Tennis-X funny look at the draw; it picks Coria
Posted on May 22, 2005
French Open Tennis-X Preview: Coria Leapfrogs Nadal, Federer
By Richard Vach, Tennis-X.com Senior Writer
While all the attention during the Roland Garros lead-up events has been on the dominating run of Rafael Nadal and the growing claycourt acumen of world No. 1 Roger Federer, the draw unveiling at the French Open, combined with the reading of the astrological charts and players' personal biorhythms all point to one logical conclusion:
Guillermo Coria is going to win the French Open.
Not necessarily this year -- maybe, someday...
Just kidding. This year. Roughly two weeks from now. The kid, El Mago, El Fragile, The Wizard, The Bowl-cut, Beatlemania, whatever your favorite nickname, 2005 is the year for Coria at Roland Garros -- the stars have come into alignment.
Coria came into the French as the third-in-line favorite behind Nadal and Federer, but the cosmic claycourt configuration has shifted.
Federer had the impressive win at Hamburg a couple weeks back, but Roland Garros is no Hamburg because: (1) it's not a rainy icebox and, (2) it's not as slow as Hamburg, giving the Swiss less time to adjust to those balls bouncing up around his shoulders. And believe you me, the Spanish and Argentine players and coaches have been putting on workshops called "How to Bounce the Ball Up Around Roger's Shoulders," just like they did to Pete in his day.
Club Fed has not been exactly ecstatic about his practices since arriving at Roland Garros and meeting with coach Tony Roche this week. The pressure to win this year, combined with a testy draw (Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty, who he can't seem to beat, then nemesis David Nalbandian) will see the Swiss' mental fitness tested more than the physical.
And Nadal, the favorite coming in, even though he has never played at Roland Garros, has troubles of his own.
The Spaniard's draw starts out easily enough, but all of France has the forks and knives ready for the third-round meal of Nadal vs. Richard "Baby Fed" Gasquet, who has finally emerged from his struggling early-teen years filled with racquet-flinging, father-flummoxed development and mental meltdowns.
Gasquet now is in a better place in regard to coaching, and after beating Federer earlier this year at Monte Carlo (before losing to Nadal in a tight three-setter), he then showed it was no fluke by reaching the final at Hamburg, falling to Federer in a tight one 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(4).
If Nadal breezes through his first four rounds, he'll likely face the defending champion Gaston Gaudio or the hot-handed Spanish grinder Dave Ferrer, both likely to keep Rafa on court for awhile, which leads to another negative for the clam-digger-pants-wearing Nadal -- energy conservation, or lack of.
A joy to watch with his leaping, bellowing, fist-pumping exuberance on court, Nadal nonetheless expends a lot of energy during matches, which adds up over seven best-of-five set matches. The problem first came to light in the Miami final when Rafa led Federer two sets to love and a break in the final before running out of gas. And that was only five best-of-three set matches leading to that final. What happens at Roland Garros when the young prodigy finds himself playing consecutive four- or five-setters against Juan Monaco in the fourth round, Gaudio in the quarters, Federer/Hrbaty/Nalbandian in the semis, then coming into the final versus Coria in Exhaustion Mode?
Even teenagers can wear out doing sprints for a combined 15 hours.
Nadal, to win his first French Open title in his first appearance at Roland Garros (a feat not accomplished since Mats Wilander in 1982), will have to play each round like he's late for a dinner date.
Besides the land mines awaiting Nadal and Federer this year at Roland Garros, you have to consult the history books to see why Coria has moved to the favored position.
Coria's monster choke in last year's Roland Garros final, leading his countryman Gaudio two sets to love before going for the throat-clutcher, bodes well in the historical perspective. Another claycourt giant had a similar dirt-hazing experience before choking at the alter, and came out a better man for it.
