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.”

Archive for james blake

Federer v Blake as it happened

Australian Open, Melbourne

Men’s quarter-final result:


7-5 7-6 6-4

By Tom Fordyce

Federer 6-4 Blake
He doesn’t, and Blake’s brave battle is over. Federer’s into his 15th successive Grand Slam semi, which has got to be a new record. Sharp-shooter Novak Djokovic awaits.

Federer 5-4 Blake
Blake is making a glorious last stand, blazing away from the hip and blowing that game away in a hail of forehand bullets. Surely flinty-eyed Sheriff Fed won’t miss with his next six shots – surely…

Federer 5-3 Blake
Hold on a second – someone’s turned the music back on. Roger duffs an eyes-shut volley into the net and Blake has broken back. Is there life in this bash yet?

Federer 5-2 Blake
Blake holds with shoulder-shrugging resignation. Is that the door-bell?

Federer 5-1 Blake
Ring for a mini-cab and get your coat from the upstairs bedroom – the party’s nearly over.

Federer 4-1 Blake
There’s the double break, and Blake is a beaten man. He’s like a boxer who’s thrown enough haymakers to decimate an army, only to look up to see his opponent dancing happily round the ring without so much as a bloody nose.

Federer 3-1 Blake
The Fed serve has been solid as granite in this match. So in control of this match is Rog that he actually serve-volleys from the baseline. The Swiss flags are being waved with a confident fervour.

Federer 2-1 Blake
Every service game for Blake is now a battle to survive. He wobbles at 30-30 and deuce but hangs on by his fingertips. He’s wearing the blank-eyed expression of a man who’s seen too much.

Federer 2-0 Blake
It’s reinforced too as Fed holds with expressionless competence. How does Blake drag himself back into this?

Federer 1-0 Blake
Sloppy from Blake. His brain is still doing cartwheels after the robbery of the tie-break and Roj is at him like a jackal on a wounded gazelle. That’s the break gone.


Federer 7-6 Blake
Fantastic play from Roger – Blake plays two points about as perfectly as he could ever hope for and yet still loses them to slices of pearly Federer brilliance. The wafted running lob-pass which seals the second is the sort of thing that could make a hard man weep. Blake can do nothing about a crunching serve wide to his backhand at 6-4 and Fed is two sets up. What can Blake do? He can’t play much better, but whatever cards he lays, Roj trumps them.

Federer 6-6 Blake
No stumbling this time from Blake – we’re in Tie-Break Town for a second-set shoot-out.

Federer 6-5 Blake
What a chance for Blake. Roj buries a volley in the tram-lines and then goes wide the other way to slip to 0-30. Blake sees the next serve all the way and launches into a monster of a forehand – only for it to fly just out. He then duffs a backhand off a short bed-wetter of a second serve, and Roj has escaped.

Federer 5-5 Blake
Nerves clanging like a fire alarm out there. A sensational backhand pass from Fed gives him set point, only for Blake to batter down two successive aces to save the day. Key stage of the match, this.

Federer 5-4 Blake
Oohs and aahs as Blake goes to 0-30 with two blistering returns of serve. A point later he has a chance to go 15-40 but guides a forehand just out. “JAAAMES!” he yells in anguish. When Roj correctly challenges a forehand called long, the break chance has slithered away.

Federer 4-4 Blake
“WAKE UP!” screams Blake at the line-judge, slightly unfairly, after cracking a forehand wide. It leaves him teetering at 15-40, but that booming forehand rides to his rescue and squeezes him past a lip-licking Federer.

Federer 4-3 Blake
Same again from Roj – a hold to 15 in just over a minute. Another woman stands up in the crowd to raise a banner. It reads: “Just married, but I still love you Roger.” Bet her husband’s delighted with that.

Federer 3-3 Blake
Tough hold for Blake – he pulls off one fine reaching overhead to put away a cheeky Roger lob and move away from a nervy 30-30.

Federer 3-2 Blake
As you were – Rog express-trains through his serve, not giving Blake a look-in. He glides back to his chair and peels the plastic off a pristine racquet.

Federer 2-2 Blake
Good stuff from the vested Blake, running round onto his forehand at evey opportunity. Roger prowls impassively.

