French Open preview

Roland Garros Day 9: Links Roundup with Wawrinka, Li, Youzhny, Djokovic and more

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Fans who couldn’t make it out to Roland Garros still got their taste of tennis in front of the Hôtel de Ville in the center of Paris, where participants could try out the red clay or catch the action on the big screen.

Mikhail Youzhny loses it: Many tennis fans were likely experiencing a bout of déjà vu when Russian Mikhail Youzhny absolutely obliterated his racket after falling down a set and 3-0 to Tommy Haas in their fourth round match. This was not the first time the fiery Russian has exhibited such anger on the court, as Nick Zaccardi of Sports Illustrated points out. In 2008, in a match against Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, Youzhny banged his racket against his head several times and in the process drew blood. Both videos can be seen in Zaccardi’s article.

Week one French Open takeaways: The first half of the French Open has come and gone but not without an abundance of drama and questions. Jonathan Overend of the BBC discusses some of the biggest storylines surrounding Roland Garros including Rafa’s form, the restoration of single-handed backhands, Laura Robson’s struggles and more.

Li Na’s press conference raises questions: Sports Illustrated reports that after her second round exit to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Li Na has been heavily criticized for comments she made to the Chinese media. Asked if she had an explanation for her loss Li replied, “Do I need to explain?” She carried on saying, “It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them.” Chinese Journalists Zhang Rongfeng believes this response is indicative of Li Na’s lack of professionalism.

Dominic Inglot grateful for professional career: Dominic Inglot, as Simon Briggs of The Telegraph points out, was the final player hailing from the United Kingdom to be playing in the 2013 French Open. Inglot, along with college teammate and current doubles partner, Treat Huey, crashed out to Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut in the third round of the doubles competition. In his conversation with Briggs, Inglot talks about how he made it into professional tennis and how lucky he is to be able to make a living on tour.

“I get to play tennis for a living—that is the ultimate dream. When I was a little kid I remember cutting the cake on my birthday and blowing the candles out and saying every single time, ‘I want to be a professional tennis player.’”

Road to Roland Garros- Bethanie Mattek-Sands: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, Bethanie Mattek-Sands reveals her inspiration in tennis, talks about her perpetual lateness, and how her diet is her biggest sacrifice.

Novak Djokovic playing for Jelena Gencic: Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open after a four set win over German Philipp Kohlschreiber. Djokovic, as Reem Abulleil of Sport360 reports, is hoping to claim his first Roland Garros title in memory of his childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away Saturday.

“She’s one of the most incredible people I ever knew. So it’s quite emotional. I feel even more responsible now to go all the way in this tournament. Now I feel in her honor that I need to go all the way,”

27 pictures of Rafael Nadal on his 27th birthday: In his first three matches, Rafael Nadal looked like a shadow of himself and was consequentially tested by Daniel Brands, Martin Klizan, and Fabio Fognini, three players Nadal probably expected to dispose of quicker than he did. In his fourth round match with Kei Nishikori, Nadal quickly erased the memories of his lackluster play in the opening three rounds.  Nadal’s 27th birthday was today and he definitely made sure he had enough time to celebrate crushing Nishikori 6-4 6-1 6-3. DNA India takes a look back at Nadal’s career in 27 pictures.

Victoria Azarenka prepares for Maria Kirilenko: 2013 Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is set to square off against longtime doubles partner, Maria Kirilenko, after beating Francesca Schiavone in a match that she said was her “most composed and most consistent match thus far.” As Chris Wright of Yahoo Sports points out, “Azarenka is 3-2 against Kirilenko but has not lost to the Russian since 2007.” Azrenka said in regards to Kirilenko “She’s definitely improved a lot over the last couple years since she’s a very motivated player (and a) good friend of mine.”

Stanislas Wawrinka topples Richard Gasquet: Coming back from two sets to love down, Stanislas Wawrinka defeated French hopeful Richard Gasquet in a five set match that featured some of the most jaw-dropping infusions of pace, exquisite shot making, and masterful racket work of the entire tournament. The ATP called the match a “vintage display of shotmaking with 149 winners struck during the match.” Wawrinka’s play was so exemplary that the Swiss went as far as to say, “I played the best level I ever played at.” One of the comments on the ATP article even offered a new nickname for Stan—“WOWrinka.”