Back in 2002 a wiry kid nicknamed "The Mosquito" took the clay season by storm, and all anyone could talk about was how it was Juan Carlos Ferrero's destiny to win the French Open. Ferrero himself couldn't stop talking about "his dream," which was one match away that year at Roland Garros after dismissing one of the most impressive line-ups of clay afficianados in Coria in the third round, Gaudio in the fourth, Andre Agassi in the quarters, and Marat Safin in the semifinals.
But in the final against veteran countryman Al Costa, Ferrero needed his hands pried from his throat during the changeovers, and couldn't hit three balls in a row in dropping the first two sets 6-1, 6-0, eventually losing in four sets. Afterwards Ferrero complained of niggling injuries here and there, his grip being slippery and the sun being in his eyes or some such nonsense.
But sometimes a monstrous, magnificent, monumental choke is what it takes to make a man.
The next year in 2003 Ferrero entered Roland Garros on a mission, and there was no denying he knew what it took to hold the trophy aloft after straight-setting Costa in the semifinals, then obliterating a just-happy-to-be-here Martin "Berzerk" Verkerk in the final.
Now Coria will take what he learned last year and apply it to this year's effort, perhaps the easiest draw of the top players with little resistance until the quarterfinals where he could meet the not-yet-up-to-par Ferrero, the mentally-maligned Safin, or lesser Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Like Ferrero's soft draw in 2003 after his 2002 gag-a-thon, history is on Coria's side.
Other storylines this year are three-time champ Gustavo Kuerten trying to resurrect his game after two hip surgeries; Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi potentially advancing to a quarterfinal meeting; seeing how bad former champ Carlos Moya's shoulder really is; watching Tim Henman go out in the first or second round after last year perplexingly reaching the semifinals; seeing if old-guard Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean or Arnaud Clement have anything left in the tank for French fans; tennis-player-turned-golfer Scotty Draper playing his last French Open (there's a rainy-day sleep-inducer for the ESPN "Drama Unit"); and the Australian Open winner Safin -- does anyone ever really "coach" the Russian, or is it just a matter of waking up to see what the emotional weather forecast is in Marat-Land?
Roddick brings his new-look Lacoste wardrobe and an elevated fitness level into Roland Garros, garnering the support of -- surprise! -- perennial cheerleader Patrick McEnroe.
"I still believe Andy Roddick is capable of making a major run at the French," the U.S. Davis Cup captain and ESPN announcer said. "He won at Houston again, which, obviously isn't the same level as Barcelona or Madrid or a Monte Carlo or Rome, but in saying that, I've seen him play some very, very good tennis on clay. He's capable of getting into the second week, if not better."
P-Mac is right -- with that serve and forehand alone, the potential is there. But upstairs Roddick has shown the same unwillingness this year during his French lead-up to construct a point, instead pulling the trigger at improbable moments and failing to display an instinct for when to take the net. We're still waiting for Roddick to team in doubles with Fernando Gonzalez, which would resemble two guys playing tennis on a Sony Playstation with no hesitancy to hit the killer "C-button" shot.
That said, here is the breakdown of the four quarters of the draw for the 2005 French Open:
Seeds: (1) Roger Federer, (7) Tim Henman, (10) David Nalbandian, (14) Carlos Moya, (17) Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty, (18) Mario "Baby Goran" Ancic, (25) Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez, (31) Juan Ignacio "The Spitting Snake" Chela
Floaters: Nicolas Almagro, Al Martin, Luis "Me So" Horna, "You Say" Potito Starace
A good chance for (1) Federer to work his way into the draw with a qualifier in the first round then the young Spaniard Nick Almagro. (25) Gonzo could give the Swiss problems in the third round as they went three sets in their last meeting on the dirt, with subsequent meetings with (17) Hrbaty and (10) Nalbandian to emerge into the semis. (7) Henman has been unable to find his form this year on the dirt, while (14) Moya, normally a threat, has struggled with the bad shoulder. Other early-round match-ups of note are (25) Gonzo vs. the hot-handed Christophe "The Roach" Rochus, (14) Moya vs. countryman Al Martin, and (7) Henman vs. Italian comer Starace. A Federer vs. Hrbaty fourth round and a Federer vs. Nalbandian would be the show-stoppers in this section.
