The French Open, the final and most prestigious tournament of the clay-court season, gets under way this Sunday.
While Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, has dominated the season and world number one Novak Djokovic has reached two Masters 1000 finals, Britain’s Andy Murray has had a less than impressive clay season.
After his best clay season in 2011, where he showed great improvement on the surface to reach semi-final stage of both the Monte Carlo and Rome Masters and also reach the last four of the French Open for the first time, a lot was expected of Murray as he entered this year this year’s clay tournaments.
A niggling back injury, however, has prevented Murray from recapturing the form he showed on the dirt last year.
The 25 year-old lost to world number seven Tomas Berdych at the quarter final stage of the Monte Carlo Masters and then to Canadian Milos Raonic at the same stage of the Barcelona Open a week later. The back problem, which Murray admitted has been bothering him since December 2011, then forced him to pull out of the experimental blue clay of the Madrid Masters.
With just one week to rest, Murray was back in action in the Rome Masters, where the injury proved to be his downfall once again as he suffered a surprise third round exit against Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
The Scot, however, does have one thing on his side as he enters the second grand slam of the year – the experience of coach Ivan Lendl. Lendl, who won three times at Roland Garros, helped Murray adopt a more aggressive approach in the first slam of the season in Australia and if the same attitude is evident in Paris, his poor form on the clay so far may not affect his results.
While Murray is struggling to find his form, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have dominated on the clay this year. World number one Novak Djokovic is looking to be the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four consecutive grand slam titles, his main rival for the title, The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, however, is in supreme form – capturing two of the three clay Master 1000 events, with both victories coming against Djokovic in straight sets.
As usual in the clay season, Roger Federer has slipped under the radar, heading into Roland Garros with a solid campaign under his belt. The Swiss legend has played just two tournaments on the clay so far– winning in Madrid and reaching the semi-finals in Rome, where he lost to Djokovic in two tight sets.
The top four in men’s tennis each have a unique goal at the French Open. Novak Djokovic has the chance to be the first man to hold all four grand slam titles in the open era. A win for Nadal would take his tally of French Open titles to seven – one more than the great Bjorn Borg. Roger Federer could become the first man since Rod Laver to win each grand slam at least twice.
And Andy Murray, as with every slam he competes in, is tasked with becoming the first Brit to win a major since Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1936.
The draw for the French Open is released on Friday, May 25th.
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