*INTERVIEW BY FREAKYFRITES WITH PATRICK MCENROE + MARY CARILLO
Mary Carillo and Patrick McEnroe, who will be anchoring ESPN’s French Open commentary team at Roland Garros next week, took time to chat with reporters (and me) about the upcoming action on the terre battue. Here’s some of what they had to say about Nadal, Federer and the rest of the field:
Nadal will be “raring to go”
McEnroe says Rafael Nadal is the obvious and overwhelming favorite, despite a grueling hard court season and his recent loss to Federer in Madrid.
“He’s more devastating on clay than he’s ever been” McEnroe said of the four time champion. “And this is what separates Nadal from the other clay court players – as he’s gotten better on the other surfaces he’s gotten better on clay. He’s more aggressive, he hits his backhand better, his serve is better. . .He’ll be raring to go in Paris. It will take the most Herculean effort for someone to beat him.”
“If Federer couldn’t win in Madrid, he might as well not even show up in Paris.”
Though McEnroe was doubtful about Federer’s chances in the Paris final, he said Roger’s victory over Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final could help him in the long run.
“It helps Roger a heck of a lot more than it hurts Rafa,” McEnroe said of the outcome. “Before Madrid, I was wondering if Roger could keep that record of (19) consecutive semi-finals going. . .I don’t think (the loss) will effect Rafa at all, but it bodes well for Roger at the French and even more so at Wimbledon.”
“If Federer couldn’t win that final in Madrid, he might as well not even show up in Paris, in terms of his chances at Roland Garros.” McEnroe said, adding that “everything was lined up for him” in terms of the conditions and the draw.
“Nadal has changed the paradigm”
Mary Carillo thinks Nadal is the man to beat, not only at Roland Garros but on any surface: “As much as you can hand every artistic and aesthetic accolade to Federer, Rafa Nadal has changed the way the game is played. . .not just on clay but anywhere. If you want to be the greatest tennis player you can be, you watch Nadal. I think he’s changed the sport in terms of how demanding and punishing the game is. Nadal has changed the paradigm.”
What about Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray?
More than Federer, McEnroe likes Djokovic’s chances against the paradigm-changing Spaniard: “I put Djokovic slightly ahead as the favorite over Roger and I think the draw will be crucial. Roger would much rather see Andy Murray on his side of the draw and I think Rafa will feel the same way.”
I asked if Andy Murray, as the new World No. 3, was completely out of the Roland Garros conversation, especially if he landed on Federer’s side of the draw.
“What he lacks is being physically offensive.” said McEnroe of Murray. “On the other surfaces he’s able to nick you here, dink you there and he gets help from the surface. But on clay he needs to go after the ball with his whole body. I don’t expect him to live up to his seeding. . .I don’t like his chances against Federer on clay.”
Do the American men stand a chance?
The Davis Cup Captain has lowered expectations for the American men at Roland Garros: “I’ve said it the last couple of years and I’ll say it again: a good result for the American men will be to have one of them around at the end of week one.”
The plot thickens on Friday, when the Roland Garros draw will be released. Who do you think is the biggest threat to Rafa’s reign?