Seeds: (4) Rafael "The Prodigy" Nadal, (5) Gaston Gaudio, (16) Radek Stepanek, (20) Dave Ferrer, (23) Sebastien "The Skateboard Kid" Grosjean, (26) Jiri Novak, (30) Richard Gasquet, (33) Robin Soderling
Floaters: Juan "The Principality" Monaco, Fernando "Hot Sauce" Verdasco, Felix Mantilla
Who can stop (4) Rafael Nadal? All of France wonders if it is (30) Richard Gasquet in the third round. (5) Gaudio would like to think he is in the mix, but after his meltdown with Argentine teammate Coria and his loss against Germany in the final at the World Team Cup, don't be surprised to see an exit before the quarterfinals. First-round match-ups of note are (23) Grosjean vs. Monaco, and (33) Soderling vs. Verdasco. The pressured (5) Gaudio will likely have to get through the hot-handed Spaniard (20) Ferrer to get a shot at (4) Nadal in the quarters.
Seeds: (3) Marat Safin, (8) Guillermo "El Mago" Coria, (12) Nikolay Davydenko, (15) Tommy Robredo, (19) Thomas Johansson, (21) Tommy Haas, (29) Mikhail Youzhny, (32) Juan Carlos Ferrero
Floaters: Florian Mayer, Al Costa, Guillermo "G-Lo" Garcia-Lopez, Gustavo Kuerten, Dave Sanchez, Fabrice "The Original Wizard" Santoro, "Everybody Loves" Raemon Sluiter
Coria is going to have a lot of time to get his feet into the tournament with the clay-challenged Dane Kenneth Carlsen in his opener, then the winner of American Robby Ginepri and a qualifier. The highest seed the Argentine could face in the fourth round is (12) Davydenko, who has played a lot of claycourt tennis in his run-up to Roland Garros. The third-round blockbuster in this quarter is (3) Safin vs. (32) Ferrero, resuming what became a contentious rivalry when they exchanged words in the press weeks ago after meeting at Hamburg. The winner of that will likely face Robredo or Guga to see who challenges Coria in the quarterfinals. Other openers of note: (21) Haas vs. Mayer in an all-German, Costa vs. Spadea in an all-over-30 oddity, Guga vs. the Spanish grinder Sanchez, and (3) Safin vs. the tenacious Sluiter. Kuerten enters unseeded for the first time since winning the title in 1997.
Seeds: (2) Andy Roddick, (6) Andre Agassi, (9) Guillermo Canas, (13) Ivan Ljubicic, (22) Nicolas Massu, (24) Feliciano "F-Lo" Lopez, (27) Filippo Volandri, (28) Nicolas Kiefer
Floaters: Igor Andreev, Arnaud Clement, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Al Montanes, Mariano Puerta, Jose Acasuso, Gael "Force" Monfils
The "American Bracket" features the top seeds Roddick and Agassi, who could meet in the quarterfinals after expending considerable effort. (6) Agassi's first real challenge would come from either (9) Canas or (24) F-Lo in the quarterfinals, while Roddick's challenges could be (27) Volandri in the third round and (22) Massu in the fourth. Other openers of note are (24) F-Lo vs. the French homeboy Mathieu, (9) Canas vs. (WC) Monfils, (13) Ljubicic vs. the giant-killer Puerta, and (27) Volandri vs. the crowd-backed Cyril Saulnier. Agassi opens against a qualifier, and Roddick against French wildcard Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Monfils won last year's junior French title and finished as the No. 1 junior in the world.
Returning champs in this year's Roland Garros field are Gaudio (2004), Ferrero (2003), Costa (2002), Kuerten (2001-00,'97), Agassi (1999), and Moya (1998).