Roland Garros Preview: "Human nature is the same everywhere; it deifies success, it has nothing but scorn for defeat." *
Determining which woman is truly at the head of the "Queen of Clay" class is a long discussion. Thankfully, the answer will literally play out on the court in Paris over the next two weeks.
But before that happens, how about we take a quick glance at history to see what a title run would mean for some of the players who might soon be holding up the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?
So, in other words...
"When in doubt, tell the truth."
- Mark Twain
Serena Williams: Williams arrives in Paris having won the last two slams. If she wins a third straight she'd be the first woman to do it since... well, herself. She won four straight during "Serena Slam" in 2002-03.
Maria Sharapova: a third title in a four-year stretch would be the best run by any woman in Paris since Justine Henin won three in a row from 2005-07
Simona Halep: last year, Halep became the first Romanian to reach a slam final since Virginia Ruzici did so in Paris in 1980. Ruzici (RG '78) is the only woman from Romania to win a major. So far, at least.
Petra Kvitova (or Karolina Pliskova, or any other Czech Maiden): the last player playing under a Czech flag to win a slam other than Wimbledon was Hana Mandlikova on the grass in Melbourne in 1987. Czech-born Martina Navratilova, as an American citizen, won the U.S. Open in '87, and last won Roland Garros in 1984.
Angelique Kerber (or '14 semifinalist Andrea Petkovic): the last German woman to win a slam singles crown was -- guess who -- Steffi Graf in Paris in 1999
Carla Suarez-Navarro or Garbine Muguruza: the last Spanish woman to win a slam was Arantxa Sanchez in 1998, while the most recent finalist was Conchita Martinez in 2000. Both happened in Paris
Victoria Azarenka: the Belarusian, a semifinalist in her last trip to Paris in 2013, is 1-6 in tour-level clay finals. Her only win came in Marbella in 2011 (she won an ITF clay event in '05, as well). In that Marbella win, Azarenka defeated Irina-Camelia Begu in the final. She just beat the Romanian in Rome. Hmmm.
Caroline Wozniacki: the Dane would remove her name from the list of former #1's without a slam title, and would simultaneously make Pam Shriver the player with the most career WTA singles titles without a major in the bunch
And then there's...
Genie Bouchard (or any North American not named Serena): hard as it is to remember at the moment, Bouchard was a RG semifinalist a year ago. The last North American other than Serena to win a major was Venus at Wimbledon in 2008, while the last to win in Paris was Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
ANY first-time slam champ, or finalist: there have been four first-time slam finalists who "hit the big time" at the last five get-togethers in Paris. Three players -- Ivanovic '08, Schiavone '10 and Li '11 -- were crowned maiden major winners there in the last seven seasons.
So there's all that. Oh, and this...
In the past, I've often employed a "co-author" during the Daily Backspin countdown of each day during a slam. From Soren Kierkegaard to "Hamlet," to Yogi Berra and Hans Christian Andersen I've managed to find ways to weave their words, wit and/or wisdom into my two weeks of chattering. I thought I'd bring all that back for this edition of Roland Garros, finally utilizing the quotes and works of Mark Twain for the good of all things WTA (and maybe beyond), as I've been wanting to do for quite some time.
(born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910). American author, lecturer and humorist. Writer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Twain's writing and large personality made him a public figure and, ultimately, an American icon. A renowned traveler, Twain entertained fans around the world with his opinionated wit.
Should be fun.
Here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter:
1. Serena Williams, USA(1) ...this spring she hasn't been the dominating Serena on clay that we've seen since her post-hospitalization return of a few years ago. Plus, she's got a fairly tricky draw (Hlavackova 1st Rd., Vika or Hradecka 3rd, Venus 4th). But you still pick against Serena at your own risk.
2. Sara Errani, ITA(17) ...she pushed Serena on clay in Fed Cup, and has a potentially-injured Petkovic in her section along with a hampered Jankovic and Wozniacki, who's never been much of a factor in Paris over the years.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: #27 Victoria Azarenka ...Vika held triple MP on Serena in Madrid, but her inability to close matches without unnecessary trials-and-tribulations came back to bite her as she went down in a hail of double-faults. She could get another shot at Williams in the 3rd Rd. in what would be THE match of the first week.