WTA Roland Garros Visions: Picks, Predictions, Dark Horses, Winners

(May 25, 2013) With Roland Garros officially kicking off on Sunday, the team at Tennis Grandstand has once again come together to provide you a one-stop comprehensive preview of the women’s draw of the season’s second Slam. We’ve covered dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets and matches to watch for, and potential semifinalists and eventual champion for the women’s tour.

In the table, you will find the entire Tennis Grandstand team’s “Quick Picks and Predictions” for the WTA draw, with further detailed analysis below by Melissa Boyd, Victoria Chiesa, David Kane, Chris Skelton, and Maud Watson.

Dark Horse

Melissa Boyd: (14) Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic has played well this clay court season and appears to be most comfortable on the red dirt. Roland Garros is her best chance to win another Slam and the draw was kind to the Serbian. She avoids the Top 3 until the semifinals and finds herself in the same section as the struggling Agnieszka Radwanska and last year’s finalist, Sara Errani.

Victoria Chiesa(20) Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard knows what it takes to be successful in Paris, as she reached the quarterfinals in her debut in 2008 as a qualifier. Since then, however, she has not advanced further than the third round. After reaching the final in Oeiras, she also reached the quarterfinals in Rome before losing to Serena Williams. She opens against another potential dark horse in Simona Halep. Should she find a way past the Romanian, the 20th seed is in by far the most open quarter of the draw to make a run at the second week; a potential third round against Nadia Petrova (11) is in the cards, but the Spaniard already scored a clay-court win against the Russian in Rome.

David KaneSimona HalepHave you ever seen a player and thought, “why do I know you?” You don’t remember them winning a title or causing a noteworthy upset. Yet when Simona Halep clubbed her way into the semifinals of Rome, few among the tennis cognoscenti were completely left scratching their heads. The young Romanian won the French Open girl’s title at 16, but despite being a mainstay of the top 100 for the last few years, had yet to make a big breakthrough on the senior tour. That all changed at the Foro Italico when, as a qualifier, she upset a host of current and former top 4 players including Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic before running out of gas against an inspired Serena Williams. Halep only has one third round appearance on her Grand Slam CV, but should she get past fellow darkhorse Carla Suarz Navarro in the first round, her draw may open up with struggling Nadia Petrova anchoring her section.

Chris Skelton: (14) Ana Ivanovic. The champion here five years ago, she showed glimpses of vintage form by reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and the semifinals in Madrid. Ivanovic extended world No. 2 Sharapova to three tough sets at the former event and demolished top-eight opponent Angelique Kerber at the latter. Ana remains susceptible to the unforeseen clunker, and always will be, but her first-week draw is filled with players whom she normally handles with ease. None of the top three can meet her until the semifinals.

Maud Watson: Can I just say Serb?  I like both (14) Ana Ivanovic and (18) Jelena Jankovic as dark horse candidates.  Both have produced some good tennis in 2013, and this season Jankovic in particular has enjoyed her most success on the dirt.  Still, I’d give the edge to Ivanovic.  She has it easiest in her opening rounds and has actually won a major.

Seeded Player Crashing Out Early

Boyd(4) Agnieszka Radwanska. It would have been easy to go with Caroline Wozniacki here. The Dane has not won a match on red clay in four tournaments this year and has to play the fast-rising Laura Robson in the first round. Radwanska’s clay court record in 2013 is almost as unflattering as her good friend. She has won just one match and has never made it past the fourth round at Roland Garros.