Federer 2-1 Blake
It’s like the first set all over again – Blake bounces back like a kangaroo on a trampoline, sizzling a big forehand down the line to set up a break-back point and sealing the deal when Roj whips an over-ambitious cross-courter into the tram-lines.

Federer 2-0 Blake
Roj has suddenly stuck his foot on the pedal. Spotting a Blake wobble, he goes on the attack again and is at 0-40 before his opponent has worked out what’s going on. Blake then balloons a forehand a racquet-length beyond the baseline to concede his second break on the bounce.

Federer 1-0 Blake
Easy does it for The Man In Black. The cameras focus briefly on a man in the crowd doing the two-horn thing with his fingers while sticking his tongue out like a Maori warrior.


Federer 7-5 Blake
Fed climbs all over Blake’s serve, wrestling the break and set off him with a delight of a cross-court volley. Blake crumbles under the onslaught and spanks a forehand way long at 30-40. Boff – that’s what champions do to you, non?

Federer 6-5 Blake
Roj holds in the time it takes to write this sentence. If I had typed it one-handed.

Federer 5-5 Blake
Blake’s first service game to love. He correctly challenges a line-biter of a first serve at 30-0, much to Roger’s obvious disapproval. Not a fan of Hawk-Eye, the Fed. An over-excited lady in the crowd dressed all in red waves a banner reading “Hop Schwiiz” and screams with delight when she spots herself on the giant screens.

Federer 5-4 Blake
Blake’s finding his range here, taking the ball as early as he can and attacking the Roj second serve like a growling Doberman. At 30-30 he lashes a forehand into the corner, only for it to drop fractionally out – and Fed hangs on with a certain quiet anxiety. Glugs of barley water for both players at the change-over.

Federer 4-4 Blake
New balls for the Blake serve, and that extra pace gives him his easiest hold of the match so far. He wipes his hands on his complimentary Aussie Open towel and tosses it back to the eager ballboy.

Federer 4-3 Blake
Fed leans back onto his dreamy thumper of a serve and lets it batter him through the game. The sweaty chap in the Swiss-flag poncho mops his brow and applauds a touch wearily.

Federer 3-3 Blake
The sun drops behind the roof of the Rod Laver Arena as Blake plays the point of the match so far, sprinting back to catch a Roj lob and playing it back through his own legs before forcing a Fed error. The crowd roars and Blake fist-pumps.

Federer 3-2 Blake
Double-quick again from Fed, holding to love with the aid of a dubious line-call on his final ace. Still, there are a couple of patches of rust on the champ’s armour – if Blake can get his sword swinging, he’ll have a chance here.

Federer 2-2 Blake
A ding-donger of a hold – three deuces – before Blake clings on. When the forehand’s ripping, he can match Roj – but he seems to have the concentration of a 13-year-old boy, and is following ripper with stinker.

Federer 2-1 Blake
Hello – Blake unleashes his bad dog of a forehand, and Roger can’t cope with it. Two rapid ones rip across his toes, he balloons another response wide and Blake has his break back. He scuttles back to his chair with determination scrawled all over his features.

Federer 2-0 Blake
Sloppy from Blake – two double faults and a wayward forehand gift Fed the earliest of breaks. Blake’s sporting his trademark white towelling headband, a white sleeveless vest and grey baggy shorts. And his head is freshly shaved.

Federer 1-0 Blake
Federer opens out with two dismissive aces and canters through the game with unflustered grace. Roger’s dressed entirely in black tonight, except for a sky-blue bandana keeping the floppiness of his fringe at bay.

0835: Lovely warm evening in Melbourne, and the fans at the Rod Laver Arena are garrulous with anticipation. There’s a chap wearing a poncho made entirely from small plastic Swiss flags. He’s worked up a nasty sweat already.

0825: Lovely little match-up this morning – the reigning champ vs the Player Most Fancied By My Female Colleagues. Jump on board for a rollercoaster ride.

In case you needed a nudge, you can also watch the action live on BBC Interactive or listen to commentary on 5 Live Sports Extra.