THE WILD CARD: #10 Andrea Petkovic ...the German has been dealing with exhaustion and a thigh injury in recent weeks, so her ability to last long seems questionable. But she was a semifinalist a year ago, so we know what she's capable of doing if her luck (and body) holds out.
FIRST BIG SEED OUT?: #5 Caroline Wozniacki ...the Dane has only reached the Round of 16 once (2010) in Paris. She opens with Karin Knapp, who's playing in the Nurnberg final this weekend. And things only get tougher from there.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #15 Venus Williams ...everyone will be pointing to a possible Round of 16 match-up with Serena (they last played in Paris in the 2002 final, the first leg of "Serena Slam"). But Venus lost early to Anna Schmiedlova last year, and might not get to that Serena match this time, either. If Sloane Stephens can keep her head, even she might get her in the 1st Round.
THE POOR SOUL: (Q) Andrea Hlavackova ...she plays Serena in the 1st Round, and Williams is 57-1 for her career in slam opening rounds. Of course, that one came in Paris (vs. Virginie Razzano in 2012).
1. Petra Kvitova, CZE(4) ...she won in Madrid, proving once again that she needn't have grass under her feet to win a big title. But can she maneuver through a very good draw (probably the best of all the top seeds) without having one of those Bad Petra days that tend to pop up and take her down at every slam other than Wimbledon?
2. Karolina Pliskova, CZE(12) ...she's never advanced to a slam 4th Rd., but she recently won a title in Prague and very well could reach the QF without having to play another seeded player.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Belinda Bencic & Taylor Townsend ...might these two former junior stars be on an upset-riddled path toward a 3rd Round match-up? Townsend, who reached the 3rd Round as a WC last year, could face Timea Bacsinszky in the 2nd Round, while Bencic could face Madison Keys.
THE WILD CARD: #18 Svetlana Kuznetsova ...which Sveta will show up, and for how long? A legitimate path is there for Kuznetsova to put together another second week run. It should be noted that the Russian has reached at least the Round of 16 in Paris every year but one since 2004, and has reached the QF the last two years.
FIRST BIG SEED OUT?: #23 Timea Bacsinszky ...after a super start, the Swiss' results haven't kept pace on the clay. She faces a potentially tough Lara Arruabarrena in the 1st Round, with possibly Taylor Townsend and Belinda Bencic or Madison Keys in the next two rounds. Chances don't look great that she gets through all that clutter.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Kristina Mladenovic ...the Pastry reached the 3rd Round in Paris last year (def. Li) and is playing in the Strasbourg final this weekend. She gets Genie Bouchard in the 1st Round, which gives her the chance for another big slam victory. But then you remember that Bouchard, for all her troubles of late, has yet to crash out of a slam in the early stages.
THE POOR SOUL: Francesca Schiavone ...Schiavone's lost eight straight slam matches, including seven consecutive 1st Rounders. Still, she's a two-time RG finalist (winning in '10). She opens with Wang Qiang, so maybe that slam streak losing streak will end (but it's not a given). She could face '09 RG champ Kuznetsova in the 2nd Round.
1. Simona Halep, ROU(3) ...despite her mediocre 5-3 clay tune-up record, Halep is the solid favorite to take this quarter. The '14 finalist is the class of the bunch here, but that doesn't mean there aren't players who can beat her if her nerves once again creep up behind her and steal her heart (and legs). Young players and a Radwanska lurk, but are any of them up to taking out The Pride of Romania? Probably not.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: #31 Caroline Garcia ...the Pastry is still seeking her slam breakthrough, and this Roland Garros may finally provide her with her best opportunity. If she can get to a 3rd Round match-up with AnaIvo, she'll be super confident. If she gets her fourth 2015 win over the former RG champ, she'd suddenly become THE French story of the tournament.
