Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela.
(photo credit: ISRAEL TENNIS ASSOCIATION)
For the first time in nearly a decade Rafael Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, will walk into Roland Garros this weekend facing legitimate claims to his French open crown.
When he arrived in Paris a decade ago looking as though he had just bounded straight off a Mallorcan beach it heralded the start of an unprecedented era of dominance.
A record nine titles followed as left-hander Nadal buried many an ego under Parisian brick dust.
Approaching his 29th birthday though and with major questions about his form and confidence, talk of “end of eras” is not just the usual pre-tournament hyperbole.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has been supreme throughout this year and is the clear favorite to claim the only grand slam title to elude him.
And there are others circling too.
Briton Andy Murray, who learned his craft on Spanish claycourts but had never won a title on the surface before back-to-back successes in Munich and Madrid this year, has thrust himself into contention.
Seventeen-times grand slam champion Roger Federer, for whom Nadal has been a recurring claycourt nightmare, will think a second French o pen title is achievable, while Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Thomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer and even home favorite Gael Monfils will have roles to play in what promises to be the most open men’s title chase for years.
Defending champion Nadal will be seeded seventh, meaning a possible quarterfinal clash with Djokovic, Murray or Federer, so if he is to notch up a 15th grand slam title it would arguably be his greatest achievement to date.
Djokovic, who beat Nadal easily in Monte Carlo this year and has won every Masters 1000 event he has entered, as well as the Australian Open, is oozing confidence.
His dominance is reminiscent of 2011 when he won three quarters of a calendar-year grand slam, only missing out at the French Open when an inspired Federer beat him in the semifinal.
Dealing with suddenly being the favorite will be key for Djokovic who has twice fallen to Nadal in the final and in an epic semifinal in 2013.
Meanwhile, Dudi Sela will be Israel’s lone representative in the men’s main draw and will discover on Friday who he will face in the first round.
Shahar Pe’er (119) can ensure Israel will also have a player in the women’s draw when she faces Lourdes Domínguez Lino (113) of Spain in the third and final round of the qualifiers on Friday. Pe’er beat Patricia Maria Tig (176) of Romania 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the second round on Thursday.Allon Sinai contributed to this report