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Sports

Who are the favourites for Roland-Garros 2013?

media Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova RFI/Pierre René-Worms

Who will replace Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova as the champions of the toughest and most prestigious clay court tournament of them all? A look at the form at Roland Garros 2013.

In the men’s event two names are offered: Senor Nadal, already the proud owner of a record seven Roland Garros titles and Novak Djokovic, who’s looking for his first championship on the hallowed clay of Paris.

Roland Garros 2013

The 26-year-old from Belgrade has certainly put himself in pole position.

Gone are the days when Nole or Djoker was the clown prince of the circuit with his insouciance and penchant for ribbing his peers.

Still one for fun, Nole is now the undisputed king of the ATP world. Few observers of the modern game see past him or Nadal.

How things change. It only seems like yesterday when the chant was Nadal or Federer.

The Swiss former world number one and 2009 Roland Garros champion is being considered an also-ran.

But the second seed could snatch it almost by default. Nadal, the third seed, has been drawn to meet Djokovic in the semi-final.

If they were to have a titanic battle, a relatively depleted victor might be more vulnerable in the final to a Federer scenting blood.

But those scenarios are at the end of two weeks of baseline crunching.

Djokovic lost in last year’s showdown to Nadal. But the Serb beat the Spaniard earlier in May in Monaco where Nadal had won eight consecutive titles.

Djokovic rather went to pieces after terminating that hegemony by losing in the early rounds on the clay at the Madrid Masters and at the Italian Open.

Nadal pointedly won both those titles and in the Rome final obliterated Federer in straight sets in just over an hour.

That Nadal is amassing more clay court titles - he has 40-odd so far - is all the more remarkable as he only returned to competition back in February after a seven-month lay-off to nurse his injured knees.

During his absence, he says he feared he would never bestride a tennis court again.

But since his comeback there have been eight finals and six more baubles to add to his trophy cabinet. This is his first grand slam since he lost in the second round to the unseeded Czech Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in 2012.

“Nadal’s the clear favourite at Roland Garros for sure,” says Tom Perrotta, a tennis writer at the Wall Street Journal. “Djokovic is the main candidate to challenge him. He has beaten him on clay. He gave him a good run in last year’s final especially when the court was heavy and the conditions were wet. And, if it’s like that if they play each other this year, then that could be an important factor.”

An eighth title in nine years is Nadal’s incentive. That would give him 12 grand slams and place him joint third with the Australian Roy Emerson on the all time list. Federer, of course, leads the way on 17.

Victory for Djokovic would allow him access to the elite club of men who have won all four grand slam crowns. Federer, thwarted for years by Nadal, completed his sweep in 2009. Nadal obtained his entry to the group the following year by winning the US Open. Djokovic would have joined the seven in the pantheon had he got past Nadal in Paris last year.

He would also have trumped Nadal and Federer by holding all four grand slam titles at the same time having won at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2011 and taking the 2012 Australian Open.

The Nole Slam didn’t happen. The Serena Slam did though. After claiming Roland Garros in 2002. The younger Williams sister went on to take Wimbledon, the US Open and the 2003 Australian Open.

Williams, now an elder stateswoman on the WTA tour, has collected 15 grand slams, but that win 11 years ago is the only one on the red clay of Paris.

The 31-year-old comes into this year’s championship as the world number one. She’s also on a roll. Her triumph in Rome was her 24th straight success. She also boasts a 16-0 record on clay this season with three tournament wins at Charleston, Madrid and Rome.

But she wasn’t doing too badly when she breezed into Roland Garros last year. Then she was was undone by the Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano, who was well outside the top 100.

“Serena was the favourite last year when she came into Roland Garros but she lost in the first round of a grand slam for the first time in her career,” said Perrotta. “It would be interesting to see if she could win it at her age,” he added.

“She could definitely come up against a challenge in the early rounds depending on the type of player she faces.”

Maria Sharapova, who once described her movement on clay as being like a cow on ice, would offer up consecutive Roland Garros crowns as proof that she has conquered her initial reticence towards the surface.

The 26-year-old Russian has the power game and on court aura to blast her way to a fifth grand slam title.

Roland Garros 2012

Li Na, who became the first Chinese player to win a grand slam tournament when she took Roland Garros in 2011, cannot be discounted. Neither can Victoria Azarenka, another big hitter, who briefly held top rank in the women’s game during 2012.

Australia has been a happy hunting ground for the girl from Minsk, Belarus. A Roland Garros crown could give her the confidence to establish herself as the main woman on the tour and perhaps usher in the end of Queen Serena.

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