th birthday in August, Federer is no
longer the dominant figure that he was. After reaching 23
consecutive major semifinals, he was upset by Soderling in the
French Open quarterfinals last year, then lost to Tomas Berdych of
the Czech Republic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Those were followed by losses to Djokovic in the semifinals at
both the U.S. Open and Australian Open, which means Federer enters
this French Open in his longest Grand Slam drought since winning
his first major title at Wimbledon in 2003.
”Roger is still playing great. A couple of guys have stepped
up, and Novak and Nadal right now are hitting their prime,” said
Pete Sampras, whose record of 14 career Grand Slam titles was
broken by Federer in 2009. ”Roger – he’ll find his way.”
Federer has won at least one Grand Slam title in each of the
past eight seasons, tying a record shared by Sampras and Borg. All
streaks eventually end.
Djokovic is hoping his will last at least another seven matches,
which would be enough to give him his first French Open
championship, his third Grand Slam title overall, the No. 1
ranking, and a 44-0 record in 2011, two better than McEnroe managed
27 years ago.
”This is really, potentially, a monumental effort. If he were
to win the French, he could almost lock up the (year-end) No. 1
player in the world,” McEnroe said. ”This has been rather
AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf in Rome and Jerome Pugmire in
Monaco contributed to this report.
Howard Fendrich can be reached at