Top-ranked Rafael Nadal could capture his fifth straight and ninth overall French Open title next month on the men’s side at Roland Garros without facing rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The No. 4-ranked Federer may pull out of the Paris tournament in order to attend the birth of his third child, while a wrist injury could force No. 2 Djokovic, who’s defeated Nadal three straight times on hard court, to miss both the French and Wimbledon.
The possibility is obviously unfortunate for both stars' supporters, but it makes Nadal’s road to a ninth French title much less bumpy. No other player has won and dominated a single slam in history like Nadal at Roland Garros. He’s taken eight of the last nine tournaments in Paris, including four straight.
The Mallorca native hasn’t been quite as dominate as he was last year when he posted a 75-7 overall singles record with 10 titles, but Nadal is still the unquestionable favorite on clay. Nadal has 23-4 record with two titles this season, when last year he didn’t lose his fourth match until October.
Nadal’s recent slip ups in Monte Carlo and Miami could also be signals of weakness before Paris. No. 5 David Ferrer beat Nadal in straight sets 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 in the Monaco quarterfinals and Djokovic took him out in 6-3 6-3 in the Sony Open final last month.
Nadal appeared to have re-discovered his footing this week, but lost only the second of 44 career matches in Barcelona on Friday. Nadal dispatched Albert Ramos and Ivan Dodig, only to fall to fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 in the quarters.
Federer and Djokovic’s possible absences also create opportunities for Ferrer, as well as No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 6 Tomas Berdych to claim their first French title.
Ferrer was the other finalist in last year’s French Open, the furthest he’s advanced in any of the slams. He has just six wins in 27 matches against Nadal, but may have some momentum after topping Nadal in Monaco, and he has a combined recored of 14-11 against Berdych and Wawrinka.
Wawrinka captured the first slam of his career by knocking Nadal out in four sets in the 2014 Australian Open final, and he’s 20-3 on the year. He also took out Berdych in a four-set thriller in the semis, and Djokovic also in five sets in the quarters. The 29-year-old also bested Ferrer in the Monte Carlo semis and then Federer in the finals for his third title of the year.
Berdych, 28, didn’t allow the heartbreaking loss to Wawrinka in Melbourne to derail his year. He made the finals in Dubai, the semis in Miami and won his first tournament of the year in Rotterdam while losing only one set. However, it’s best he doesn’t meet Nadal in Paris, since Berdych’s lost 14 of his 17 matches against him.
The French Opens begins on Sunday, May 25 until the men’s championship on Sunday, May 8.
TV Schedule: The early round broadcasts will be split up between ESPN2 and Tennis Channel. Once the quarterfinals begin, NBC will provide some coverage. The men’s and women’s finals will be televised by NBC.
Prediction: It’s difficult to pick against Nadal in Paris and he should prove victorious. But Wawrinka or Ferrer stand as his biggest challengers if Federer and Djokovic officially pull out.