Tennis Freaks

“1821: Nadal, I’ve noticed, has a problem with his shorts, in that they keep on getting stuck up his jacksie and he has to pull them out before every point. Not sure why he doesn’t just get a size up, he’s probably loaded.”

Nadal’s king, but these 5 can usurp the throne

Matthew Cronin / FOXSports.com

Breaking news! Rafael Nadal can be beat on clay — at least once every two years.

But despite his three-set loss to top-ranked Roger Federer in the Hamburg final, the Spaniard is still the favorite to win his third consecutive French Open title and become the first man since all-time great Bjorn Borg to pull off a triple. Here are the five best bets to take his title:

  • Roger Federer: Muddled in his longest slump since he became No. 1, Federer scraped and clawed his way to his third Hamburg title, needing three sets to overcome Juan Monaco, David Ferrer and Carlos Moya. Then in the final against Nadal, whom he had never beaten in five attempts on clay, he rediscovered his ferocious backhand, stepped further inside the court with his backhand to pick up the Spaniard’s high bouncing balls earlier and hit straight through his exhausted foe.Even though it was clear that Nadal had finally lost his legs after an amazing 81-match win streak on clay, the victory was a much-needed boost of confidence for Federer, who now believes that if he finds the zone, continues to hit out, serves huge and returns intelligently, that his chase of the calendar year Grand Slam is no quixotic quest. But if Federer is to win his first Roland Garros crown, he must play cleanly through his first five matches because he doesn’t want to enter the final weekend with tread-worn wheels.
  • Novak Djokovic: The hottest young player on tour has found his feet on clay and is looking all the part of a top five player this year. John McEnroe loves this guy’s composure and how he goes after the ball. He’s beaten Nadal on hardcourts, and he won Warsaw on clay.Interestingly, even though he’s a Serbian who has slid on plenty of clay courts in his life, Djokovic prefers faster surfaces. But he’s a good mover who can launch his forehand and rarely backs off the ball against elite players. He just turned 20 and is still a little immature, but unlike some of the veterans, he doesn’t fear Rafa or Roger. He’ll get after it, which is a sure sign of a future Slam champ.
  • Nikolay Davydenko: Hurt much of the year, the Russian rebounded in Rome with a semifinal appearance and a near win over Nadal. If he can find motivation — and find some heart — he’s a decent threat to reach the French Open semis (and maybe the final if Fed fizzles). He’s the tour’s most unknown top-5 player, but is a true backboard with pop and savvy.
  • Fernando Gonzalez: The Chilean slumped after the Australian Open final, overplaying and frequently losing his composure. The 26-year-old has huge weapons and a much-improved backhand, but he can be impatient and lose his focus. On clay, that’s a death sentence.Gonzo did revive himself at the Italian Open, reaching the final, but Nadal ran circles around him there and in Hamburg. If he can avoid the Spaniard until late in the tournament and catches fire, he can upset anyone on a great day. But he needs to show the same spunk he did Down Under.
  • Guillermo Canas: After a lengthy doping suspension, the veteran Argentine has run an incredible race back into top 25, grinding nearly every week since last fall and taking Federer down twice at Indian Wells and Miami.In his six appearances at Roland Garros, he’s played nine monstrous five-setters, winning five of them. Even though he can stay on court for eons, Canas has to be more of a risk-taker this year if he’s to pass the quarterfinals. Playing possum isn’t going to cut it as the tournament wears on.While the ATP Tour isn’t deep at the top level of the game, it’s near fathomless with men who have quarterfinal possibilities. Here are 10 other men who can reach the French Open final eight:
  • Graceful Spaniard Tommy Robredo
  • The talented yet erratic French hopeful Richard Gasquet
  • Czech powerballer Tomas Berdych
  • Argentine veteran David Nalbandian
  • Tireless Spaniard David Ferrer
  • The improving Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela
  • 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero
  • The up-and-down Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis
  • Argentine teen Juan Martin Del Potro
  • And two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.Unless they receive a very sweet draw, don’t expect American top 10ers Andy Roddick and James Blake to reach the second week. They are bedeviled by the dirt.
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