French Open Favorites Capture Rome

69-minutes. That’s all the time Rafael Nadal needed to defeat Roger Federer (6-1, 6-3) in the Rome Final on Sunday. Since his return, after 7-months of knee-rehab, Nadal has won 36 of 38-matches. In other words, he’s won every single tournament he’s played since February, with the exception of Vina del Mar (his first event back) and Monte Carlo, yet impressively he was a finalist in both.

Rafa has only lost to Horacio Zeballos and Novak Djokovic this year, but he’s won six out of eight tournaments including Brazil, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid, and now Rome. With three Masters-1000 wins already this year, he’s vaulted past David Ferrer and become the #4 player on tour in just 3-months. It’s no surprise he’s a favorite going into Roland Garros, where he’ll defend his title again in the hunt for his 8th French Open crown.

Plus, with Nadal now the #4-seed in Paris, Novak, Roger and Andy can rest easy knowing they won’t have to face Rafa until the semifinals. However, Andy Murray retired early in Rome with back issuses, and most are convinced he’ll skip Roland Garros to better prepare for Wimbledon.

Novak Djokovic has had a rough two weeks, after capturing his first title in Monte Carlo over Rafael Nadal. He was bounced early in Madrid, and then last week in Rome he was up a set and 5-2 on Tomas Berdych, but then mentally collapsed to lose the quarterfinal 6-2, 5-7, 4-6. “I know I can play well on clay but I shouldn’t allow myself to have these moments during a match. You must congratulate your opponent and be moving on.” Novak is still confident as he prepares for Roland Garros: “The French might be my best chance yet, I hope so. I don’t want to make any predictions.”

Bob and Mike Bryan are also six time champions in 2013 so far. They defeated Bhupathi and Bopana in just 52-minutes for another trophy, this after winning Madrid the week prior. They’ve also won Indian Wells, Memphis, Sydney and the Australian Open this year.

Serena Williams continues to crush all-comers on clay, winning her fourth consecutive title in Rome, determined to win her second French Open title. It took her 93-minutes to take out Victoria Azarenka (6-1, 6-3). In fact, she hasn’t lost a single match since the Doha Final in February. Serena is cautiously optimistic about her chances in Paris: “Last year I was feeling excellent on clay but didn’t do that great at Roland Garros; this year I’m cautious and I want to work hard and stay focused and win every point I play, and not slack at all.”

Maria Sharapova retired before her Rome quarterfinal with Sara Errani due to a lingering virus, while surprisingly, in doubles – the #1 team and Rome favorites Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were defeated in the final 6-4, 3-6, 8-10 by Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.

Ultimately, the highlight from Rome most are talking about: Viktor Troicki’s meltdown during his second round loss to Ernests Gulbis (who is usually the hot head). Cedric Mourier was in the chair and called a ball long. Troicki climbed over the net to check the mark, argued, threatened to retire, then dragged the cameraman over to document the mark. It’s pretty funny – click on the image to see the video.

THIS WEEK: The guys are in Dusseldorf and Nice, while the ladies play in Brussels and Strasbourg. We are one week away from ball-up at Roland Garros!