What’s at stake for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic on the French Open?

The return of Roger Federer to Euroclay and, in the end, the French Open (he hasn’t appeared at Roland Garros since 2015) has been the primary storyline within the ATP this spring. However different elements have contributed to creating these previous few weeks maybe essentially the most thrilling run-up to the French Open in years.

Whereas Federer was looking for his clay sport with notable success, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal — his two primary rivals within the file guide — had been taking part in sizzling potato with the label “favourite.” They ended up splitting the 2 most prestigious Masters clay occasions, in Madrid (Djokovic) and Rome (Nadal). Fittingly, they lastly met Sunday within the closing of the Italian Open — the final main match earlier than the French Open.

However in the event you take the helicopter view, there’s much more at stake for these three titans of the sport than yet one more Grand Slam title. Here is a take a look at what incomes that title would possibly imply for every man and the way seemingly every of them is to succeed.

Novak Djokovic is on a Grand Slam roll. Clive Brunskill/Getty Pictures

ATP rank: No. 1
Document on clay 2018-19: 21-7
French Open profession: 63-13
Finest French Open consequence: Champion, 2016

What he has to achieve: Djokovic has gained the previous three Grand Slams. Ought to he win the French Open, he may have accomplished a second “Djoker Slam,” the time period now used to explain the uncommon feat of the eponymous participant holding all 4 Grand Slam titles on the identical time.

The gold normal “Grand Slam” describes successful all 4 Grand Slam titles in the identical calendar 12 months — one thing solely the winner of the Australian Open in any given 12 months can accomplish.

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Djokovic is the Australian champion, so a Djoker Slam may evolve right into a Grand Slam, leaving Djokovic simply the third man in tennis historical past to file a Grand Slam.

What he has to lose: Djokovic has quietly crept near Federer and Nadal within the Grand Slam singles title depend. He now has 15, simply two behind Nadal however nonetheless 5 in need of Federer. Ought to Djokovic make the French closing, he will probably be 32 years outdated. Federer, 37, has added solely three main titles since he turned 32 (however has performed in six finals). Djokovic cannot waste any alternative to win a significant if he hopes to catch Federer.

Outlook: In January, ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert put the over-under on the variety of majors Djokovic would win this 12 months at three. The previous coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick backed Djokovic closely by way of the spring, however after Nadal beat Djokovic in Rome, Gilbert stated of their French Open probabilities, “They’re 1A and 1B, with a razor-thin edge to Djokovic.”

Djokovic and Nadal are in the same scenario. Each have absorbed some sudden losses this 12 months, leaving many questioning if they are not extra susceptible than previously. At different instances, each have hit the acquainted excessive notes.

When Djokovic gained the Australian Open this 12 months — crushing Nadal in essentially the most lopsided of the 13 Grand Slam matches they’ve performed to completion — he appeared poised to dominate. However issues went just a little sideways for him after that.

Djokovic struggled by way of the “Sunshine Double” portion of the early hard-court circuit, dropping early at Indian Wells and Miami. He admitted that his coaching and focus had been compromised by “manner too many issues off the courtroom,” which included his deep involvement in tumultuous ATP politics. Rising star Daniil Medvedev knocked Djokovic out of his first clay occasion, the Monte Carlo Masters.

Djokovic gained Madrid within the nick of time, which is able to make it simpler for him to digest his loss in Rome.

“We noticed in Australia how slim the margins had been,” ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe stated. “Rafa was just a little off, and hastily Novak was a steamroller. Then in Rome, we noticed how shortly issues can change.”

One worrisome stat for Djokovic, who typically is described as the perfect serve returner within the sport: He ranks 13th in successful return video games amongst males who’ve performed 10 or extra matches on clay — breaking 29.23 p.c of the time — with Nadal main that pack at 42.5 p.c.

Is Rafael Nadal all the best way again from knee points? Clive Brunskill/Getty Pictures

ATP rank: No. 2
Document on clay 2018-19: 40-Four
French Open profession: 86-2
Finest French Open consequence: 11-time champion, together with 2018

What he has to achieve: Nadal may add to his already mind-blowing single Slam file by successful at Roland Garros for the 12th time. That additionally would draw him inside two majors of Federer’s file 20. Ought to Nadal surpass that file, the GOAT debate (through which Federer presently is the favored selection) modifications, provided that Nadal’s head-to-head file in opposition to the Swiss icon already is a convincing 23-15. With a win in Paris, Nadal additionally would verify that regardless of these recurring accidents, he can nonetheless attain his once-familiar heights.

What he has to lose: By no means thoughts this period. It is unlikely anybody will ever usurp the throne of the “King of Clay.” However losses to his primary rivals would do extra injury to Nadal’s fame than failure in opposition to, say, a rising younger star similar to Dominic Thiem.

A loss to Djokovic would supply the Serb star with a big entry in his already constructive sequence file (Djokovic leads 28-26) in addition to a second French Open conquest. A loss to Federer at Roland Garros can be a startling first. Nadal is 5-Zero.

Outlook: Nadal has returned from a layoff of greater than 4 months attributable to one other bout of tendinitis in his proper knee that sidelined him from September by way of December final 12 months. When he returned on the Australian Open, he was rocked in a one-sided closing by Djokovic.