THE WILD CARD: #19 Elina Svitolina ...the Ukrianian is THIS close to making a big mark on a big stage. It might not happen in Paris, but it COULD. If she gets a win over Aga Radwanska in the 3rd Round, she'd probably face Simona Halep in the Round of 16. Moment... meet Elina. It may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
FIRST BIG SEED OUT?: #7 Ana Ivanovic ...the 2008 champion (and '07 RU) hasn't reached the QF in Paris since her title-winning run. If Yaroslava Shvedova doesn't get her in the 1st Round, Caroline Garcia (3-0 vs. AnaIvo in '15) will in Round 3.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #14 Aga Radwanska ...2015 is turning out to be a disaster for Radwanska. I mean, look at her seed -- she's all the way down to #14, and it doesn't look like she'll even live up to that "less than lofty" standing. She'll probably make her way past Annika Beck, but Mona Barthel in the 2nd Round would be tougher (and fellow Pole Paula Kania would present a different sort of pressure in that round). If she gets past that, things get REALLY hairy. In the form of Elina Svitolina, then Simona Halep. A-Rad might be fighting to hold onto her Top 20 ranking come the U.S. Open.
THE POOR SOUL: (WC) Louisa Chirico ...the Bannerette may have gotten the USTA's wild card into the MD over Katerina Stewart, but her slam debut won't likely last very long. She gets #9 Ekaterina Makarova in 1st Round.
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS(2) ...right on schedule, Sharapova rose to the occasion to win Rome and enters Paris on a roll and likely feeling prepared to put on another two week-long show. She's the defending RG champion, has reached three straight finals, and has advanced to at least the Final Four for four years running. Getting the #2 seed and getting as far away in the draw from Serena as possible is a fine trick, too. If only Halep had been drawn into the top half with Williams, Maria would be sitting even prettier. Of course, she'll likely still have to win at least a few three-setters to pull off a third title in four years, but Sharapova has done all that she could over the past few weeks to give herself a good chance to win another title in Paris. Now it's just about going out and doing it.
2. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP(8) ...a more aggressive CSN is an entirely different player, and one that might finally be able to put together the sort of deep slam run that she's seemed capable of in the past. Her runner-up result in Rome (along with another RU in Miami earlier this year) proves that she can string together wins in big events, but doing it on the slam stage is something else. If she can hold her seed, though, she'll get the chance to play for her first career slam semifinal. That's all she could ask for, really.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: #26 Samantha Stosur or Daria Gavrilova ...ever since rejoining forces with coach David Taylor, Stosur's results have sparked. She's in the Strasbourg final and could face Sharapova in the 3rd Round in Paris. Gavrilova has shown an ability to knock off multiple high-level players in a single event, and might have to get through BOTH #20 Sabine Lisicki and #13 Lucie Safarova to have a shot at the Sharapova/Stosur winner in the Round of 16. But if she gets that far, it'd be no sure thing that she'd go home the loser after the match.
THE WILD CARDS: #21 Garbine Muguruza & Camila Giorgi ...both of these players could ride a wave to a stunning second week run, but both put up the sort of inconsistent results that scare you away from picking anything great. Muguruza upset Serena in Paris last year, but she hasn't won multiple matches in a tournament since February. Giorgi is as fiery as anyone, but can disintegrate under pressure, too. They could face each other in the 2nd Round, so one might get a shot at Kerber in the 3rd.
FIRST BIG SEED OUT?: #11 Angelique Kerber ...it's hard to figure out Kerber. She looked good early in '15, then not good at all. Then she looked great at the start of the clay season, then not anything close to that. In Nurnberg, she reached the semifinals and retired. Just what will we see in Paris? She's had QF-4r-4r results the last three years, and is a legit threat here to everyone in this quarter, including Sharapova. But I find it hard to muster up any confidence in her.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #28 Flavia Pennetta ...it'd be nice to pick Flavia to have a nice time in Paris but, well, she never has. Despite the "Italian on clay" thing, she's only reached the 4th Round twice (that last time coming in '10).