Chiesa(8) Angelique Kerber. For her first round match, Kerber was dealt one of the players on the fringe of a seeding in countrywoman Mona Barthel. Neither player comes into the match on a rich vein of form. Despite reaching the semifinals and quarterfinals in Stuttgart and Madrid, Kerber withdrew from Rome citing injury; Barthel also withdrew from the Italian Open, and did not win a match in Stuttgart or Madrid. Barthel is a tricky case, as her form can turn on a dime, and she holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against her countrywoman. Even if Kerber does pull through this match, she’ll do well to live up to her seeding and set up a quarterfinal date with Serena on her least-preferred surface.

Kane: (6) Li NaThe veteran Chinesewoman has been trending up in 2013, with a run to the Australian Open finals and recovered well from an ankle injury to reach the Stuttgart finals to start the clay court season. But when last we left Li Na, she put on a terrible show to lose to Jelena Jankovic in Rome. So often in tennis, it is rarely about to whom one loses as much as how one plays during that loss. An upset wasn’t improbable, given Li’s resurgent Serbian opponent. But the ridiculously high number of unforced errors (62 in two sets) looks more like foreshadowing than an aberration. Against a steady claycourter in Anabel Medina Garrigues (against whom Li is 0-3 in completed matches) in round one, the 2011 Champion will have to be on song from the get-go, lest she face another surprising Slam exit.

Skelton: (4) Agnieszka Radwanska. The obvious choice in this category is Caroline Wozniacki (see below), but that’s too easy when someone much more notable has struggled almost as much. A top-four seed at Roland Garros, Radwanska has won just one clay match this year while absorbing overwhelming losses to Laura Robson and Simona Halep. Clay is her worst surface, and she withdrew from her Brussels title defense last week with a shoulder injury. While Radwanska doesn’t have many giant-killers around her, Halep didn’t seem like a giant-killer until she slew her.

Watson: (10) Caroline WozniackiA couple of names come to mind here, with one of those names being Caroline Wozniacki.  It’s hard to imagine a time when the former No. 1’s confidence and form have been lower than they are right now.  Against an up-and-comer like Robson – who has already enjoyed more than a few big wins in her young career – she’s definitely ripe for the upset.

First Round Match to Watch For

BoydEugenie Bouchard vs. Tsvetana Pironkova. After reaching her first WTA semifinal in Strasbourg thanks to some impressive wins, the 19-year-old Canadian arrives in Paris on a roll. Her game on clay has vastly improved and she’s chalking up experience as she goes along. It will be interesting to see how she deals with the former Wimbledon semifinalist. A win for Bouchard and she will likely play her idol Maria Sharapova for the second time in two months in the second round.

Chiesa(22) Ekaterina Makarova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova. One of the women’s draw’s most dangerous floaters, one of Kuznetsova’s crowning career achievements came in Paris when she lifted the trophy in 2009. She just missed out on a seeding here and Makarova is coming off of a strong quarterfinal showing in Madrid that included a win over Azarenka, the Belarusian’s first true loss of the year. The two have never played on clay, but Kuznetsova holds a 2-1 head-to-head lead after a 6-4, 6-4 win in Miami this year.

Kane: (7) Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai. If you read my article from last week (or follow me on twitter), you’ll know of my penchant for reality television. What first round match looks more likely to be real than Kvitova/Rezai? Both have flashy games, with the ability to crush any ball seemingly at will. Both have the potential to fly horribly off the rails and rack up triple-digit unforced errors. Playing at home, the already-expressive Rezai will draw on the energy of an upset-hungry crowd. Kvitova has been struggling, and seems as far from her top tier, world beating form as ever. The odds of this being a “pretty” match are low, but this has “Trainwreck of the Year” potential written all over it. And damned if I won’t be there for every second.

Skelton: (18) Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova. This match might not produce the best tennis or most meaningful result on the menu, but the first round is about the journey rather than the destination. It’s a rare opportunity to see two former members of the top five and two major semifinalists meet in the first round. Their last five meetings all have come on clay, they have a relatively close head-to-head with multiple thrillers, and each has shown recent signs of life. Colliding for the first time in two years, Jankovic and Hantuchova will showcase a lovely contrast of styles between the down-the-line groundstrokes of the Serb and the cross-court angles of the Slovak.

