There are always questions heading into a Grand Slam tournament, and one that might be asked as the 2013 French Open begins Sunday is: Why bother holding it? Why not spare everyone the trouble and just hand the trophies and prize money to Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams?
Sure, there is a chance somebody else will win. But it’s a very slim chance — especially on the men’s side.
Nadal won his record seventh French Open last year and is 52-1 at Roland Garros since his debut in 2005. Read that again. Slowly. The Spaniard has lost only one of 53 matches on his beloved red clay — to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.
And he is back at the top of his game after taking a seven-month leave to deal with his aching knees. Since his return in February, he is 36-2, has reached eight consecutive finals and won six titles.
“I am enjoying every moment, and eight finals in a row is wonderful,” Nadal said. “Four, five months ago, it was impossible to think about this.”
John McEnroe, working for Tennis Channel during the French Open, has been “impressed” with Nadal’s comeback.
“It seems like he’s barely lost anything, if at all,” McEnroe said. “Right now, he seems to be finally, he says, playing the best he’s been playing the whole year, which is sort of frightening for the other players.
“Unless something happens that’s unforeseen, it would be pretty hard-pressed to make an argument for anyone other than [Novak] Djokovic to beat him. It would have to be one of those swing-for-the-fences type players like Soderling was that one year, and the conditions would have to be extremely heavy so his ball wouldn’t have the type of jump it normally does. … Maybe there will be that day where he has that off day.”
It is a similar story line on the women’s side, where an off day by Williams is probably the only thing that can get in her way.
The top-ranked Williams arrived in Paris on a career-high 24-match win streak. She is 36-2 — exactly like Nadal — this year, with five titles. Since her shocking first-round loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the French Open last year, Williams is 67-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Going back to the 2011 U.S. Open, Williams is 94-6. She regained her No.1 ranking this year, and despite being 31 years old, she continues to dominate. At the recent Italian Open, she lost just 14 of 74 games over five matches and crushed Viktoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
Williams has won 15 Grand Slam titles, and although her only French Open title came in 2002 and she hasn’t gotten past the quarterfinals since 2003, she is the heavy favorite.
“It’s mindboggling to me that she hasn’t been in the final since 2002,” said Chris Evert, who will be in the ESPN booth from Roland Garros. “She hasn’t had her best results at the French, but she has improved tremendously on clay. I’m impressed with how patient she’s become and how she’s harnessing that power to be not only an effective clay-court player but a tremendous clay-court player.
Said McEnroe: “If Serena doesn’t have a bad day, like she did last year against Razzano, if she just manages to play her normal game, I think she will win her second French Open.