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Rupert Wyman 21st May 2010 - 13:44

Rafa to rule at Roland Garros once again

Rafael Nadal is arguably the greatest ever clay-court player with four French Open titles to his name at the tender age of just 23.

Last year though "The King of Clay" crashed out at Roland Garros in the third round to Robin Soderling, who went all the way to his first Grand Slam final before falling to Roger Federer.

That defeat ended Nadal's 31-match unbeaten run at the French Open. Following the tournament last year his season was ruined by injury.

Even at the start of this season on the hard courts he was still not at his best but in recent weeks things have changed for Nadal.

It is no coincidence that Nadal's upturn in form was at the same time as the clay-court season began.

The world number two has simply been unstoppable on the red stuff this season, compiling a 15-0 record in three tournaments.

Those three tournaments were all Masters events - Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid. He won all three and in doing so became the first player ever to win all three clay-court Masters titles.

This season he has not only just been winning on clay, but quite frankly blowing his opponents away as he has only dropped two sets in his 15 matches.

Therefore it should come as no surprise whatsoever in the outright betting for this year's second Grand Slam that Nadal is the hot favourite at 4/11.

The big doubt over him, as always, has to be his fitness. The way Nadal plays is not beneficial to his long-term health but if his knees hold up the two weeks then Rafa should easily claim his fifth Roland Garros success.

Of course the main challenger should be Federer (7/2). The world number one though was defeated in straight sets in the Madrid final by Nadal and while it was relatively close (6-4, 7-6) in his career Feds has been no match for Nadal on clay.

Federer though is the defending champion so will want to put up a spirited defence of his title.

World number three Novak Djokovic is next in the betting at 20/1. The Serb though has an uninspiring 5-3 record on clay this season and has also reached just one final this calendar year, way back in February in Dubai.

Andy Murray (20/1) is obviously Britain's big hope to win a Grand Slam but his game is not suited to the demands of clay-court tennis and besides since losing the Australian Open final to Federer he has been in poor form.

At last week's Madrid Masters there were signs that the Scot was recovering from his slump in form as he reached the quarter-finals, but it would still take a brave man to back him to win at Roland Garros, especially given the fact he has been drawn against home favourite Richard Gasquet in the first round.

Murray's last two defeats have been at the hands of arguably the second most in form player on clay this season David Ferrer. The Spaniard is 16-4 after reaching the final in Rome and the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Barcelona.

Ferrer started the season at 18 in the world rankings but he has climbed up to 11 following his impressive form and at 33/1 could be a good outside bet.

However, rather surprisingly in his career he has never got past the quarter-finals at the French Open.

His compatriot Fernando Verdasco (33/1) should be another outside contender at a relatively big price. Much like Ferrer, Verdasco has been in good form on the red stuff but does not have a great record at Roland Garros, with three fourth-round appearances his best result.

Of the two I would prefer to be on Ferrer as Verdasco isn't in as good form as he lost in the third round in Madrid to world number 26 Jurgen Melzer.

The other Spanish players that will be hoping to figure late in to the second week in Paris are Nicolas Almagro (40/1) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (66/1).

Of the two Almagro looks the far better bet, despite the fact he is in Nadal's quarter of the draw, as he has been in better form recently, including a run to the semi-finals in Madrid, which has seen him propel himself up to 22nd in the rankings. At the beginning of March he was 40th.

Another player who has been shooting up the rankings recently is Ernests Gulbis (33/1). The Latvian is now at a career high of 27 as he finally looks to fulfil his potential.

In February, at Delray Beach he won his maiden career title and during the clay-court season he has reached two quarter-finals and one semi-final.

If he keeps his composure then he could be in for a big tournament but with Gulbis it has always been a question of "ifs".

But just maybe Gulbis has turned the corner in his career and could be the outside bet of the tournament, especially as he is not in Nadal's half of the draw. However, realistically there should be no one beating Nadal this year.



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