Let’s start with the good news...which is, of course, that the French Open final matchup is no longer a foregone conclusion because we know it won’t be Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal. The other half of the draw could be outrageously entertaining, with its spot in the title match almost completely up for grabs. Yes, Roger Federer is a considerable favorite and Ferrer is an obvious second choice, but in reality anything could happen. From start to finish, we should be in for a wild ride in the bottom half of the bracket.
The bad news, of course, is that the final is going to make Alabama vs. Notre Dame look like an instant classic. This tournament is two days away from starting and we already know that the two best players in the world—on any surface, and especially on clay—will not face each other for the championship.
That is buzzkill, to be sure, but it also makes a breakdown of the entire draw even more worthwhile. After all, all hell could break loose on one of the sides.
Djokovic could have a fared a lot better at the draw ceremony, but it also could have been much worse. His nearest Top 8 seed could have been Tomas Berdych, who stunned the Serb earlier this month in Rome. It could have been Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who had match points against Djokovic last year in the Roland Garros quarterfinals. Instead, it is one Janko Tipsarevic. If the world No. 1 somehow loses prior to the semis, it won’t be to Tipsarevic. The upset would come against either Grigor Dimitrov (extremely unlikely, as the Bulgarian has never showed signs of being able to go five sets) in the third round or to someone not named Tipsarevic in the quarters.
Interestingly, two of the three French Open participants who have defeated Djokovic this season are in the top section of the draw. One is Dimitrov (in Rome) and the other is Tommy Haas (in Miami). Assuming Haas has no lingering effects from a cold that caused him to withdraw from Dusseldorf, the 35-year-old German should be able to capitalize on the hand has been dealt in Paris. In fact, he may not have to face a single seed prior to the quarters. John Isner is slumping and has to play Carlos Berlocq in round one, Mikhail Youzhny faces a similarly tough opener against Pablo Andujar, and there really isn’t anything to say about Tipsarevic these days.
Best first-round matchup — (19) John Isner vs. Carlos Berlocq
An intriguing contrast in style will be on display when these two veterans clash in the first round. Isner would much rather contest this one a fast hard court, but he has enjoyed some clay-court success in the past (took Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open, beat Federer last year in Davis Cup, won the Houston title earlier this season). Berlocq had a breakout 2012 campaign at 29 years old that included a runner-up finish in Vina del Mar. With Isner in dreadful form on European clay and Berlocq coming off a disappointing Nice loss to Paul-Henri Mathieu, it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite. This may not feature tennis of the highest quality, but it should be an interesting thriller.
Best potential second-round matchup – (22) Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Bernard Tomic
Best potential third-round matchup – (1) Novak Djokovic vs. (26) Grigor Dimitrov
Possible surprises – Tipsarevic is by far the weakest of the Top 8 seeds and based on current form he is one of the worst Top 8 seeds in the history of Grand Slams. As such, the other quarterfinal spot here is entirely wide open—and not just to fellow seeds Haas, Isner, and Youzhny. Andujar and Fernando Verdasco have a great chance of meeting in an all-unseeded, all-Spanish third-round showdown and the winner would have a realistic shot at winning his fourth-rounder. In fact, every seeded player other than Djokovic in this section is vulnerable, so multiple unseeded floaters are in line to make moves into the second week.
There may be some entertainment elsewhere in the section, but the ultimate outcome is not in doubt. Nadal is making it to the semifinals. Nobody nearby can touch him. Richard Gasquet? Doesn’t have the belief. Stanislas Wawrinka? Not 100 percent and jut got clobbered by Nadal in Madrid. Jerzy Janowicz? Not on clay. Lukas Rosol? Please. Don’t even go there. Nadal-Rosol in the third round would be the most over-hyped match of all time. It would generate a tone of interest based on what happened last summer at Wimbledon (a five-set Rosol upset), but on clay and with Nadal it dominant form at the moment it will result in a three-set humiliation if it comes to fruition.
Speaking of huge hitters who could trouble Nadal on surfaces outside clay, Janowicz has an interesting draw on his hands. The fiery Pole opens with Albert Ramos, to whom he just lost in Barcelona. If he exacts some revenge, Janowicz would be in line for a third-round showdown with Wawrinka before possibly running into familiar foe Gasquet. Janowicz and Gasquet have already faced each other twice this season. Somewhat unexpectedly, Gasquet took their hard-court encounter in Indian Wells while Janowicz got the best of their clay-court meeting in Rome.
Best first-round matchup — (24) Benoit Paire vs. Marcos Baghdatis
One of these guys is surging into prominence right now…. The other is Baghdatis. Paire has 18 ATP-level match victories this season (double that of his first-round opponent) and he is coming off a semifinal appearance in Rome. The 24-year-old Frenchman, who is quickly becoming somewhat of a cult hero (only in part due to impressive tennis), is up to a career-high ranking of No. 26 in the world. Baghdatis has lost in the first round of his last six tournaments (including one Challenger) and he has won only two matches since getting a retirement from Paire in the Rotterdam first round. Still, the Cypriot’s talent is undeniable and there is no telling when he will get back on track. It may not be at Roland Garros, but if nothing else this encounter should at least provide some awesome shot-making. And how about this for a first-round matchup? Michal Przysiezny and Rhyne Williams just played each in the final round of qualifying (Przysiezny won 6-4, 6-4 but Williams got in as a lucky loser) and now they will square off again in the main draw.
