Jim Williams: John McEnroe breaks down challenges of French Open, looks at who can beat Rafael Nadal on clay

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Sports,Jim Williams

As a player, John McEnroe was not a fan of the French Open. He has few fond memories of the dark red clay on the courts of Roland Garros. As brilliant a career as McEnroe had, he was never able to win a French Open title. He spoke with me by phone from Paris, where he is preparing for his job as a television analyst for the Tennis Channel. We talked about the 2013 French Open and the red clay at Roland Garros.

What makes playing on clay so challenging for some of the world's best players?

McEnroe » "I think the most difficult aspect is the footing, the inability to make that quick first step that you're able to do on a surface where you can stop and start on a dime. You can't do that on clay; players must master the slide, and for some, that is not easy. Especially for an aggressive player like myself, it became difficult to defend well-struck passing shots. The red clay for me altered my style of play so drastically it took me out of what I did best: serve and rush the net. I should say in fairness, I got beat by some pretty good guys."

I know that you like Rafael Nadal as the favorite. But who could upset him?

McEnroe » "Right now, Rafa seems to be playing his best tennis of the whole year, which is sort of frightening for the other players. Unless something happens that's unforeseen, it would be pretty hard pressed to make an argument for anyone other than [Novak] Djokovic to beat him. Maybe someone like David Ferrer could win, but the conditions would have to be extremely heavy so his ball wouldn't have the type of jump it normally does."

What about Roger Federer?

McEnroe » "Roger is working harder than ever, I'm sure, physically to maintain the type of fitness level he needs to be able to go the distance at least against guys that he's better than. It's difficult for him at his age to go past a Djokovic and Nadal to win something on a clay court. I think his best bet, as I've said for years, is Wimbledon. I would be amazed if he would be able to beat both those guys at the French."

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

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