Story from BBC SPORT


Blake v Haas as it happened

Flushing Meadows, New York, 27 August-9 September

US Open, Flushing Meadows Fourth round result:

T HAAS (Ger) bt J BLAKE (US)

4-6 6-4 3-6 6-0 7-6 (7-4)

By Piers Newbery

Fifth set

2252: That was a belter, and hopefully there is more to come later on. We’ll be back for Federer v Lopez in the early hours.

2251: “James is established in the top 10 now but Tommy played some fantastic tennis. For him to turn it around after a disappointing loss last year, your hat has to go off to him.” Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Blake 6-7 (4-7) Haas
The first two points go against the serve before Blake nets a forehand to slip 1-3 down. But the American finds a great winner to level before the change of ends. An incredible rally follows in which Haas needs two brilliant lobs to take it. Blake then blows the whole thing, surely, with a double fault and a wayward forehand to give Haas three match points.

Blake sends a return down the line, Haas thinks it’s out, Hawkeye doesn’t. Haas then hits a big serve and Hawkeye is needed again, this time giving it to the German and he’s won. Amazing stuff, after the German saved three match points earlier on. That should cheer his girlfriend up.

2240: “At this stage of the match I don’t think either one of these guys deserves to lose.”
Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Blake 6-6 Haas
It’s all change as Tommy goes for a red shirt, while the stadium PA plays ‘Zorba the Greek’. Not sure why. Blake fails to put the pressure on by throwing in two errors to start the game, before finding an incredible forehand return, but Haas holds to 30. After three hours and nine minutes, it’s tie-break time.

Blake 6-5 Haas
I think Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra says both men are showing signs of “metal fatigue” but it might have been “mental”. Blake holds to 15 and looks the stronger at the moment.

Blake 5-5 Haas
Pandemonium ensues when Blake gets the first point… steady on everyone. At 30-30 the pressure is on and Haas….. double faults. Match point for Blake but Haas comes up with a big serve and heavy forehand. A second match point follows, another big serve gets Haas out of trouble. Match point number three… big serve number three. Haas finally takes the game after five deuces. Blake’s mum looks impressively serene in the stands but then she is from Oxford, I think. Tommy’s girlfriend looks frighteningly intense, he’ll be in trouble if he loses.

Blake 5-4 Haas
This is what we’re after, fantastic stuff. Blake is in trouble at 30-30 but chases down a drop volley and finds a winner. The crowd are on their feet after that one and Blake then wraps up the game to take the lead. Who’d have thought it?

2220: “Oh, Blake back in it. Haas may have just cracked.”
From jazzyjezza14 on 606

Blake 4-4 Haas
The sounds of U2 – the Jonas Bjorkman of the rock world – echo around Arthur Ashe Stadium. It certainly does the trick for Blake, who holds firm at the net and sticks away a backhand smash to get to 0-30 up. Moments later it’s 15-40 and Haas plays a woeful volley. We’re back on serve and I, for one, fancy a fifth set tie-break.

Blake 3-4 Haas
Blake pulls a forehand into the net to slip to break point down, staring defeat in the face surely, but Haas sends a backhand wide. The J-Block looks nervous, the Haas Mob (?) looks….. nervous. A duff volley from Haas keeps Blake in the match.

Blake 2-4 Haas
Blake finds a screamer of a backhand down the line to go to 0-30 in front and send the crowd wild, but Haas responds with a big second serve and a fine forehand volley. At 30-30, Haas attacks the net and draws an error, before wrapping up the game with a high backhand volley. That was a big hold.

2205: “OK, Blake’s in trouble but he can come back. Come on!”
From RJ__02 on 606

Blake 2-3 Haas
Blake stays in touch but a double fault suggests the American is feeling the pressure.

Blake 1-3 Haas
Blake looks a lot more positive and has got some energy back but he goes for too much with a couple of backhands and is quickly 0-30 down. Haas hits his 16th ace of the match, Blake responds with an enormous cross-court forehand winner but then puts a return long.

Blake 1-2 Haas
Blake, possibly fired up by whatever annoyed him in the previous game, finally wins another game and does so in style, hooking a backhand down the line.

Blake 0-2 Haas
Blake looks absolutely out on his feet. Haas thumps down an ace for a love game and his friends/family are in great spirits in the stands. Blake, meanwhile, seems irked at a comment from somewhere and mentions it to the umpire.