Best potential second-round matchup – (27) Fabio Fognini vs. Lukas Rosol
Best potential third-round matchup – (9) Stanislas Wawrinka vs. (21) Jerzy Janowicz
Possible surprises — Rosol is not beating Nadal in the third round nor is he even making it competitive. In fact, Rosol probably won’t make it far enough to even face Nadal. So let’s just get that out of the way. None of the unseeded players are good enough to take advantage of the Paire-Kei Nishikori section of the draw, so Nadal will go up against either Paire or Nishikori in round four. If there’s a surprise, it will come in the other half of this quarter. And if it does, look for it to be Ramos. The Spaniard knows he can beat Janowicz and a possible third-round encounter with Wawrinka suddenly looks winnable due to the Swiss’ thigh injury.
The story of the quarter is and will continue to be the difficulty it presents Berdych. At least in terms of marquee name recognition, the must-see match of the entire first round is Berdych vs. Gael Monfils. On paper it’s a lopsided matchup, but Monfils appears to be sufficiently rounding into form just in time for the year’s second Grand Slam. Whoever wins will have to face a red-hot Ernests Gulbis (assuming the Latvian disposes of Rogerio Dutra Silva), who is 19-7 at the ATP level in 2013 and has two near-misses against Nadal. That side of the quarter also features clay-court aficionados Nicolas Almagro, Andreas Seppi, and Tommy Robredo.
This whole bracket also sets up perfectly for Ferrer, who can once again quietly go about his business with no recognition of any kind. While everyone focuses on Berdych, Ferrer should make mincemeat out of a glorious draw through three rounds. After that he will likely have to face one of two big hitters in the form of Milos Raonic or Kevin Anderon, but either one on clay is a good matchup for the Spaniard. This is Ferrer’s best and maybe last chance to reach a major final.
Best first-round matchup — (5) Tomas Berdych vs. Gael Monfils
Woe, thy name is Berdych. On the bright side, he cannot face either Djokovic or Nadal until the final and thus has a realistic shot of making it all the way to championship Sunday. But the good news begins and ends right there for the sixth-ranked Czech. Berdych’s quarter is brutal, and it begins right away with Monfils. The oft-injured Frenchman had been ice cold, but he won the Bordeaux Challenger last week and currently finds himself in the Nice title match. Berdych, meanwhile, is 29-10 this season and recently advanced to semifinals in both Madrid and Rome. Even if the fifth seed beats Monfils (which he should, but not before extreme entertainment), Gulbis would almost certainly be up next. Also take note of Blaz Kavic vs. James Duckworth, a rematch of an exhausting Aussie Open second-round thriller won by Kavcic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(3), 10-8.
Best potential second-round matchup – (5) Tomas Berdych vs. Ernests Gulbis
Best potential third-round matchup – (14) Milos Raonic vs. (23) Kevin Anderson
Possible surprises — The way the Gulbis bandwagon has been filling of late, it would be impossible to consider a semifinal run a “surprise” even though he is unseeded. Heck, that may even be the majority pick! Only a semifinalist not named Ferrer, Berdych, or Gulbis would qualify as an unexpected result. The winner of a third-rounder between Raonic and Anderson will have a shot, as will many others. Don’t forget about Seppi, who has been doing an ol’ rope-a-dope with some positively dismal clay-court results over the last two months. The Italian advanced to the Roland Garros fourth round last year and led Djokovic two sets to love before ultimately succumbing 4-6, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Federer could not have hand-picked the draw any better; not only his own quarter, but the entire thing. Well, that is until his first-round qualifier became none other than Pablo Carreno-Busta. Still, even though Federer drew arguably the most dangerous of the qualifiers, his path to the semis and ultimately the final could not be more favorable. The third-ranked Swiss will get another qualifier in round two (likely Somdev Devvarman) before a potential date with a slumping Julien Benneteau. Possible fourth-round opponents for Federer include nobody more daunting than Gilles Simon, Sam Querrey or Lleyton Hewitt. It is not unrealistic to think that the 2009 champion’s toughest test prior to the quarterfinals will come right away from PCB. Can you say cakewalk?
The case may not be the tsame for Tsonga on the other tside of this tsection. Both of the Dusseldorf finalists—Jarkko Nieminen and Juan Monaco—are potential roadblocks; Nieminen in the second round and Monaco two stages later. This is a huge opportunity for both players, especially Monaco. The Argentine’s nearest seed is Marin Cilic, who has lost four of five matches on clay since reaching the Miami quarterfinals. Also watch out for Jeremy Chardy, who made a major run at the last slam (quarterfinals Down Under) and has a favorable draw through two rounds in Paris before a potential all-French showdown against Tsonga.
Best first-round matchup — (30) Julien Benneteau vs. Ricardas Berankis
On paper, Simon vs. Hewitt is the pick of the first round in this section. However, that literally might be the worst of all possible matchups for Hewitt. The 32-year-old Australian is 0-3 lifetime against Simon, has never won a set, and has never made a single set closer than 6-3. Simon, a younger version of Hewitt, can do everything his opponent can do and he can do all of it better. Benneteau vs. Berankis should be a far more competitive affair. Although they are at very different points in their careers, both men are in similar need of a win. Benneteau has lost seven of his last eight matches and Berankis has not recorded a victory since making a nice run to the Houston quarterfinals (upset Haas in the second round).
Best potential second-round matchup – (6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jarkko Nieminen
Best potential third-round matchup – (15) Gilles Simon vs. (18) Sam Querrey
Possible surprises — Simon is going to be Federer’s fourth-round opponent only because he has an incredible draw through three rounds. That match will be unduly hyped because the Frenchman has defeated Federer twice in the past, but it’s not happening again. If things get turned upside down in this section, it will be a Tsonga loss to Nieminen in the second round or to Monaco in the last 16. Monaco was hopeless at the beginning of this season, but he won two matches in Houston, Monte-Carlo (lost to Djokovic in three sets) and Barcelona and currently finds himself in the Dusseldorf final. If momentum has come without the expense of fatigue, Pico could make a real run at Roland Garros.
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|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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