Djokovic has beaten Federer and Nadal in the space of a week.

Although Nadal doesn’t tower atop the draw, the Paris Masters will offer ample intrigue over the next week as the year-end championships beckon.  The concluding Masters 1000 event of 2010 not only will determine the final entries in London but will provide a last window of insight onto the status of Rafa’s primary challengers for the most important title still absent from his collection.  We break down the Paris draw, one section at a time.

First quarter:  For the second consecutive year, Federer faces a local favorite in his opener.  Unlikely to permit an encore, however, the Swiss legend has reached the final in his last five non-majors and will enter Bercy eager to end a disappointing season on a positive note.  His second match might feature the talented but enigmatic Almagro, who held multiple match points here against Nadal last year but has faded in the last few months after a promising spring surge.  Edging towards a berth in the year-end championships, Ferrer eyes a third-round clash with lefty veteran Melzer, who conquered the world #1 at the most recent Masters 1000 tournament.  Since both the Spaniard and the Austrian have captured indoor titles this fall, they should collaborate on an engaging performance that juxtaposes the former’s tenacious consistency with the latter’s mercurial aggression.  Yet Federer won’t fear either of them in his potential quarterfinal, having compiled a perfect record and Ferrer and having comprehensively defeated Melzer at both of the last two majors.  He should arrive in the semifinals without undue anxiety, his winning streak comfortably intact.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Second quarter:  The champion at two of the last three Masters 1000 events, Murray slumped to a listless loss in Valencia last week just as he did in Beijing a week before winning Shanghai.  Always dangerous in the fall, 2007 champion and 2008 finalist Nalbandian could pose a stern opening test, although the Argentine succumbed rather meekly to Roddick in Basel.  After a sensational start to 2010, Cilic has curiously evaporated since March despite suffering no apparent injury or illness.  Drawn to face doubles partner Lopez in the second round, Verdasco must awaken swiftly in order to preserve his waning hopes for London.  A two-time finalist since the US Open, Monfils seeks to recapture the ephemeral magic that lifted him to the championship match (and nearly the title) here a year ago.  The flamboyant Frenchman should delight his compatriots with a miniature upset over Verdasco, but his passive tactics and defensive court positioning will render him vulnerable to Murray.  Leisurely loping behind the baseline, Monfils too often relies upon his outstanding defensive skills rather than his equally outstanding offensive potential.  By turning the match into a comfortable contest of consistency, this athletic underachiever probably will play directly into the Scot’s hands.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Transmission reference: XAW107

Third quarter:  Retiring from Shanghai with a leg injury, Roddick rebounded impressively in Basel with a comfortable victory over Nalbandian before colliding with Federer once again.  The American should start against resurgent left-hander Nieminen, while US Open semifinalist Youzhny could await in the third round.  Although he hasn’t encountered the Russian in over four years, Roddick should suffocate the fluid, versatile Russian with a power-centered style much better suited to a fast hard court.   In the lower half of this section, Soderling faces a compelling collision with Valencia semifinalist Simon, who displayed his fierce competitive spirit in a tense three-set victory over Davydenko last week.  Still emotionally volatile despite recent improvements, the Swede might falter in the hostile atmosphere of a Paris crowd.  The winner of that match should routinely dismiss Indian Wells champion Ljubicic in the third round before testing Roddick in the quarterfinals.  Nearly a semifinalist in Paris two years ago, the American should reach that round on this occasion.

Semifinalist:  Roddick

Fourth quarter:  Enduring an extended arid spell since reaching the Wimbledon final, Berdych might find himself in a third-round encounter with Davydenko, who has struggled almost as dramatically over the last few months.  Between the Czech and the Russian, however, lie a few notable dark horses such as Montanes and Kohlschreiber, so a surprise quarterfinalist might confront Djokovic on Friday.  In order to reach that stage, the Serb might need to overcome both heads of the American hydra known as Querrey and Isner.  But the gritty, underrated Monaco might ambush Querrey in the opening round, for the Argentine charged to the quarterfinals in Shanghai and defeated Murray last week in Valencia.  First reprising a recent clash with Llodra, Isner probably could duel with Djokovic for a set before fading.  Bringing much more momentum into the week than anyone else in his section, the Serb should glide smoothly into the weekend.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic


We return to Paris for previews of the semifinals and finals, but first we will revisit the events of Basel, Valencia, San Diego, and Bali.  The next edition of TW(2) looms…


Transmission reference: BAS101