As luck would have it, Federer drew friend and rival Stanislav Wawrinka—possibly the most useful match-up in the event. Wawrinka is ranked just high enough to test Federer, but not so high that it becomes significant if he loses. And Wawrinka is at his best on clay.
Friends they might be, but this was a serious warm-up for both men. Pleasantries were dispensed with, to the point where not a smile passed the lips of either player until they shook hands at the end. The umpire was even summoned from his chair to adjudicate on the odd close line call.
Wawrinka took the 6-2, 6-4 loss with his usual dignified demeanour, but in truth he was a sounding board for a magical variety of shot-making from Federer’s racket.
The new-found creativity that won the Madrid Open was worked on from the start, apparently aiming to perfect the formula that broke down Nadal last week.
There were mistakes aplenty on this slower, lower court, but Federer’s drop shots were frequent and deadly. His serve was strong, varied, and penetrating; some swerved into the body, some kicked high, some sliced wide.
He attacked the net frequently and confidently, picking off both high and low volleys. It was a hard work-out in sweat-inducing humidity, but based on the tactics here, the game plan for Roland Garros looks clear.
Federer claimed afterwards that he was still a little jaded from Madrid, and needed a little longer to get back into shape. It’s doubtful that many of the 1,500 capacity crowd noticed.
The plot thickens…
The article which I quoted was from two days ago, while the second link will take you to the article which shows that Rafa was beaten by the world number 109 Brian Dabul today 7-5 in a one off set. I’ve been mentioning the fact that Rafa has been looking and sounding vulnerable of late and this pretty much settles it for me. It is just an exhibition, but this is very unlike Rafa either way. He always competes to the best of his abilities no matter what the situation. Although the article that I quoted was from two days ago and I don’t know how Roger has been doing since, it was all I needed to know. I will now make a prediction that might shock many people, but here it is: Roger Federer will win this year’s French Open, beating Rafael Nadal in the final.
I couldn’t find Roger’s other exhibition results, but I didn’t need to and I’ll tell you why. I believe Roger made the turning point that I have been waiting for for a long time now by winning in Madrid. It was just one match but the way he played made me believe something had clicked in his mind. And reading this article was just confirmation of that. There was always a small bit of doubt whether Roger would follow the same game plan in Paris then he did in Madrid, but this article makes his intentions clear. He is preparing for a final showdown with arch-rival Rafa. Hearing that he is serving well, attacking the net and hitting those drop shots with creativity is something I am very pleased to hear. And knowing that Rafa is showing more vulnerability than ever before makes me think Roger can get the job done this year.
There has been a many of the so called tennis experts making all kinds of crazy predictions like Roger not even making the semi-finals and Montanes making the semi-finals. One writer even said Roger will be tested by Alberto Martin in the first round and another said that Mathieu could upset Roger. While this is madness in my humble opinion it’s the kind of talk that will play right into Roger’s hands. No pressure, right? You think they would have learned something from Madrid, but let them have their day in the sun. Roger would prefer to have it this way anyway. They are just allowing him to do the same thing he did in Madrid. I see Roger going through the draw quietly yet convincingly, probably not dropping a set until the semi-finals.
Then we get to another interesting match up against Djokovic. I also read a lot of people saying that Djokovic will get the better of Roger this year and the fact that he beat Roger in Miami and Rome carries so much weight blah blah blah. Once again, it just gives Roger the chance to prove them wrong, but let’s look at a few facts while we’re at it. Roger is 2-1 against Djokovic on clay and 3-1 in grand slams. The only time he lost to Djokovic in a grand slam was when he had mononucleosis. We all know the grand slams is where Roger really comes to play. Even last year when he was sick he still made a semi-final, two finals and he won the US Open. As if that wasn’t enough Djokovic lost to Rafa in Madrid while Roger trashed him.
And let’s look at what happened in the matches where Roger lost against Djokovic of late. Both in Miami and Rome, he was giving Djokovic a schooling and then he handed the match to Djokovic. Had Roger not gone away in those matches he would have beaten Djokovic easily in both, in both matches Djokovic had already given up the ghost and he was going through the motions. Until Roger threw him a life line that is. So considering what happened in Madrid I think people are missing something when they call Djokovic the favorite. If Roger plays like he did in Madrid which I’m 99% sure he will, he will beat Djokovic in straight sets, maybe four. Just think about what happened in the first set and a half in Miami and Rome and you will understand where I’m coming from.
Thus, I will make another prediction: Roger Federer will beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the semi-finals. Over confident? No, just looking at the facts and making a calculated prediction. The fun thing about this is that I am not a famous writer, so really I have nothing to lose by making these predictions. If I am right then I will have gone a long way to becoming a famous writer while if I’m wrong hardly anyone would notice. I must say I’m looking forward to this French Open more than any previous year. I just have a feeling this is the one year Rafa will be vulnerable and Roger is set to take advantage of it. I really believe that.
Now let the games begin!