Watson: (4) Agnieszka Radwanska vs Shahar Peer in the first round isn’t a popcorn match.  But the Pole has run a dismal clay court campaign that’s been compounded by shoulder issues.  How she looks in her opening match could be a good indicator as to just how likely she is to live up to her No. 4 seeding.

First Round Upset Special

BoydOlga Govortsova d. (13) Marion Bartoli. Bartoli has struggled this season amidst her coaching changes and has not had great preparation coming into Paris. Last week in Strasbourg, she won only five games in a first round loss to Camila Giorgi. Add to that the pressure of playing your home Slam and Bartoli is a prime candidate for a first round upset.

ChiesaLaura Robson d. (10) Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki comes into Roland Garros on a five match losing streak and is winless on red clay so far in 2013. While Robson too has struggled since the early part of the season, Wozniacki’s plight is different. The former World No. 1 seems lost on court and rarely looks to be enjoying her tennis. Barely hanging on to a spot in the top 10, I’d call it a bigger upset if Wozniacki manages to win this match.

KaneKimiko Date-Krumm d. (9) Sam StosurThis pick has little to do with Stosur; though coming off a calf injury that derailed most of her spring, the top Aussie did have a solid run to the quarterfinals of Rome where she pushed nemesis Victoria Azarenka to three sets. This has more to do with her draw, namely her first round opponent, the ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm. No stranger to the first round upset, Date-Krumm beat two-time finalist Dinara Safina in Paris three years ago, and began 2013 with a crushing win over Nadia Petrova in Australia. Her unorthodox groundstrokes are hit with a thudding efficiency, and take time away from her opponents. Even at her best, Stosur is a player who needs the extra couple of seconds that clay courts give her to wind up her topspin forehand. Coming in still lacking sufficient match practice, she could be in for a long day against Date-Krumm, who beat her in their only prior encounter in 2010.

Skelton: Laura Robson d. (10) Caroline Wozniacki. Since reaching the Indian Wells final, Wozniacki has fallen off a cliff. She has not won a match on red clay this year, losing five straight overall starting with Charleston. One of her losses came when she squandered a third-set lead against Bojana Jovanovski, who hasn’t beaten anyone else since the Australian Open. Anyone marginally dangerous will have a chance against Wozniacki right now, and Robson is more than marginally dangerous after she upset Radwanska in Madrid.

Watson: Anabel Medina Garrigues d. (6) Li NaLi Na is another likely prospect for crashing out early, as she takes on Medina Garrigues in her opening match.  Medina Garrigues is a crafty veteran who gave Serena all she could handle in Madrid (albeit with some blatant cheating).  She’s an especially tough customer on the clay, so unless Li can clean up her game, her stay in Paris won’t be a long one.

Semifinalists

Boyd: Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani and Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova. It’s hard to fathom Williams not navigating her draw rather easily and Errani is in arguably the softest quarter with Radwanska and Ivanovic. Look for last year’s finalist to make another deep run, especially if the weather makes the playing conditions heavy and difficult. The draw was less kind to Azarenka and the defending champion Sharapova, but I still like both of them to make it through to their much-anticipated match up. Azarenka will get a stiff test from Elena Vesnina in the first round and potentially Na Li in the quarters, but she has played well since returning from injury.

Chiesa: It’s hard to see anyone in Serena’s quarter of the draw giving her much trouble, even if Williams comes out struggling with the demons of her early round upset from a season ago. It’s tough to see her losing a set en route to the semifinals. The second quarter is incredibly open with Agnieszka Radwanska as the highest seed. Lurking at the bottom of this quarter is last year’s finalist Sara Errani, and it would be much less surprising to see the Italian at the late stages of the event this time around. Her best chance to beat Serena would be on clay, but even then, it still doesn’t seem likely. Semifinal: Serena Williams d. Sara Errani.