Blake 0-1 Haas
It’s been a strange match, quite low-key for long periods, but the crowd is definitely up for the fifth set. Haas gets to 30-30 with a net-cord but Blake finds a winner down the line. Haas then does exactly the same and it’s deuce. Blake gets a game point but double faults, Haas then hits a backhand winner and it’s break point, and the German then attacks the net and forces an error. That’s seven games in a row for Haas.

2149: “Both men coming into this as intense as possible – there’s a lot on the line here.”
Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Fourth set

Blake 0-6 Haas
Some heavy hitting from both men in the dying stages of this set but Haas gets to set point and Blake, for the umpteenth time today, nets a backhand. It’s anybody’s guess who’s going to hold their nerve in the fifth.

2142: “You can tell the 5live commentator there’s a reason why the umbrellas are silver… They reflect the heat better… As well as look cool…”
From JQ via text on 81111

Blake 0-5 Haas
Crikey, Haas gets a hold of a backhand down the line and absolutely creams it for a winner. He then produces another one to get to deuce. A break point soon follows and Blake thumps a forehand long. A bagel beckons. I could just do with a bagel. At the moment, I’d even eat an egg cooked by Clancy.

Blake 0-4 Haas
Haas holds to 15, rounding off the game with a fabulous cross-court backhand.

Blake 0-3 Haas
My gaze briefly wanders to another TV showing Hell’s Kitchen, where Peter Crouch’s girlfriend Abbey Clancy appears to have done something horrific to an egg. I’m quickly back on the case though, as Haas and Blake give us a ding-dong battle. The American throws himself around at the net under a barrage of backhands but Haas forces a break point, and Blake sticks a backhand long. It’s going to a fifth set, surely.

Blake 0-2 Haas
“Nooooooooo!” shouts Tommy when one backhand heads for downtown New York. He slips to 15-40 but does well to get back into the game with some good stuff at the net. Still, Blake gets a break point and Haas goes close to the line – it’s called out but Hawkeye says the ball clipped the very outside of the line. Another chance comes for Blake but he plays a limp backhand and Haas eventually survives with an ace.

Blake 0-1 Haas
Haas breaks at the start of the fourth. Obviously. “That’s the way to play, Tommy!” shouts an enthusiastic fan, correctly.

2122: “Its the anonymous gambler from last night! Just stuck my £5 winnings from williams on blake with £7 returns. COME ON BLAKE!!!!!”
From, er, anon via text on 81111

Third set

2120: “Tommy had some opportunites to gain some ground but Blake turned it around with some Haas errors. I can’t emphasise enough what a big match mentally this is for both players.”
Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Blake 6-3 Haas
“Come on Tommy!” shouts his girlfriend/sister. That means girlfriend or sister, obviously. Otherwise it would be really weird. Blake’s fans, the ‘J-Block’, get behind their man and he moves to set point and a great rally follows, with the American forcing the issue from the net and Haas putting a backhand pass wide.

Blake 5-3 Haas
Blake opens with a scything forehand winner, prompting Haas to smash a ball into the ground in frustration. Blake serves out easily.

Blake 4-3 Haas
Another difficult game for Haas but he comes through from deuce with two big serves. The umpire braces himself for another discussion about chairs. Maybe it’s a feng shui thing.

2109: “C’mon Blake!! There’s not many players that I really dislike – but Tommy Haas is one of them.”
From Debsonthesofa on 606

Blake 4-2 Haas
Haas spends the changeover chuntering on at the umpire about the position of the chairs. Hardly a key issue, you would have thought. Confusion reigns here around who the women cheering Haas on actually are – I’m convinced that one of them is his girlfriend as she looks nothing like him and is rather attractive. Blake holds to 15.

Blake 3-2 Haas
Some fantastic scrambling from Blake gets the crowd going and forces Haas to put a lob volley long at 15-15. Haas then has to sprint for a ball and comes to a sudden halt when a collision with umpire’s chair looks likely. “Why do you put the chair so close!?!” he screams at the umpire. I don’t imagine he actually puts his own chair out, does he? Anyway, Haas recovers his poise sufficiently to hold.

