KAUTILYA SINGH

New Delhi: With French Open starting from February 22, Serbian Novak Djokovic will be the cynosure for all eyes. Having a glorious 2011, Djokovic is being termed as a major threat to defending Champion and world number 1 Rafael Nadal.

This year, Djokovic has won all the 37 matches he has played, thus ensuring that the trophies of all the seven tournaments he has participated in 2011 came to his home. In a run up to the French Open, Djokovic defeated Rafa in Italian open final, hence raising a finger over the supremacy of World number 1 on clay court.

Former US legend, John McEnroe holds the record for the best season start in men’s tennis. In 1984, McEnroe had 42 successive victories, which is the best start of a season by any player.

Dojokovic is not far behind with 37 victories in 2011, and a victory at French Open will ensure that he breaks McEnroe’s record.  To win the French Open final, the Serbian has to register seven wins on the trot. 
The record of maximum continuous victories in a single year is held by Guillermo Vilas, a legendary tennis played from Argentina. In 1977, Vilas had registered 46 straight victories. By winning the French Open, Djokovic will be in race to beat the 34-year old record of Vilas.

The heroics of Djokovic cannot underline Rafa’s performance of clay court. Out of the last six French Open, Nadal has won five of them (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010). In 2009, former world number 1, Roger Federer won the title. Despite Djokovic’s superb performance this year, tennis fans believe that Nadal is the frontrunner for the title.

In all the matches played at Roland Garros, Nadal has lost only one match. Majority of opponents faced Nadal have failed him to test the legend beyond the third set. Barring few games, were Nadal has been taken to the fourth and fifth set, most of his victories have come in three sets.

Federer has never cherished playing on clay courts. Federer’s win at Roland Garros in 2009 completed his career Grand Slam, but he has never been regarded a clay court specialists. His experience may help him in reaching the later stage of the tournament, but he will have to put in an extraordinary effort to win the cup.

Fourth seed Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Jurgen Melzer, Gael Monfils Mardy Fish are among the other players to watch out in French Open. Fifth seed, Robin Soderling caught tennis fans by surprise by reaching two successive finals of French open in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, he came in the limelight by defeating Nadal in a French open match.

Till date, Soderling is the only players in the men’s circuit to defeat Nadal in the French open. In 2010, he defeated Federer before losing to Nadal in the final.

Women’s title has many contenders

By winning the title at Rome, Maria Sharapova has indicated that she has returned on the international scenario with a bang. After a streak of dismal performances in the past few years, the Russian beauty registered an impressive victory just few days before the French Open.

From 2003 to 2007, Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne dominated French Open. During this period she won the title on four occasions. However after her retirement in 2007, French open has witnessed three different winners in the past three years.

Francesca Schiavone won French open in 2010, Svetlana Kuznetsova emerged victorious in 2009 and Ana Ivanovic lifted the trophy in 2008. Ranked world number 1, Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters are being regarded as the top contender for the title. Yet to win a Grand Slam, Wozniacki will be aiming to fulfill her dream in the 2011 French Open.

In her illustrious career, Clijsters has twice reached the final of French Open in 2001 and 2003, but could not win the trophy. Winner of four Grand Slam titles (three US open and one Australian Open), Clijsters will be aiming to add one more title to her list. Belgian Clijsters has won Australian Open in 2011, and is in top form before the French Open.

Former winner Francesca Schiavone (world number 5), Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur are also in the hunt for the title.

(JPN)