With Victoria Azarenka and Li Na the two seeds in the third quarter of the draw, a potential quarterfinal match between them could go either way. Although Azarenka has turned around the head-to-head between the two, Li’s greater comfort level on the surface can give her the edge here. I expect Sharapova to navigate the minefield that is her quarter of the draw, even if she experiences some bumps along the way. Semifinal: Li Na d. Maria Sharapova

Kane: Kuznetsova/Errani, Azarenka/Sharapova. “But where’s Serena?” Here me out. Given the form exhibited by the undisputed No. 1 in the world this season (no less on clay), there is no reason to think the American won’t bulldoze the field and collect her second French Open title, and her 16th overall.

However. This is at least the fifth time in ten years that Serena has gone into the French Open as the overwhelming favorite, yet has failed to make it past the quarterfinals since her lone victory in 2002. Beyond the loss to Razzano, Williams has seen a 33-Slam match winning streak snapped in 2003, another shocking loss to Katarina Srebotnik in 2008, and premature losses to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Stosur in 2009 and 2010 respectively. All on the terre battue.  Serena simply has a history of not getting it done in Paris, and though now looks like as good a time as ever to turn things around, I’ll believe it when she invariably proves me wrong in two weeks.

That said, 2009 Champion Kuznetsova has a history in Paris and likely prefers to be the underdog. The other three have had some of the best Slam results in the last 12 months, and while their draws look tough on paper, resistance may be surprisingly low (at least for a WTA tournament).

Skelton: Serena Williams, Sara Errani, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova. Remember the era of anarchy in the WTA when people who you never saw before suddenly became superstars for a week? Well, it’s over. Only one woman outside the top three of Serena, Azarenka, and Sharapova has reached a final across the six marquee events this year (majors, Premier Mandatory, Premier Five). Roland Garros usually does have one clay-court specialist for its flavor of the year, so Errani should repeat her results from Madrid and Rome in the draw’s weakest quarter.

Watson: In the top half, Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani. Serena’s tennis the last 12 months speaks for itself, and that includes the dominance she’s shown this year on the dirt with her titles in Charleston, Madrid and Rome. Her opponent is less certain, but Errani has been very consistent of late. The Italian also reached the final here last year and has been playing better than No. 4 seed A. Radwanska.

In the bottom half, I’ll stick to the seeds and go with Sharapova vs. Azarenka. Sharapova has looked sharp, and lately, it seems Serena is the only one with her number. Azarenka’s star has shined a little less brightly since her win in Melbourne, but she did just reach the finals in Rome and should be feeling confident.

And the Champion is …

Boyd(1) Serena Williams. I think one of the most compelling stories of this fortnight will be watching Williams attempt to conquer her French Open demons after her shocking first round exit in 2012. With the win streak she’s on and the level she’s playing at, the only person who can beat Serena, is Serena herself.

Chiesa(1) Serena Williams. The old saying goes that if you’re going to get them, it’s best to get them early. The World No. 1 is on a mission this year, and if she can navigate her way through the early rounds, it’s hard to see anyone being able to stop her at the business end of the event. While Li has shown she has the game to go toe-to-toe with anyone on tour, it remains to be seen what will happen if she actually gets herself into a winning position. Championship: Serena Williams d. Li Na in three sets.

Kane: (2) Maria Sharapova. Over the years, the French Open women’s event has become known for its predictable unpredictability, and its wackiness tend to happen in twos. Dinara Safina made two runs to the French finals before Errani’s compatriot Francesca Schiavone made two romps of her own (taking the title in 2010). Errani hasn’t had the drop-off in form many had predicted, and looks as capable as ever for another (slightly less) surprising run to a Slam final. Last year’s champion Sharapova must also feel a sense of déjà vu, coming into Paris with the same number of match wins as the year before. She wouldn’t have to play Serena until the final (or at all if you subscribe to my alternate universe), and has proven she can beat everyone else on clay. As the French say, pouquoi pas? Why not?

Skelton: (1) Serena Williams. She swept the two biggest events on outdoor red clay, moving better than she has on the surface since the last time that she won in Paris. She completely thrashed each of her two leading rivals in the Madrid and Rome finals. She will bring an extraordinary level of motivation to atone for last year’s disappointment, since when she has lost just three matches. Nobody is stopping Serena in Paris unless her body betrays her again.