Nadal attributed the painful loss to the compromised, compressed apply routine pressured by his knee drawback. These considerations had been considerably alleviated in the course of the clay season. Whereas he didn’t totally dominate as in so many previous years, the three losses he took had been to high quality gamers, together with No. Four-ranked Thiem and fast-rising Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas, ranked No. 6.

“The three guys who beat him had been taking part in unbelievable,” Gilbert stated. “However best-of-five like in Paris is a distinct beast. It is a lot tougher to maintain that brilliance, bodily and mentally. That is the fantastic thing about it.”

On the Italian Open, Nadal handed Djokovic the primary 6-Zero set both man has recorded of their 54-match rivalry. Nadal had an opportunity to win that one swiftly, with Djokovic trailing Zero-6, Three-Three, Zero-40, however Djokovic held serve and in the end prolonged the match to a few units.

But there are actual indicators of vulnerability in the best way Nadal failed to shut out Djokovic in Rome in his acquainted, cruel trend — regardless of the very gradual begin by Djokovic. Nadal has appeared extra nervous, made extra unforced errors and dropped his groundstrokes brief extra typically than previously. Psychologically, this is perhaps essentially the most difficult French Open that Nadal has performed in a very long time.

“The one factor Rafa is lacking due to these losses is the mystique he often has at the moment of 12 months,” McEnroe stated. “However his fashion continues to be like nothing we have ever seen. That spin imparts with the forehand so ferociously and persistently for 2 to 5 hours. It is simply an X-factor that is nearly inconceivable to cope with.”

Roger Federer hopes his return to clay will sharpen his sport. Clive Brunskill/Getty Pictures

ATP rank: No. Three
Document on clay 2018-19: Four-1
French Open profession: 65-16
Finest French Open consequence: Champion, 2009

What he has to achieve: A win would increase Federer’s haul of main titles to 21. That should be sufficient to place the file out of attain for Nadal (17), who’s 32 and ceaselessly hobbled, in addition to Djokovic (15). A victory in Paris additionally would give Federer a résumé-balancing second French Open title and add to his legacy, rating as essentially the most inconceivable of his many exceptional achievements.

What he has to lose: Federer going into Roland Garros personifies the expression, “He is taking part in with home cash.” Positive, a humiliating defeat dealt by a clay-court grinder on a chilly, moist day can be a bummer for Federer and his followers. However Federer actually is taking part in principally for the enjoyable of it.

Outlook: Federer has positioned his return to clay as a sort of busman’s vacation, though he additionally has been considering that taking part in on clay would possibly depart him sharper for his precedence — the upcoming grass section. He has been comfortable along with his clay outcomes, successful in successive tournaments in opposition to high quality gamers after surviving match factors (he defeated Gael Monfils in Madrid and Borna Coric in Rome).

Federer definitely bought what he wished out of his two clay occasions so far: seasoning and a familiarity with the floor he hasn’t formally performed on since Could 2016. So it is hardly stunning that though everybody has joined Federer in treating his return to clay as a lark, they’re additionally maintaining a detailed eye on his success and questioning the place it’d lead.

“Roger does not play the quintessential clay-court tennis, and I do not suppose he ever did,” stated Paul Annacone, who coached Federer from August 2010 by way of 2013. “Even when he was making these [five] Roland Garros finals. He is up on the baseline, he takes the ball early, he has variation in his assaults technique, and he makes use of the drop shot.”

It has been each pleasant and edifying to look at Federer assault and play his model of aggressive tennis.

“The way in which Federer is taking part in proper now, nothing is past imagining,” ESPN analyst Pam Shriver stated. “He does not play a foul event anymore when he is wholesome. Possibly generally he performs not so nice, however his general potential to play relaxed, good, tactical tennis has made him a greater participant. If he is half a step slower, he is made up for it in his techniques.”

Federer’s clay sport in Madrid was ok to provide Thiem, a grasp of clay, an awesome run for his cash. But it surely’s an inescapable incontrovertible fact that the French Open is sort of a towering mountain that poses an exhausting, excessive take a look at for even essentially the most completed climber. Federer has been to the summit solely as soon as due to Nadal’s proficiency, and it was a decade in the past.

“I do not suppose his probabilities to win are that life like, however I imagine he may make a superb run,” McEnroe stated of Federer, whom he places as a “fourth or fifth” favourite, behind Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem and Tsitsipas. “It is nicely throughout the realm of risk that Roger will probably be an element, however to anticipate him to undergo two or three of these others at his age underneath the standard circumstances in Paris is asking lots.”

About these common circumstances: Roland Garros is one place the place conversations concerning the climate are usually significant, not simply idle chatter. Chilly and moist days, which may be widespread in the course of the French Open, create powerful circumstances extra favorable to grinders than shot-makers. The perfect-of-five format additionally militates in opposition to artistic gamers, in addition to older and fewer match or sturdy ones. To prime it off, the French Open has refused to affix its fellow majors in embracing a fifth-set tiebreaker.

Add it up. Whereas we’d see Federer produce some breathtaking tennis, the participant almost definitely to emerge the winner is extra seemingly Nadal — or Djokovic.

As ESPN analyst and seven-time French Open champ Chris Evert stated, “Roger is taking part in nearly as good as I’ve ever seen him on clay, and Djokovic is correct there along with his sport. I simply suppose that over 5 units on purple clay, Nadal goes to be very exhausting to beat. For anybody.”

In different phrases, it is perhaps the identical outdated story in Paris this 12 months.

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