Blake 3-1 Haas
I catch the end of a Jeff Tarango tale on 5live Sports Extra that finishes “… she went into the shed and began to puke massively.” Rather wish I’d heard the beginning of that one. Blake, meanwhile, appears to have rewired his brain and is back on track, taking the game with his ninth ace of the day.

Blake 2-1 Haas
Look out everyone, I can hear a rumbling. Haas thumps a drive volley about six feet long and starts screaming at the sky – never a good sign. He’s going to blow soon. Blake gets a break point and takes it with a forehand volley. So, that should be this set in the bag then.

Blake 1-1 Haas
That’s more like it from Blake – a love service game. Meanwhile, elsewhere at Flushing Meadows, British junior Dan Evans has won his first-round match and the magnificently monikered Kittipong Wachiramanowong of Thailand is in a decider against Australian John-Patrick Smith.

Blake 0-1 Haas
Blake sends Haas sprawling at the net with one forehand pass but it does not stop the German taking the game.

2048: “I think it could go all the way – the fans want a little bit more excitement, more bang for their buck, after Berdych’s earlier retirement.”
Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Second set

Blake 4-6 Haas
This time it’s Blake who crumbles when the pressure is on, slipping to 0-40 and saving one set point before Haas rips a superb backhand cross-court to take the set. Funny business all round, that set.

Blake 4-5 Haas
Well, it’s easy to criticise…. so I will. Haas plays a desperately passive game when serving for the set and is promptly broken. With a double fault. When you see a set like this you realise why neither Haas nor Blake have reached a Grand Slam final yet.

Blake 3-5 Haas
Haas gets to set point, prompting much clapping and shouting from the women we believe are his sisters. James Blake’s brother, meanwhile, looks decidedly unimpressed. Still, his man saves the set point with a thumping smash and serves out.

Blake 2-5 Haas
Haas is serve-volleying now, while Blake screams in frustration at another error – talk about a role reversal. Haas holds easily and is on course to level things at one set all.

Blake 2-4 Haas
An absolute stinker of a game sees Blake double fault and then stick a smash in the bottom of the net to go down 15-40. The American saves the first break point but then goes for a ridiculous forehand winner down the line and he’s a break down. A complete meltdown.

Blake 2-3 Haas
James Blake has gone completely off the boil and Haas moves ahead with a love game. Meanwhile, Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra takes us through the food on offer at Flushing Meadows. His favourite is a beer and a chilli dog. How very American.

Blake 2-2 Haas
A screamer of a forehand that Blake has checked by Hawkeye just catches the line and Haas gets a break point. Blake then wallops a forehand into the net and, from nowhere, Haas gets the break back to level.

Blake 2-1 Haas
Haas stops the rot after losing four straight games but Blake gets the crowd going with one monster of a forehand on the return. Haas holds but needs deuce again and it’s not easy for the man from Hamburg, via Florida.

Blake 2-0 Haas
It’s really good stuff from Blake now as the American races through his service game, polishing it off with an ace.

Blake 1-0 Haas
Blimey, we’ve got to be closing in on a Tommy Haas eruption soon. Hope so. He slumps to 0-40 with a double fault and, although he recovers to deuce, Blake nabs it with a cross-court backhand winner. By the way, if you get a moment do visit the official Tommy Haas website for some appalling spelling. Admittedly, my German isn’t what it was.

First set

“Blake’s percentage of first-serve points won is 100%, and when you’re able to win every point on first serve against a player of Tommy Haas’s class, that’s got to make you feel pretty good.”
Jeff Tarango on 5live Sports Extra

Blake 6-4 Haas
No problem for the man from Yonkers – Blake finds some heavy serves to take the game to 15 and wrap up the first set.

2001: “Help.”
From anon via text on 81111 (This is the sum total of texts so far. Come on people, if you need help at least leave a name and address.)

Blake 5-4 Haas
We get a brief shot in the crowd of two women who are apparently Tommy’s sisters. Interesting. Blake is not distracted and gets a sniff of a break with a delicate half-volley to go 15-30 up, but Haas responds with a beautiful backhand lob – shot of the match so far. Blake keeps on coming though, and forces an error from the net to get a break point. Haas duly dumps a backhand into the net and Blake will serve for the set.

