Friday, 31 October 2008

And Then There Were Five...

I very rarely root for more than two or three players in a tournament, but for once I'm backing all of the remaining field in Paris.

Federer and Nadal have withdrawn from their respective quarter final matches due to injuries, and in doing so have opened up the draw in a pleasantly surprising way.

Whenever the top seeds aren't around it usually means we're in for something of an anti climax (think Hamburg 2005), with the victor usually being crowned by default: on the basis of being marginally better than everyone else.

But I've backed all of the remaining players in Paris at one time or another, mostly because of their undeniable talent and underachievement. Out of the remaining five, only Tsonga is not a top tenner, although he's already proven he's capable of beating the very best.

  • Davydenko - He's had a troublesome year with the betting investigation but still managed to win big in Miami; OK Federer and Djokovic weren't in the mix, but he comprehensively outplayed everyone else, including deserved wins over Roddick and Nadal. He's not everybody's cup of tea and not the most inspiring or flamboyant of players, but there can be no doubting his superb consistency (top tenner since June 2005), fitness (at times it seems he almost prefers to win in five sets rather than three) and aggressive style of play. I really hope there's no long term damage incurred by the ATP proceedings and that he returns to form in 2009. A title here wouldn't hurt that cause.
  • Nalbandian - Profiled previously.
  • Tsonga - Profiled here.
  • Blake - He can sometimes appear very one dimensional in his style of play, and despite his great run in 2006, I had him pegged as someone who wouldn't last long in the top ten. He appeared to me to have peaked with a fairly limited set of tools and would cave in mentally more often than not. He's proved me wrong, mostly because of his supreme athleticism and explosive style of play. He often hits outrageous winners, and possesses groundstrokes flatter than anyone in the top ten. I'm sometimes surprised why such an explosive player has such a tame serve, but put simply he's too good not to have won a Masters shield at least once, and he doesn't have much time left.
  • Roddick - Over the last two years Roddick has added considerable depth to his game, particularly to that backhand and net play. With the emergence of Djokovic last year, I thought it was all over for him at the highest levels of the sport. But he then beat Nadal and Djokovic en route to a title in Dubai this year. He's still not at the level of the top four and probably never will be, but like Blake deserves more wins at this level.
I'd still have preferred the victor to have had to face one or two of the top three, but if nothing else, the confidence gained by winning here may turn him into someone more capable of contending effectively with the top four - and that can only be a good thing.

Blake image by chascow
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