Watson: (1) Serena WilliamsLogically, Serena is the best choice.  She’s playing the best tennis of anyone in the field, and she’s in one of the weakest quarters.  She’s likely also extra motivated after the humiliation she suffered here last year.

ATP Roland Garros Visions: Picks, Predictions, Dark Horses, Winners

(May 25, 2013) With tennis’ second Slam of the season about to get underway with main draw action, the dedicated panel of Tennis Grandstand writers have come together for a comprehensive preview of the men’s draw at Roland Garros. We’ve covered dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets and matches to watch for, and potential semifinalists and eventual champion for the men’s tour.

In the table, you will find the entire Tennis Grandstand team’s “Quick Picks and Predictions” for the ATP draw, with further detailed analysis below by Lisa-Marie Burrows, James Crabtree, Romi Cvitkovic, Yeshayahu Ginsburg and Andrea Lubinsky.

Dark Horse

Lisa-Marie Burrows(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga has the potential to sneak through to the quarterfinals relatively untroubled.  He may have Marin Cilic, Juan Mónaco and compatriot Jeremy Chardy in his section, but I feel that he can reach the quarters fairly easily. He could be a difficult quarterfinal opponent for Roger Federer to contend with.

James Crabtree: (12) Tommy Haas. The fairytale story has been waiting long enough, and Tommy Haas has the correct subplots to fulfill the fairytale. Not only that but his draw is favorable and rumor suggests he possesses magic beans, has a black cat, practices voodoo and is in fact Baron Samedi (James Bond reference for y’all).

Cvitkovic: Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian has a tough but very doable road to the semifinals. He could potentially take on Tomas Berdych in the second round, Tommy Robredo in the third and Nicolas Almagro in the fourth, before possibly outhitting David Ferrer in the quarterfinals if he has enough steam.  He may be a ticking time bomb on court, but Roland Garros has always been his best Slam result, having reached the quarterfinals in 2008. Now, more mature and experienced, he could make another solid run here.

Yeshayahu Ginsburg: (5) Tomas Berdych. Picking a dark horse in tennis is kind of an act of futility nowadays. When it comes to winning Grand Slams, it’s the “Big 4” and no one else. Take Andy Murray out of the equation due to injury (though he was weaker on clay anyway) and it’s Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or bust for the winner. But if I have to pick someone else, Berdych has been very strong recently, reaching the semifinals in both Madrid and Rome. He has a good chance at making a deep run—assuming he can get by Gael Monfils in the first round, that is.

Andrea Lubinsky(24) Benoit Paire. The good news? Paire is at a career high 26 in the rankings and scored wins over Juan Monaco, Julien Benneteau, and Juan Maritn del Potro en route to the semifinals in Rome, where he pushed Roger Federer in two close sets. The bad news? He’s in Nadal’s quarter. There are plenty of guys who have had a solid clay season, but what makes Paire a better Dark Horse is his inconsistency. His bad days are bad, but his great days are great…

Seeded Player Crashing Out Early

Burrows: (8) Janko Tipsarevic or (19) John Isner. For me it was a toss up between No.8 seed Tipsarevic losing to Verdasco in the second round and John Isner losing in the first.  I feel that an early exit may be on the cards for No.19 seed Isner as he faces Carlos Berlocq of Argentina in the opening round. He can prove to be a very tricky customer and enjoys playing on the clay.

Crabtree: It has to be (5) Tomas Berdych. If he doesn’t lose to Gael Monfils in the first round, a true son to his French faithful who is seemingly finding old form, he will have to battle Ernests Gulbis in the second round, another player destined for the top twenty.

Cvitkovic: (5) Tomas Berdych. If he can get past a newly in-form Gael Monfils in the first round, the Czech will likely encounter Ernests Gulbis, who took him out first round of Wimbledon last year and can easily out-play him again on the Latvian’s better surface.

