It is mid-May, the thick of the clay season, theF time of year when tennis players socks get really dirty, and when Rafael Nadal looks superhuman. The 2013 French Open in Paris is 10 days away, and this is what we know:
• Andy Murray may not make it to Roland Garros. He had a horrible 26th birthday on Wednesday, retiring during his second-round Italian Open match against Marcel Granollers. He said afterward that he considered himself doubtful for the French Open.
I have an issue with my lower back, Murray said. Its been an issue for a while.
Granollers won the first set 6-3 and Murray had won the second 7-6 (7-5), but he was in too much discomfort to go on.
I would be very surprised if I was playing in Paris, Murray said. I need to make a plan as to what I [will] do. Ill chat with the guys and make a plan for the next few days, then make a decision on Paris after the next five days.
I want to make sure it goes away, Murray added. Its been a problem since the end of 2011 but it got bad during last years clay season.
• Maria Sharapova is the defending French Open champion, but Serena Williams is looking like the woman to beat. The top-ranked Williams cruised past Sharapova 6-1, 6-4 in the Madrid Open final last week, her 12th win in a row over the Russian. Williams is 13-2 against Sharapova and hasnt lost to her since 2004.
Never mind that Williams is 31 years old and had not won a tournament on red clay since 2002. She dominated Sharapova in Madrid, and that doesnt happen often to her on red clay. She entered the match with 17 wins in a row on clay and was 27-1 in her past 28 clay matches, including the 2012 French Open title.
With the win, Williams retained her No. 1 world ranking and established herself as the early favorite at Roland Garros.
• Nadal looks like the Nadal of old. Since his return from knee trouble in February, the Spaniard is 31-2, has won five titles (two of them at Masters events) and pocketed $3 million in prize money. He beat Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-4 in the Madrid Open final. Any doubt that Nadal would return to top form in time for Paris has been erased. He is still the King of Clay.
• Novak Djokovic had a forgettable week in Madrid. Not only did he lose his opening match to Grigor Dimitrov, he was booed by Spanish fans. They didnt like his questioning of line calls, and they really didnt like when he called for a trainer down a set and 4-2. His ankle was bothering him, which is why he called for medical help, but the fans considered it poor gamesmanship.
Djokovic got a much warmer reception this week at the Italian Open, where he is always a crowd favorite. The fact that he speaks fluent Italian helps. He won his opening match easily, 6-2, 6-3, over Spanish qualifier Albert Montanes.
• Roger Federer is still looking for his groove after a seven-week break from the tour. He lost to Kei Nishikori in the third round of Madrid, his first tournament since Indian Wells. He looked much more comfortable Tuesday at the Italian Open, where he beat Italian wild card Potito Starace 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the third round.
I feel the way I want to feel, Federer said after the Starace match. Im happy that from start to finish I was able to control the outcome of the match.