Blake 4-4 Haas
Blake opens up with a big forehand and goes 30-15 with a sharp backhand volley but Haas hauls him back to 30-30 with a winning return. Blake stays positive and heads to the net again to punch away another backhand volley, going on to hold serve comfortably in the end.

Blake 3-4 Haas
I’m not sure what the ladies in general think of Haas, although British junior star and BBC columnist Anna Fitzpatrick thinks he is “hot”. The German holds serve to 15 and it’s looking like a tie-break already. That normally guarantees a break.

Blake 3-3 Haas
It’s pretty low-key stuff at the moment, Blake holding serve without fuss again. Today he is wearing a bright blue top and matching headband. Apparently the ladies like James. Maybe I’ll get myself a headband.

Blake 2-3 Haas
Haas may not look happy but he’s serving well and another ace gives him a love game.

Blake 2-2 Haas
Things look a bit sticky for Blake when he double faults to go 30-30 on serve but Haas fails to capitalise on a lengthy rally in the next point and the half-chance disappears. The German never looks exactly happy but at the moment he looks like a man with indigestion.

Blake 1-2 Haas
A fizzing forehand and a slam-dunk smash from Blake get the crowd going but Haas holds to 30.

Blake 1-1 Haas
A straightforward start for Blake too, who holds to love as the spectators file back into Arthur Ashe Stadium after their break, and there’s plenty of support for the local boy.

Blake 0-1 Haas
It remains a blustery day in New York but Haas manages to handle it well enough as he holds serve to 15, finishing with an ace out wide.

1935: I am boldly going to go for Blake to win this, although I did back Lleyton Hewitt and Maria Sharapova to reach their respective finals. Let me know your thoughts via text on 81111 or on 606.

1930: Here we go with world number six James Blake up against world number 10 Tommy Haas, and the American goes into the match with a 3-1 lead in career meetings.

To be honest, the whole thing has caught me a bit by surprise. After successfully negotiating a trans-London journey in the middle of a tube strike, I arrive to find that Berdych has pulled out of his match against Roddick.

I hope the world number nine is OK but, really, he wants to try getting from Peckham to Shepherds Bush without the Central Line.

Story from BBC SPORT

French Open – Roland Garros – Men to watch


EurosportTue, 22 May 00:52:00 2007

French Open – Believe it or not, a Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer French Open final is not necessarily ordained from above. Jeremy Stahl runs through the list of contenders who stand a chance on the red-hot clay at this year’s Roland Garros.

TENNIS 2007 Battle of the Surfaces Roger Federer Rafael Nadal - 0

Rafael Nadal – The odds-on bet

We would be loathe not to mention the two-time defending champion as the easy favourite to defend his crown. The world number two is coming off of the heels of his first defeat on the slow dirt in more than two years, but his loss to Roger Federer in the Hamburg final takes nothing away from the Spaniard’s record-breaking 81-match win streak on clay. In addition to having a perfect record in his two years at Roland Garros, Rafa has yet to have even been pushed to a fifth set at Paris. Three titles in four claycourt tournaments in 2007 bode well for the 20-year-old man-child from Majorca.

Roger Federer – To be the greatest…..

From John McEnroe to Andre Agassi, the general consensus among tennis’ now wise (once wild) men is that Roger Federer needs to win the French Open and become the sixth man to achieve the Slam in order to challenge for the mantle of “greatest-of-all-time.” After a previously disappointing claycourt season, Fed-ex won his first clay title of the spring in Hamburg. More importantly, the Swiss Slam machine overcame one of his biggest goblins of the past two years and beat Rafael Nadal on clay for the first time in six tries. Though Federer had been coy about his Roland Garros hopes, the world number one is clearly anxious to get over the final hurdle of a brilliant career on the burning red dirt of Paris.

Fernando Gonzalez – Gonzo-mania strikes again?

The fifth ranked Chilean starts the French Open as the most credible challenger to the world number one and the two-time defending champion, having already reached the final of one Grand Slam and a claycourt Masters series this year. The man whose red-hot Oz Open run was only ended by an unstoppable Federer in the final, also reached the final of the Rome Masters before being trounced by Nadal. If he can somehow avoid the top-two in the draw, another Gonzo Grand Slam final is a distinct possibility in Paris.