THE POOR SOUL: (WC) Virginie Razzano ...did the Pastry's semifinal run (ended by retirement) in Strasbourg drive her chances for anything (anything at all) in Paris into a ditch? Remember, as a wild card in 2012, Razzano upset Serena Williams in the 1st Round. She'll get qualifier Veronica Cepede Royg this time, but probably Carla Suarez-Navarro in Round 2 if she survives that one.
**ROLAND GARROS #1 SEEDS**
2008 Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.)
2009 Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Serena Williams (QF)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki (3rd Rd.)
2012 Victoria Azarenka (4th Rd.)
2013 Serena Williams (W)
2014 Serena Williams (2nd Rd.)
2015 Serena Williams
**RECENT WOMEN'S SLAM WINNERS**
2011 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 US: Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2012 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2012 US: Serena Williams, USA
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
*RG FINALS - active*
3...Maria Sharapova (2-1)
2...Serena Williams (2-0)
2...Ana Ivanovic (1-1)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Francesca Schiavone (1-1)
1...Sara Errani (0-1)
1...Simona Halep (0-1)
1...Samantha Stosur (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
*RECENT RG SEMIFINALISTS*
2006: Henin-Hardenne (W) - Kuznetsova (RU) - Clijsters/Vaidisova
2007: Henin (W) - Ivanovic (RU) - Jankovic/Sharapova
2008: Ivanovic (W) - Safina (RU) - Jankovic/Kuznetsova
2009: Kuznetsova (W) - Safina (RU) - Stosur/Cibulkova
2010: Schiavone (W) - Stosur (RU) - Dementieva/Jankovic
2011: Li (W) - Schiavone (RU) - Bartoli/Sharapova
2012: Sharapova (W) - Errani (RU) - Kvitova/Stosur
2013: S.Williams (W) - Sharapova (RU) - Azarenka/Errani
2014: Sharapova (W) - Halep (RU) - Bouchard/Petkovic
**LOW-SEEDED RG SEMIFINALISTS - since 2005**
#30...Samantha Stosur, 2009
#28...Andrea Petkovic, 2014
#21...Mary Pierce, 2005 (W)
#20...Dominika Cibulkova, 2009
#18...Genie Bouchard, 2014
#17...Francesca Schiavone, 2010 (W)
#16...Elena Likhovtseva, 2005
#16...Nicole Vaidisova, 2006
#13...Dinara Safina, 2008
#11...Marion Bartoli, 2011
#10...Justine Henin, 2005 (W)
*ROLAND GARROS GIRLS FINALS - since 2006*
2006 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA def. Mariana Duque-Marino/COL
2008 Simona Halep/ROU def. Elena Bogdan/ROU
2009 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA def. Daria Gavrilova/RUS
2010 Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Ons Jabeur/TUN
2011 Ons Jabeur/TUN def. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Annika Beck/GER def. Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
2013 Belinda Bencic/SUI def. Antonia Lottner/GER
2014 Darya Kasatkina/RUS def. Ivana Jorovic/SRB
**BEST RG GIRLS/WOMEN'S RESULTS**
[won Girls & Women's titles]
Sue Barker (1974 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's Champion)
Jennifer Capriati (1989 Jr. Champion; 2001 Women's Champion)
Justine Henin (1997 Jr. Champion; 2003, '05-'07 Women's Champion)
Mima Jausovec (1973 Jr. Champion; 1977 Women's Champion)
Hana Mandlikova (1978 Jr. Champion; 1981 Women's Champion)
Renata Tomanova (1972 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's RU)
Martina Hingis (1993-94 Jr. Champion; 1997/99 Women's RU)
Natasha Zvereva (1998 Jr. Champion; 1988 Women's RU)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2001 Jr. RU; 2009 Women's Champion)
Simona Halep (2008 Jr. Champion; 2014 Women's RU)
**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT ROLAND GARROS**
1971 Evonne Goolagong, AUS
1974 Chris Evert, USA
1976 Sue Barker, GBR
1977 Mima Jausovec, SLO
1978 Virginia Ruzici, ROU
