May 20, 2016
On the face of it, Roland Garros 2016 should be all about Novak Djokovic completing his Career Slam. But it isn’t that simple any more.
For a start, the resurgent Rafael Nadal is in Novak’s half of the draw. So the Serb could face a bruising semi-final challenge from the former King of Clay at the Spaniard’s favourite Grand Slam venue.
Could this Roland Garros 2016 draw soften up Djokovic in the same way that Kei Nishikori drained the world number one prior to his defeat to Andy Murray in the recent Italian Open final?
The Brit won’t be disappointed with the way the draw has unfolded, even though his own anticipated passage to the French Open final will be far from easy either.
Murray might have to fight his way past Nishikori, Milos Ranic or defending champion Stan Wawrinka to earn the right to face Djokovic in the most likely final.
The pugnatious Wawrinka has at least shown a bit of form in Geneva – and he is dangerously unpredictable, as Djokovic found out to his cost last year.
But the Scot will probably feel he has never had a better chance to win Roland Garros. Roger Federer’s decision to preserve his body for Wimbledon could work in Murray’s favour in Paris.
He is fit, perhaps more confident than ever before, following his win over Djokovic, and free from coaching complications.
For all that, Djokovic remains the favourite. The Roland Garros clay is unlikely to trouble him as much as the heavy surface in Rome did, and he will be super-motivated to complete that elusive Career Slam.
Wimbledon, the Aussie and US Opens have already been won. A last big push completes Novak’s much-anticipated quartet.
Perhaps that could be the problem. Just ask Serena Williams what happens when everyone thinks you are about to complete a perfect set of Slams.
In Serena’s case the 2015 Calendar Slam seemed within her grasp, and an even more prominent place in the history books beckoned as she was poised to build upon her overall Slam tally further still at the US Open.
She seemed to implode under the pressure in New York last year, and was swept away even before she reached the final.
Novak must realise that his biggest enemy, the biggest potential obstacle to glory at Roland Garros, is Djokovic himself, and the pressure he will feel from his own expectations.
Can he embrace the psychological challenge and thrive on that pressure, as he so often does? Should Dkjokovic falter, Murray could be perfectly positioned to take advantage.
And then Murray would join Novak in requiring just one more Grand Slam triumph – in his case in Melbourne – to complete his own full set.
Roland Garros will be truly fascinating this year. And not just because of the unpredictability of the men’s singles.
Will Serena Williams storm back into form after so many months of uncertainty? She won her first title in nine months in Rome recently – and she always seems so at home in Paris.
But Serena faces a very tough route if she is to win her first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last year. She could face the highly dangerous Victoria Azarenka as early as the quarter-finals, then Angelique Kerber, who beat her in Australia, in the semi-finals.
It might be Agnieszka Radwanska waiting in the final. But who knows whether former finalist Simona Halep will be back to her best instead, or Garbine Muguruza might fulfil her potential, or even Britain’s Johanna Konta might go on another exciting run?
All questions will be answered soon enough. Logic says that Djokovic and Williams should be crowned champions. But logic often flies out of the window in tennis, and that’s one of the reasons why we love it so much!