Simon Reed

Nadal still favourite, but there for the taking at Roland Garros

Simon Reed

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Djokovic, Nadal and Murray

We saw some scintillating clay court tennis at the Rome Masters - and for once, it didn't all come from Rafael Nadal.

As good as the final in Rome was, for me the standout match of the last week was Andy Murray's semi-final against Rafa.

It was uplifting to see Murray play as he did, particularly given that his form all season has been - by his standards - mediocre, even if there are very good reasons why that's been the case.

I didn't have Murray as a contender for Roland Garros, but what happened on Friday kicked that right into touch. It was, quite simply, the best I've ever seen Murray play on clay.

Murray was exceptional; when he was a break up in the third set he was playing the most aggressive tennis I've ever seen on him from clay. Of course you were still just waiting for Nadal to raise his game, and he did; but still Murray stayed with him.

How did he lose it? Did he take his foot off the accelerator just fractionally? Was it a case of Murray only being as aggressive as he was allowed to be, and Nadal managed to stem the tide?

Either way it was a huge match, fantastic to watch and I'm sure Murray gained a lot of confidence from it.

It was also the best that Nadal has played on clay this season, so I was very surprised to see what happened in the final on Sunday - for Djokovic to outplay Nadal so comprehensively after what Nadal had done to Murray was amazing.

In some ways, nothing's changed: in that I still see Nadal as the favourite for Roland Garros, but it's surprising for me to see how Novak Djokovic turned the match around.

Throughout the opening set it really looked like Nadal was only going to get better and better, but in the end it was Djokovic who just handled him, bullied him even, for the last 50 per cent of the match.

The big question is this: can Djokovic do that over five sets? He's got closer and closer to Nadal at Roland Garros in recent years, but he hasn't beaten him. Does what happen on Sunday mean that he's just tipped the balance to make himself the favourite?

For me, the answer is not quite. I think Rafa has improved tournament by tournament, and that combined with his unparalleled history there means he's still the favourite. Not a nailed-on favourite as he has been in previous years, but he's still the man to beat.

That takes nothing away from what was a terrific performance by Djokovic. I've never seen him play so well on clay either. The incredible attributes of his game have often seen him through massive encounters on clay - but to dominate Nadal as he did? Bossing the best player there's ever been on clay? That was really pretty good.

My overall feeling, above all, is that it's great for Roland Garros. If Rafa had won, we'd all have thought, well that's it in the bag: maybe he's had a few problems this clay court season, but now he's sorted, and he so seldom loses at Roland Garros that the tournament is a foregone conclusion.

But now it's anything but - particularly given that Murray showed clay form that we've never seen before, while Stan Wawrinka will be a contender as well.

I always got the impression that Wawrinka is a player who wasn't comfortable in the limelight. Like it or not, that's where he ended up after winning in Melbourne, and it meant that he had a big question to answer. Would the boost in confidence make him better still? Or would the added pressure of going to tournaments as a Grand Slam champion undermine his game?

So far, all the signs point to the former - you feel that now, when he gets into tight matches, he's much less likely to come out second best. There's no doubting that he will be a major factor.

All in all, Roland Garros is as open as it's been for years - it should be a cracking couple of weeks.

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