Novak Djokovic – The other young gun

The Serbian starlet, who turned 20-years-old a week before the start of this year’s French Open, has not quite rivalled Rafa Nadal as the best young player on the ATP Tour this year, but he has come close. Djokovic, third in the 2007 ATP Points Race behind only Federer and Nadal, won titles in Adelaide and Estoril, and beat Rafa on his way to a Miami Masters crown in a brilliant first-half of the season. He reached the quarter-finals of last year’s Roland Garros before retiring hurt down to sets to eventual winner Nadal, but after gaining more experience against Rafa at the Rome, Miami, and Indian Wells Masters, is in the best-possible position to challenge his top-ten 20-year-old peer.

Nikolay Davydenko – Looks good on paper

A perennial Grand Slam quarter-finalist, the Russian had his best-ever finish at Roland Garros in 2005 losing to Mariano Puerta in the semi-finals. Despite his third consecutive quarter-finals appearance at the Australian Open this January, Davydenko’s 2007 had been anything but impressive with several first and second round exits. But then the world number four nearly showed what he is nearly capable of by nearly beating Rafael Nadal at the Rome Masters in a semi-final epic. Nearly will not be good enough at Roland Garros, however.

Guillermo Canas – The upset specialist

Returning to the ATP circuit from a 15-month doping suspension last fall, the Argentine gained a more positive notoriety this spring by beating world number one Roger Federer in two consecutive tournaments. Canas has the quickness and defensive agility to challenge the world’s best on the slow surface, as he proved in his encore victory over Federer in a thrilling 7-6(2) 2-6 7-6(5) victory at the Miami Masters. Having already beaten former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero on clay to win the Brazil Open, Canas went onto reach the finals in Barcelona before succumbing to Nadal. But only one victory in his last three tournaments means “El Gigantico Killero” has cooled heading into Paris.

Lleyton Hewitt and Carlos Moya – The old school

Though both the Australian and the Spaniard have faded significantly since their respective runs at the top of the world rankings, back in November 2001 and March 1999 respectively, both Hewitt and Moya have surged into this year’s French Open. The former US Open and Wimbledon champion Hewitt struggled after winning the Las Vegas Open in February, but demonstrated shades of his former attacking greatness against Nadal in the semi-finals at Hamburg before losing 6-2 3-6 5-7 to the Spaniard. Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, also started the season strong with a title on clay in Acapulco in February, before struggling up until an impressive Hamburg run, which was ended by eventual champion Roger Federer in a thrilling 6-4 4-6 2-6 semi-final. Between the 30-year-old Moya and the 26-year-old Hewitt, you have to give the edge to the Australian.

David Nalbandian – The long-shot

Another really strong contender on paper, Nalbandian reached his second Roland Garros semi-finals appearance in 2006 before retiring against world number one Roger Federer. The big-hitting 25-year-old has disappointed this season with only one quarter-finals appearance at Barcelona, but is capable of beating anybody in the world as he showed at the Masters Cup final against Federer in 2005. Prone to unforced errors and on-court nervous break-downs the hot-blooded Argentine has all the potential to win the French Open, but probably lacks the mental toughness to go all the way.

Philipp Kohlschreiber – The really, really long-shot

The 23-year-old German could turn a few heads and cause a couple of upsets at Paris, if he continues the form that has seen him to a career-best ranking of 32nd in the world. Kohlschreiber, a natural dirt-baller, won his first-career title on the clay at Munich last month. He pushed Rafa Nadal to four sets before losing to the Spaniard in the second round of the Australian Open, and reached the quarter-finals at Monte Carlo before falling to the eventual champion Nadal yet again. The added experience against the world number two could very well work to his advantage.

And the rest….

Andy Roddick, James Blake, Ivan Ljubicic, Tommy Robredo, Tomas Berdych, and Tommy Haas are threats in any major tournament, while claycourt specialists Juan Ignacio Chela, Juan Carlos Ferrero and David Ferrer could also do some damage.

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

Matthew Cronin /

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.