1987 Steffi Graf, GER
1989 Arantxa Sanchez, ESP
1990 Monica Seles, YUG
1997 Iva Majoli, CRO
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Li Na, CHN
NOTE: Ann Haydon-Jones won first career slam at '61 Roland Garros, before Open era began in '68
*ACTIVE SINGLES PLAYERS - FIRST SLAM FINAL*
1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Agnieszka Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
*RUSSIAN RG SEMIFINALISTS, since 2003*
2003 Nadia Petrova
2004 Elena Dementieva (RU), Anastasia Myskina (W)
2005 Elena Likhovtseva, Nadia Petrova
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU)
2007 Maria Sharapova
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina (RU)
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova (W), Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Elena Dementieva
2011 Maria Sharapova
2012 Maria Sharapova (W)
2013 Maria Sharapova (RU)
2014 Maria Sharapova (W)
*BACK-TO-BACK AO/RG TITLES - Open era*
1969 Margaret Court
1970 Margaret Court
1973 Margaret Court
1988 Steffi Graf
1991 Monica Seles
1992 Monica Seles
2001 Jennifer Capriati
*THREE+ CONSECUTIVE SLAM TITLES - Open era*
1969-71 Margaret Court
1983-84 Martina Navratilova
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1993-94 Steffi Graf
2002-03 Serena Williams
1972 Billie Jean King
1981-82 Martina Navratilova
1982-83 Chris Evert
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1995 Steffi Graf
1996 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis
*MOST RECENT THREE-TITLE STRETCHES*
AO: Serena Williams won three in four years from 2007-10
RG: Justine Henin won three straight from 2005-07
WI: Serena Willliams won three in four years from 2009-12
US: Serena Williams has won three straight from 2012-14
*SLAM TITLES AFTER AGE 30*
6...Serena Williams (2 at 30, 2 at 31, 1 at 32, 1 at 33)
3...Martina Navratilova (2 at 30, 1 at 33)
3...Margaret Court (2 at 30, 1 at 31)
2...Billie Jean King (30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert (30 & 31)
1...Virginia Wade (31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30)
*TOP 4 SEEDS TO SLAM SF - OPEN ERA*
AO (4): 1969,1970,1974,1993
RG (1): 1992
WI (10): 1973,1976,1978,1979,1988,1992,1995,2003,2006,2009
US (1): 1975
=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #15 V.Williams
#17 Errani d. #5 Wozniacki
#4 Kvitova d. Townsend
#18 Kuznetsova d. Mladenovic (this section could produce an even bigger surprise than either of these two)
#31 Garcia d. #9 Makarova
#3 Halep d. #19 Svitolina
#8 Suarez-Navarro d. Giorgi
#2 Sharapova d. Gavrilova
#1 S.Williams d. #17 Errani
#4 Kvitova d. #18 Kuznetsova
#3 Halep d. #31 Garcia
#2 Sharapova d. #8 Suarez-Navarro
...yeah, the Top 4 seeds have only advanced to the semis in Paris once (1992) in the Open era, but who'd be best to leave out? Serena might have the toughest draw, but she's Serena. Kvitova is the most susceptible to an early upset, but Petra might have the best draw. Halep getting upset is tempting, but it'd probably be a first-timer taking her place in the semis (and are Garcia, Svitolina, etc. ready for that?). And Sharapova is playing the best of them all coming into Paris. So I'll just play the odds, stick with all four, and figure maybe three will actually make it that far.
#4 Kvitova d. #1 S.Williams
#2 Sharapova d. #3 Halep
...largely because I know which player I'm picking to win the title, and if I don't pick Petra to knock out Serena I'm essentially picking against myself because if Williams is in the final she's not going to lose it.
#2 Sharapova d. #4 Kvitova
...you win Roland Garros, you get views like this, I guess.
Check out Galileo West's women's picks on ATP Backspin.