Ginsburg: (8) Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsarevic is not facing any particularly good players on clay until at least the third round (Verdasco can be a challenge but has been horribly inconsistent for a few years now), but Tipsarevic has been playing just awful tennis this year. He probably gets by Nicolas Mahut, but I can’t see him winning more than two matches here unless he turns around fast.

Lubinsky(8) Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsarevic actually has a pretty cushy section of the draw, but for some reason I’m just not feeling it. That reason? He’s had an abysmal clay season, losing to the likes of Guido Pella, Daniel Brands, Guillermo Garcia Lopez, all ranked at least 50 places beneath him. If he beats Nicolas Mahut in the first round, the No. 8 seed could face Fernando Verdasco, who could pose a real challenge.

First Round Match to Watch For

Burrows(15) Gilles Simon vs Lleyton Hewitt.  The first thing that popped into my head when I saw their names drawn in the first round is ‘this is going to be a long match!’ Expect five long sets, each lasting around one hour each!  Both players are great defensive counter-punchers and it will be a battle of fitness on court to see who can edge out the other.

Crabtree: (1) Novak Djokovic vs David Goffin. It’s doubtful Novak will lose, but he should still be pushed by the rising Goffin who took a set off Federer last year. The other match is one that will get little press. Nevertheless watch out for qualifier James Duckworth and Blaz Kavcic. Their last encounter was a four hour and fifty two minute marathon in scolding heat at this years Aussie Open which Kavcic won 10-8 in the fifth.

Cvitkovic: (24) Benoit Paire vs Marcos Baghdatis. Both have eccentric personalities, so I would watch this match as much for the tennis as the hilarity or drama that could ensue. With Paire becoming a surprise semifinalist in Rome two weeks ago and Baghdatis the usual fan favorite, both are sure to bring crowds and opinionated people as well.

Ginsburg: (5) Tomas Berdych vs Gael Monfils. Can there be any better first-round match? Monfils was a top ten player before injuries stalled his career for a bit. He’s on the way back and isn’t fully at top form yet, but he always plays well in front of his home Paris crowd—at least in the early rounds. Both guys play hard-hitting power games and this should be some fun clay court tennis.

Lubinsky: (5) Tomas Berdych v. Gael Monfils. Gael Monfils is a wildcard. Yes, you read that correctly. After an extended injury break, the once world No. 7 has fallen to 109 in the rankings, but he’s working his way back up, winning a challenger in Bordeaux last week and reaching the finals in Nice. Will he win? Probably not. Berdych is in fine form, but generally any Monfils match provides plenty of entertainment. This is one not to be missed.

First Round Upset Special

Burrows: Gael Monfils d. (6) Tomas Berdych.  This match has entertainment written all over it.  This is a tough first round draw against the enigmatic Monfils, who would love to delight his home crowd with a victory over the fifth seed.  Should Monfils be feeling physically fit, this match has the potential to bring a closely fought contest, with the crowd firmly behind their man.

Crabtree: Lleyton Hewitt d. (15) Gilles Simon. Too much Aussie loyalty here. Hewitt will take down Gilles Simon in 5 brutally boring sets! Hewitt never has done much on clay, but he is a grand slam type player who hasn’t got too many of these chances left.

Cvitkovic: Dmitry Tursunov d. (22) Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dolgopolov has been struggling this year, barely winning over 50% of his matches and was defeated by both Robin Haase and Ivan Dodig on clay within the last month. What’s more, Tursunov took Dologopolov to two tiebreak sets in the second round of Munich where he eventually lost. It may be time to plot his revenge and garner more noise surrounding his comeback.

Ginsburg: Ricardas Berankis d. (30) Julien Benneteau. There are some good choices here, especially given Wawrinka’s injury. But I’ll take someone a little lower in the rankings. Ricardas Berankis is in a good position against Julien Benneteau, who is better on hard courts than clay. Berankis is a young player in his first French Open main draw and he has a real chance to make a splash by starting with an upset.

