It's win time in Paris
Barry Cowan gives his thoughts on how the French Open will pan out, from the quarter-finals onwards...
Last Updated: 02/06/10 10:37am
All of the talk before the French Open men's singles was of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and, as everyone expected, they've looked exceptional so far.
It appears as though the stage is set for the World's top two to meet in the final - but will it be plain sailing? Here are my thoughts on how the competition will pan out, from the quarter-finals onwards...
Roger Federer v Robin Soderling
Like Rafa Nadal, Federer has looked exceptional so far but he has a couple of tough opponents in front of him starting with Soderling.
The Swede will believe he can win this match and I've been very impressed with his rise over the last 12 months. He's a much better player now than he was a year ago - he's improved in all aspects of his game. For the first time I feel he has a game that is capable of beating Federer; his slice has improved, his net play has got better. We'll just have to see if he can make that next step and take it to the World No 1.
That's going to be important because Soderling is a much better player when he's on the offensive, which is very difficult to do on a consistent basis against someone of Federer's quality. Soderling looked comfortable against Marin Cilic in the last round - that's the level he's at now. Even when he had a couple of difficult weeks in Rome, Madrid and then Nice the week before the French he hasn't allowed it to trouble him too much and I think he's a really good outside bet to win Wimbledon. I'm expecting this one to be a very tight match - but Federer should have just too much quality.
Tomas Berdych v Mikhail YouzhnyThere have always been question marks in the past about Berdych's attitude but they seem to be vanishing. When he walked onto court ahead of his fourth-round match against Andy Murray he looked relaxed and ready to play.
In the past he's been too highly strung and hasn't performed when the pressure was on. I expected him to really kick on after winning the Paris indoor title in 2005 but he didn't because he expected it to just happen and didn't work on his game to the levels he should have done. But now, having done so well in Miami, he is ready to get back inside the world's top 10. His power gave him the edge of Murray - he was more assertive and looked more at ease with the conditions.
In Youzhny, Berdych is up against someone who has been phenomenal in the last nine months, winning in Munich earlier this month. His tennis is back to the level it was at when he reached the semi-finals of the US Open in 2006. I actually thought that was never be possible and that his best days were behind him. However, I still don't think he's got enough in his tank to beat Berdych who has to step up and reach his first major semi-final.
Jurgen Melzer v Novak DjokovicOne thing you can never question about Djokovic is his competitive nature. I still feel he isn't playing his best tennis (he's dropped sets in each of the last two rounds) but he's able to win matches on sheer guts.
He's always had great speed and athleticism around the court and now looks as though he is gaining more confidence; he is building his level again but it still has some way to go to rival Nadal. Melzer is one of the best ball-strikers on tour and will give him a decent run. I'm not surprised the Austrian has reached the quarter-finals because he has the quality. I felt Wimbledon would be his best chance so in many ways this is a bonus.
There have always been big doubts about whether he has the self-belief to get over the finishing line but I expect him to go out in this quarter-final and take it to Djokovic. Will that be enough? I doubt it. Deep down I feel Djokovic will simply make too many balls for Melzer.
Nicolas Almagro v Rafael NadalAlmagro is saying all of the right things - he's mentally and physically stronger now than he's ever been and won the opening set when these two met in Madrid. Significantly, though, that was as poor a first set as I've seen Nadal play on any surface for about a year. Even at that stage I did not see it in Almagro's eyes that he believed he could beat his compatriot.
Almagro might talk a good game but he'll need a miracle to win this one. He's reached the last-eight of a major once before - at the French Open in 2008 - and is a very talented ball-striker but his movement is questionable and Nadal will take advantage of that. Against someone as good as Rafa is on clay you've got to go into the match with the complete package; you've got to be able to serve big, hit consistently from the back of the court and you've also got to have the confidence to come forward. As Federer found out when he played Rafa in Madrid, you can't rely on hitting winners against Nadal on a clay court.