The second slam of the year (the French Open) kicks off in Paris tomorrow with Rafael Nadal looking to take a record ninth title and fifth in succession with Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka the two biggest threats to his throne.
Check out the Full Draw Here: Roland Garros 2014 Men’s Draw
Quarter 1 (Projected QF Nadal-Ferrer)
There is no doubt about it now – Rafael Nadal looks vulnerable after a far from stellar clay court season. 18-3 would be great by anyone else’s standards but the three losses are his biggest total since 2004 when he was just 17. While the loss to Djokovic was just one of many in recent years, the nature of his defeats to Ferrer and Almagro – players he has dominated throughout his career – were very strange for sure. Despite this, it is hard to predict an early exit for Nadal. He opens against Robby Ginepri – who last played this event in 2010 but is the last American to make R4 in France to show the state of affairs in American men’s tennis. Dominic Thiem showcased his outstanding talents in Madrid but fell ill at the wrong time and will be ripe for Nadal to pick apart if he is not back to 100% just yet. 31st seed Vasek Pospisil has not won a main tour clay match yet and lost in five sets last year.
Nicolas Almagro has always been their talent wise but his mental toughness has always been questionable. It was almost unsurprising when he failed to back up his win over Nadal (at the 11th time of asking) in Barcelona. Jack Sock lost easily to the Spaniard in Houston while fellow American Steve Johnson has form after making the Bordeaux Challenger final. Tommy Haas proved he still has it at the age of 36 with a win over Wawrinka in Rome so it may be too early for Federico Delbonis to make a first grand slam third round.
Grigor Dimitrov is one of a few outside of the elite that could challenge but there are still questions about his fitness over five sets. Dimitrov has three losses on clay this year, losing only to top 10 players in Nadal, Ferrer and Berdych. The surprise losses of 2013 no longer plague him so it is difficult to see him having trouble until a fourth round meeting with David Ferrer. Ivo Karlovic poses a unique threat but shouldn’t outlast Dimitrov over five while Kevin Anderson offers similar big serving but with far more to his game.
Andreas Seppi looks to be one of the seeds who could crash out early, especially with a tough opener against Santiago Giraldo. A SF, F and QF respectively in Houston, Barcelona and Madrid makes him one of the in-form players on clay right now, especially with the nature of his wins that include Tsonga, Murray, Almagro and Fognini. Juan Monaco appears to be on the decline but is a two-times quarter finalist at the event but it seems foolish to predict anyone other than David Ferrer to make the fourth round to face Dimitrov if seedings go as planned. Their last clay meeting was one 6-4 6-2 by Ferrer in Monte Carlo.
Quarter 2 (Projected QF: Murray vs Wawrinka)
Taking the title in Melbourne has pushed Stanislas Wawrinka into the elite and many including Novak Djokovic now believe he is part of a new ‘Big Five’. He looked to be suffering a slam hangover for much of the next few months but established himself as a contender for the title with his title in Monte Carlo. Being third seed provides him with a very much straight forward route to the fourth round before a potentially exciting clash with Fabio Fognini if the Italian plays his best. Wawrinka opens against an opponent he is 6-2 against in Guillermo Garcia-Lopez while those who he could face in round two and three are far more comfortable on other surfaces. Feliciano Lopez does have a fourth round to his name but has exited in round one nine times in his career.
After a great start to the year, Fognini has faltered a bit and is on a three match losing streak currently. A qualifier offers him the best chance to reverse that. Gael Monfils has not played since retiring in Bucharest but all eyes will be on a potential third round with Fognini if both men make it there. They played a marathon five setter in 2010 in which Fognini came out on top and there is potential for more of the same this time round. Hanescu and Olivetti/Struff offer the Frenchman a slightly easier path to round three than last year where he needed to defeat Tomas Berdych and Ernests Gulbis to get there.
If there is a section that provides a shock quarter finalist, it surely has to be the bottom half of quarter two. Richard Gasquet has struggled in a year hit by injury but at least faces a weak clay player to begin with in Bernard Tomic. It is tough to predict whether someone like Carlos Berlocq has the potential to outlast Gasquet over five but his win over Tomas Berdych in the Oeiras final should give him plenty to be confident about. Fernando Verdasco can match his best run at the event here, opening against Michael Llodra then most likely Pablo Cuevas.
Andy Murray‘s clay struggles are well documented but he showed new found aggression against Rafael Nadal at times in their Rome clash which could see his fortunes change if put into practise in Paris. He opens against Andrey Golubev who won Hamburg in 2010 but has done little since on the main tour. Marinko Matosevic hopes to avoid going 0-13 in slams against Dustin Brown while fellow German Philipp Kohlschreiber comes into the event in form after making the Dusseldorf final, beating potential round two opponent Denis Istomin along the way.
