Cape Town - It will be incredibly tough to stop Novak Djokovic from claiming his maiden French Open title at Roland Garros this year, ATP World Tour commentator Robbie Koenig believes.
The Serbian world No 1 is in the form of his life, having recently claimed his fifth title of the year when he defeated Roger Federer in the Rome Masters final last Sunday.
Since he won the Australian Open in February, Djokovic has won four Masters Series events (Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome), with his only loss coming to Federer in the Dubai Tennis Championships final.
But it’s the French Open, the only Grand Slam to have eluded him thus far in his career, which is high on the priority list of the world's top-ranked player.
Spain’s Rafael Nadal has won nine of the last 10 French Opens, but the Spaniard will head into the year’s second Grand Slam event short of confidence, having slipped to No 7 in the world after a string of clay court losses.
Nadal, 28, was beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters, following his defeat by Andy Murray in the Madrid Masters final the week before.
Nadal also lost to Djokovic in Monte Carlo, as well as to Italy's Fabio Fognini in Barcelona, and has looked nowhere near the player who has lost only one match at Roland Garros in 10 years.
Djokovic was beaten by Nadal in last year’s French Open final, and has bowed six times to Nadal at Roland Garros since their first meeting there in 2006.
Koenig spoke exclusively to Sport24 on Tuesday ahead of the French Open which starts in Paris on Sunday.
Koenig acknowledged that Nadal’s record in Paris makes him dangerous, but given the recent form of both players, he considers Djokovic the clear favourite.
“Pretty much everybody in the tennis community thinks Novak is the guy to beat, without a doubt. He’s playing in a different league to anybody else.
“In saying that, of course, Nadal feels so comfortable on centre court and his record there is 66-1, which is insane obviously. The feel good factor is high. So I think that negates for me, 60/40, in favour of Djokovic being the favourite. I don’t see it as a 50/50 situation.”
With Nadal currently ranked at No 7 in the world, his lower ranking could see him meet Djokovic as early as the quarter-finals, something which would favour the Serbian, according to Koenig.
“Personally, I think that’s better for Novak. I think the pressure of playing him in a final would definitely help Nadal a little more, no question about that because there will be that sense of occasion where it’s all on the line.
“If he meets Rafa in the quarters, there’s not as much pressure on that match. It’s obviously still a massive match but not the same amount of pressure as a final, for me.
“And should those guys meet in the final, then I think it gets reduced to about a 55-45 (ratio, in favour of Djokovic). I would still favour Djokovic, because I think the pressures of winning it the first time would kind of narrow that difference.”
With confidence not a problem, Koenig feels it would be hard to stop Djokovic this time round.
“I think he’s mentally the best state he’s ever been. His record this year is incredible. He suggested he’s playing better now that what he was in 2011. I just see no gaps in his game. I think the fact that he’s been close at the French Open, he’s more experienced... he’s won in Australia this year, didn’t play his very best tennis but still managed to win.”
Apart from Djokovic and Nadal, Koenig sees Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Britain’s Andy Murray as third and fourth favourites.
“I like the way Nishikori’s been playing. He’s the one guy, when he’s on, with his style of tennis, who can hurt the big boys. And beating Djokovic at the US Open last year after playing two five setters, I think he’s got the belief, no question about it."
On Murray, who recently won titles (Munich and Madrid) for the first time on clay, Koenig said: “You’ve got to consider the way that he beat Nadal in the finals of Madrid. He duffed him up as well, so obviously his confidence is going to be sky-high now. I think his injury worries are behind him. I think he’s in a good place. He’s just got married, he’s feeling good about life.”
Outside the above-mentioned players, Koenig mentioned 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, 2013 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka, Spain’s David Ferrer, Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych and big-serving American John Isner as next in line.
“For me, Federer is behind those guys (Nishikori and Murray). Berdych and David Ferrer are the two (other) guys that you’ve got to be careful of.
“For me the big spoiler at the French Open could be John Isner. He’s got a game that no-one likes. The serve is a joke on any surface, doesn’t matter whether it’s clay, grass or hard, he’s a nightmare to play against.”
Robbie Koenig is a former South African professional tennis player and current commentator on the ATP World Tour.
Follow @RobKoenigTennis on Twitter.