As far as the men are concerned, as usual, history is at play with them, as well.
Rafa Nadal, already the only man to win nine singles titles at any slam (the next most in the Open era are Roger Federer's seven Wimbledon crowns), will be looking to win a tenth Roland Garros championship. The notion that the Spaniard, currently working on a five-year run as RG champ, is the favorite in Paris until he actually LOSES there will surely be put to the test over the next two weeks. Due to his injury absences last season, Nadal is ranked outside the Top 5 for the first time in a decade, and even his 66-1 mark on the terre battue doesn't erase the fact that Rafa's form on the EuroClay circuit has been shaky, at best. He comes into Paris without a tune-up clay title under his belt for the first time, having lost five matches on the surface. But, then again, all those matches were of the best-of-three sets variety, not the best-of-five that will be necessary for someone to master against Nadal at Roland Garros. That might be the key to another Rafa title run, but for the first time since his initial RG win in 2005 Nadal doesn't LOOK like the odds-on favorite to win... and his lower seeding means he may have to play Djokovic in the QF, Murray (who's already beaten him this clay season) in the SF and Federer in the final. That's a tough road to travel.
But Nadal's not the only one chasing a bit of history.
Federer is still looking to become the first man to win multiple titles at all four majors in the Open era (and only the third ever, with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver). His sole RG title came in 2009 when Nadal suffered his only career loss in Paris (to Robin Soderling). Might a late-stage absence of Nadal prove to work to his advantage again? And what about Andy Murray? The Scot had never even reached a clay final before winning back-to-back titles on the surface a few weeks ago, including a dominant performance in the Madrid decider over Nadal. A win in Paris would put him three-quarters of the way to a Career Slam, with only an Australian Open title (he's reached four finals in Melbourne) absent from his resume. A win in Paris would raise Murray's career standing considerably, and put him one title away from tennis immortality.
But the Serbian elephant in the room in Novak Djokovic.
The world #1 arrives in Paris riding a 22-match winning streak. He's 35-2 on the season, with a 6-1 mark against Nadal, Federer and Murray in 2015. After dropping a three-setter to Ivo Karlovic in January, Djokovic has won eleven consecutive matches that went down to a deciding set (including one AO five-setter). Novak's quest for a Career Slam needs only a RG title to be complete, and Nadal has been the man standing in Djokovic's way in recent attempts, losing to the Spaniard three straight years in Paris, including in a pair of five-setters in 2013-14. Thing is, with the Serbian Prince's current form, a win in Paris might simply be a stepping stone to something even greater. No player has a better chance than Djokovic does this season to win the first true Grand Slam on the men's side since 1969 (Rod Laver). He's already the AO champ, and will attempt to defend his Wimbledon title next month. He's reached the U.S. Open final four of the last five years, winning once.
If Djokovic can rise to the top in Paris, the chances are that he'll head to New York later this summer with some REAL history on his racket.
He just has to get past Rafa at Roland Garros first. That's all.
Talk about something to get that "numbers guy" excited.
=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 Djokovic d. #20 Gasquet
#6 Nadal d. Coric
#3 Murray d. Seppi
#7 Ferrer d. #23 Mayer
#19 Bautista d. #5 Nishikori
#4 Berdych d. #22 Kohlschreiber
#26 Garcia-Lopez d. #12 Simon
#2 Federer d. #21 Cuevas
#1 Djokovic d. #6 Nadal
#3 Murray d. #7 Ferrer
#19 Bautista d. #4 Berdych
#2 Federer d. #26 Garcia-Lopez
#1 Djokovic d. #3 Murray
#2 Federer d. #19 Bautista
#1 Djokovic d. #2 Federer
...well, if Djokovic can do it, taking out Nadal, Murray and Federer in order to complete a Career Grand Slam would surely add an intriguing argument to his case for putting his career numbers up against the other members of the "Big 4," wouldn't it?
Check out Galileo West's take on the men's draw at ATP Backspin.
All for now. Day 1 -- and the Daily Backspin -- awaits.