Quarter 3 (Projected QF: Berdych vs Federer)
Tomas Berdych will be happy with his draw given his struggles against the top two while also being 3-9 against Wawrinka in tour play. After losing in the first round last year, the Czech has plenty to gain in the rankings and there looks little early on to take advantage of a slip-up like Gael Monfils did last year. A qualifier and then either Somdev Devvarman or Oleksandr Nedovyesov are little to be scared about early on. Roberto Bautista-Agut is 2-1 against Berdych although they are yet to meet on clay. 27th seed Bautista-Agut faces a qualifier and then either Benoit Paire or Alejandro Falla. Back-to-back retirements for Paire likely mean he won’t be much of a threat at this event.
John Isner and Nicolas Mahut can meet in round two if they see off Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Mikhail Kukushkin respectively. Since their 70-68 fifth set, each match has ended in straights with Isner winning all three of them. Tommy Robredo pulled off the extraordinary feat of three straight 0-2 comebacks last year but should find it slightly easier on his way to the fourth round this time round. Robredo should be just the player to grind down Isner on the dirt although Isner won their last meeting in 2010.
Roger Federer will be delighted with the early rounds in his draw, beginning with Lukas Lacko and then a qualifier. 31st seed Dmitry Tursunov has had an up and down clay season including being double bagelled by Rui Machado. Filippo Volandri made the fourth round in 2007 and may be the one to face Federer for a place there. Sam Querrey is spiralling down quickly and his loss to Martin Vaisse in Nice qualifiers was a new low for the American.
Ernests Gulbis comes into the event in form after his sixth career final in Nice. He is 2-0 against opening opponent Lukasz Kubot and then will play a qualifier or Julien Benneteau who has a title to his name recently, although at a lower level in the Bordeaux Challenger. Mikhail Youzhny is projected to face Federer by the seedings but given his record against the Swiss, it doesn’t promise much of a contest. Youzhny has had a poor start to the year going just 6-10 and could be there for the taking for Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard had to play Federer in round one last year so this is at least a kinder draw for him.
Quarter 4 (Projected QF: Djokovic vs Raonic)
Milos Raonic is the beneficiary of Juan Martin Del Potro’s bad luck, moving one spot up in the seedings from his ranking of 9 to earn a top 8 placing. It is an unfortunate draw for the talented Australian wildcard Nick Kyrgios who plays the Canadian in round one. Kyrgios went back-to-back in clay Challengers in America but found it slightly harder in his brief foray in Europe prior to this event. A Czech awaits in round two be it Lukas Rosol or Jiri Vesely. Vesely’s semi final in Dusseldorf was the best run of his career to date. Gilles Simon will always be a tough opponent in slams due to his ability to drag out matches and outlast players – the last time he won a slam match in three sets was Wimbledon 2011.
Kei Nishikori established himself as one of the leading threats outside the top five with a dominant display against Nadal in Madrid before injury sadly struck. Based on talent, there is no doubt Nishikori is up there but it is hard to have any confidence in his body holding up long enough to make a deep run given his past issues. A resurgent Martin Klizan, fresh off a Munich title, will be a tough opener while Alexandr Dolgopolov awaits in a potential third round. Dolgopolov really showed what he was capable of on clay in his Rio run, defeating Almagro, Ferrer and Fognini in the same event and giving Nadal a tough test before losing in the final. Raonic does not have wins against either Nishikori or Dolgopolov in three attempts.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached a career best semi-final last year, only to tamely lose to Ferrer in a match that was there for the taking for the Frenchman. It looks highly unlikely he will repeat it this time round, especially with Novak Djokovic looming in round four. Tsonga is 6-0 against first round opponent Edouard Roger-Vasselin and will be awaiting either Jurgen Melzer or David Goffin in round two. Melzer is a former semi finalist but on the decline while Goffin is just 1-7 on the year at main tour level. A slumping Jerzy Janowicz is 0-4 on clay this year but has his best chance for a win to date when he plays Victor Estrella in the Dominican’s first slam main draw. Jarkko Nieminen however will fancy his chances of surprising the 22 seed in round two.
Marin Cilic is the unfortunate one to be projected a date with Novak Djokovic in round three. It seems to have been said every year since his rise began in 2011 but this looks to be the year that Djokovic finally picks up his first French Open title. Recovery from his wrist injury seems to have gone perfectly as he looked dominant at times in defeating Nadal in the Rome Masters final. Bar a silly mistake when up a break in the fifth against Nadal, he should have won the title last year. Despite Nadal’s perceived vulnerability, it is still hard to predict him losing to anyone but Djokovic over five sets. However, when it comes to that matchup, the advantage for Nadal no longer exists. Djokovic is 12-6 against Nadal since his rise in 2011 and has won the last four meetings including Rome last week.
SF: Rafael Nadal def. Stanislas Wawrinka
SF: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer
F: Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal