Luck of the Draw: Roland Garros 2012

‘Halle named a street after Federer; Roland Garros just inaugurated a highway after Nadal.’

This cogent line was uttered by Italian journalist Enrico Maria Riva upon surveying the French Open men’s singles draw, which was earlier harvested at a special ceremony in Paris. If I could say it better myself I would, but I doubt I can. In addition to its elegance, it boasts the merit of telling you what you need to know. It tells you that the top half of the draw – Novak Djokovic’s half – is a goat track strewn with boulders, and laced with land mines.

Djokovic again shares the half with Roger Federer, who in turn cohabits a quarter with Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro, though Federer won’t have to play both, since they’re cruelly drawn to meet each other in the fourth round. This seems rather early, and, given that it may well turn out to be the match of the tournament, probably is too early. They belted out a tight, high-quality semifinal in Madrid two weeks ago, which Berdych won, only to discover Federer in the final. His reward in Paris will be the same, so if he plans on reaching the semifinals he’ll have to actually beat the Swiss. Then he’ll face Djokovic, then Nadal. This is a complicated way of saying that Berdych or del Potro have as tough a draw as they come. Federer has drawn David Nalbandian in the second round, which isn’t necessarily easy, but if he can’t beat the Argentine by this stage he has no business thinking he can win Roland Garros. The draw says Federer will meet Andy Roddick in the third round, although Roddick’s results in Düsseldorf this week deny this.

Djokovic’s draw would be tricky if it were on any surface but clay. But it is on clay. Lleyton Hewitt in the second round should provide the reigning world No.1 with a decent opportunity to rehash that venerable speech about what a tough fighter the Australian is, and how one must never count out a former No.1, a speech first delivered by Churchill in the House of Commons during the Blitz. It’s a trusty old warhorse, and never fails to inspire a rousing cheer. Jurgen Melzer is nearly drowning in qualifiers, like Hugh Heffner with Playboy bunnies, which probably won’t adequately prepare him for Djokovic’s expert ministrations in the third round, assuming the Austrian gets that far, which I don’t. He may well drown for real, figuratively.

Brian Baker’s draw, on the other hand, seems quite manageable. He’ll face Xavier Malisse first up, thus providing the Belgian with yet another way to feel humiliated at a major event. Malisse won’t have lost to anyone like Baker before. Presumably it’s these new experiences that keep him going. If Baker wins – and he hasn’t lost for a while – he’ll face the winner of Gilles Simon and Ryan Harrison, which will likely be Simon. That second round will be very winnable, though I’m not sure for whom.

Speaking of reasons to keep going, and inspiring stories: Tommy Haas has successfully qualified for the main draw, thereby rubbing everyone’s faces in just how much he still enjoys this sport. Not that I’m complaining. I want him to keep going for ever. The qualifiers haven’t yet been inserted into the draw, but there’s a good chance Haas will end up among Melzer’s sea of playmates. Then again, he could face Gasquet, who has drawn a qualifier first up. If so, a duel of attractive one-handed backhands will ensue. One hopes Grigor Dimitrov will be in attendance, schedule permitting. It’s high time he abandoned this Baby Federer caper, and recalibrated his goals more realistically. Baby Gasquet, or Baby Tommy? Dimitrov, incidentally, plays Donald Young first up. He should win. He owes it to himself.

Rafael Nadal opens against Simone Bolleli, and then the winner of Denis Istomin and Igor Kunitsyn. It really would save time if he played both guys – or even all three – simultaneously. Some may argue that that’s unfair. Perhaps Nadal could spot them a set to even it up. He may well face Ivo Karlovic in the third round. It has already been suggested that his early troubles against John Isner last year prefigure a tough encounter with the giant Croat, since once players exceed a certain height, they’re apparently interchangeable. He’ll probably discover either Milos Raonic or Juan Monaco in the fourth round. His quarterfinal opponent, according to the seedings, is Janko Tipsarevic. The scenario whereby Nadal might actually lose prior to the semifinals is consequently difficult to envisage, although it might involve a meteoroid hurtling earthwards, with Bruce Willis otherwise indisposed.

Who Nadal will face in the semifinals is a matter of special urgency for British fans. Last year Andy Murray hobbled and lurched to the last four through an astonishingly generous draw. His draw is not so kind this year, though this might conceivably change once play is under way, and the upsets inevitably begin to mount. Murray is apparently carrying a back injury, which won’t help. Boris Becker advised Murray to skip the event. Murray’s extensive media training presumably stopped him from telling Becker to bugger off. He’s drawn to face the otherwise indefatigable David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, just the guy you want to see when feeling tender. Depending on how that pans out, Becker might yet be added to Murray’s retinue in an advisory capacity. Imagine he and Lendl sharing a player’s box. Sadly, history offers no good reason to think Ferrer will get that far. Normally so prosaic and methodical in his approach, he has in the past displayed uncharacteristic flair in finding creative ways to lose before the later rounds, a talent almost worthy of Malisse. Paris brings out his best in achieving his worst. Let’s hope for something different this year.

The full draw can be found here.

Edit: The qualifiers have now been placed, and Tommy Haas has been drawn to face Filippo Volandri first up. I honestly can’t think of anything funny to say about this, so I’m leaving the original as is. Reality be damned. Also, Brian Baker is through to the Nice final. This is only marginally relevant to the French Open draw, but I just wanted to write it somewhere. An amazing story is only growing more so.

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