LubinskyPablo Andujar d. (29) Mikhail Youzhny. The No. 29 seed isn’t exactly a clay court specialist and while his clay court relsults this season haven’t been awful, they haven’t been great either. On the other hand, Andujar excels on the the red dirt. He reached the semi finals in Nice this week and even more impressively, the semi finals in Madrid earlier this month. Should he pull the upset, he has real potential to make the 4th round.

Semifinalists

Burrows: I have a feeling it will involve the two players that many expect to meet: Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal. Neither player has got a particularly easy route to the final, but it will make for a mouthwatering encounter. It could be the dream final – but a round earlier.

The bottom half of the draw may see David Ferrer take on Roger Federer for a place in the final. If Ferrer can battle past a possible quarter-final meeting with Berdych or Almagro,  I think it would provide an interesting semifinal between him and Federer.

Crabtree: I am probably very alone on this but I see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reunited with Roger Federer for another epic slam semi. Now I promise I am not on medication but Jo will take the winner of the Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas match.

Cvitkovic: Outside of the top three who I expect to make the semifinals, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, the fourth spot in Ferrer’s quarter is up for grabs. You could give the semifinal slot to Berdych, Almagro or Ferrer, but I’m going with Gulbis. He must be physical fit and be able to sustain all of his previous matches, then take it to Ferrer’s grinding game by hitting his signature wild winners.

Ginsburg: It would be foolish to pick Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal to lose early, but Djokovic has an absolutely brutal draw. If Tommy Haas ever had a chance for one last hurrah at a Major, this is it. I think he comes out of that quarter whether or not someone beats Djokovic before Haas would meet him. The other sections have some intrigue, with Federer/Tsonga and Berdych/Ferrer two very good potential quarterfinal matches, but I don’t know that there’s as much potential for an upset that massive in the other sections. Give me Haas, Nadal, Ferrer, and Federer as the four semifinalists.

Lubinsky: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer. One of these things is not like the others. When one of the Top 4 misses a Grand Slam, it creates a huge void in the draw, a void for someone to take advantage of. Theoretically this section belongs to David Ferrer, but it’s tough to determine his form since he’s been impeded by Nadal in both Madrid and Rome. Berdych on the other hand made the semi finals at both tournaments, putting him in a prime location to take advantage of Andy Murray’s withdrawal. However, he does have a very tough draw including the likes of Monfils, Gulbis, Robredo and Almagro so he will have to find his best form yet.

And the Champion is …

Burrows(3) Rafael Nadal. Despite a potential tough meeting against Djokovic in the semis, I feel that if Nadal can surpass the world No.1 he will have beaten his biggest nemesis out there. Roland Garros is his stomping ground and I have a feeling Nadal is not willing to give up his crown in Paris just yet.

Crabtree: (3) Rafael Nadal. Nadal will defeat Tsonga in 4 sets, bite his trophy and tell everyone that it was ‘more than a dream!’

Cvitkovic: (3) Rafael Nadal. Ever since coming back from his injury layoff in January, the Spaniard seems to be a man on a mission. Racking up six titles already this year, and holding a record 31-2 on clay in 2013, one would be hard-pressed to pick an alternative. He could face Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, but given the Serbs tough road and any lingering ankle issue, Nadal should be able to get past him to the final with the hunger we’ve learned to love in the Spaniard.

Ginsburg: (3) Rafael Nadal. It would be foolish to pick anyone other than Nadal to win it all, especially with Djokovic’s draw. The only person I see with a decent chance to beat Nadal before the semis is Kei Nishikori, and he just isn’t good enough on clay (though a potential third-round match with Lukas Rosol will generate a lot of hype, that’s for sure). The only player I can see beating Nadal on clay this year in a Slam is David Ferrer (he sure came close twice this year already on clay) and Ferrer just can’t get that far because it means going through Federer. And we all know how Federer/Nadal French Open finals end.

Lubinsky(3) Rafael Nadal. Nadal is 52-1 at Roland Garros. Let that sink in. In 8 years, he has lost just once. Yes, he was out for an extended period of time, but the rust is all gone. He’s already won 6 titles since his return earlier this year and he’s already leading the race to London, despite having missed this year’s only Grand Slam.