The second major tennis tournament of the year is upon us. If the ATP tour since the Australian Open is any measure, it looks like Rafael Nadal is the odds-on favourite heading to Roland Garros. Nadal been playing strong. He’s won several titles since January and he’s won the French Open four times in the last five years. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nadal hoisting the Coupe des Mousquetaires in two weeks, I’m still not convinced of the health of his knees, particularly at the Majors where he needs to win 7 best three-of-five set matches to become champion.

If you aren’t a tennis fan, here’s what you need to know. Only the four majors require the men to win three sets to advance to the next round. In all the other tournaments, it’s only best two-out-of-three. In addition, the major tournaments run for two weeks rather than the usual one. So, while Nadal’s been playing extremely well, the major tournaments are an entirely different animal compared to regular ATP tour events.

As we saw in last year’s US Open and this year’s Australian Open, Nadal cruised quite easily through the first week of the tournament. It was only during the second week when the quality of his opponents rose exponentially that his lingering knee issues resurfaced. He was defeated soundly and thoroughly by del Potro in New York last September and was forced to withdraw against Murray in Melbourne in January. In both cases, his knees were the culprit. So, while he has looked pretty great against top-flight opponents since Australia, I still have strong doubts about his knees when he has to win three sets in a tournament that’s twice as long as he’s used to winning. It’s also a different scenario now that the top-flight opponents will seek to exploit his knee problems if they get the chance.

The other big question in this year’s French Open surrounds the now undisputed all-time major championship winner and greatest player in the post-Rod Laver era to play, Roger Federer. With 16 major titles to his name, Federer is still amazing and must be considered the only other major contender at this year’s French Open.

In many ways, he’s the opposite of Nadal in the sense that Federer has shown that he is quite beatable at the one-week best two-of-three set tournaments on the ATP tour. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that he hasn’t won a tournament since taking home his fourth Australian Open trophy. So, while he’s shown his age and vulnerability at the other tournaments, it’s entirely another challenge to take three sets off of him before he does the same to you. In the major tournaments, he has the weight of history behind him. He has the record now and he’s playing because he still loves the game. It must be a major mind-bender to have to stare across the net towards Federer at a major and think, “how am I going to beat this guy.”

Federer’s comments before the Australian Open final against Andy Murray sum up my point. Federer said something to the effect of Andy is a great player and he’s beaten me a couple of times, but never at a major and he’s got the pressure of trying to win his first while I’ve shattered all the history books, etc. He was a gentleman as always, but the message was and is clear. If you want to win a major championship, you have to get past me.

So who else is there to contend against Nadal or Federer?

In my opinion, nobody. There may be someone who catches fire at this year’s French, but I can’t imagine any other players beating either Federer or Nadal. Novak Djokovic, like Nadal, has really raised questions about his fitness against strong opponents at the majors over the past few years. If Djokovic can’t finish off an opponent in like 2 1/2 hours, look for him to start cramping, vomiting, running to the bathroom or some such. He’s undoubtedly a great player, but he just hasn’t shown me any reason to expect he’ll take home the championship unless he can win in under 3 hours. Also, the last few times he’s met Federer at a major, he’s been run off the court.

So, my prediction? I have to go with my man, Roger Federer, to take home his second French Open in as many years if he meets anyone other than Nadal in the final. It all depends on how Nadal plays and how his knees hold up. Federer has the benefit of being on the opposite side of the draw from Nadal. Maybe someone will take out Nadal, as Robin Soderling did last year, which will give Federer a clearer path to the championship. However, if it’s a Federer-Nadal final, despite my own desires to see Federer win, I would have to take Nadal. The clay surface is the least punishing on his knees; so, unless his knees are already in bad shape, he would have to be favoured in a final against Federer.

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