If the Roland Garros seedings hold, we could have a pair of dream finals in Paris: Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal and the Williams Sisters squaring off for the championship in Paris. But the French Open has a history of being the most unpredictable Grand Slam tournament. This could prove to be a wild fortnight at the French Open. Let's decipher the draws:
Men's Draw---Top Half. Roger Federer has won sixteen Grand Slam singles titles earning him the distinction of being the greatest Men's player of the Open Era. However, the defending champion comes to Paris facing some major question marks. In some ways, Federer's whiff on match point in his loss to Rafael Nadal in Madrid summarizes the ups and downs the world number one has endured since winning the Australian Open.
Federer suffered a string of early exits, losing to Marcos Baghdatis in Indian Wells and falling to Tomas Berdych in Miami. He didn't perform much better on the European clay dropping matches to Ernests Gulbis in Rome and Albert Montanes in Portugal. And while Federer was sharp en route to reaching the Singles Final in Madrid, the way he lost to Nadal in the Spanish capital creates more doubts about Federer's outlook in Paris. Federer's seemed tentative at times against Nadal as Rafa effectively exploited his rival's backhand.
So who could give Federer the most trouble on his road to the semifinals? The Swiss star could see Gael Monfils or Stanislas Wawrinka in the round of sixteen, but should be able to handle either of those opponents. Gulbis landed in Federer's section of the draw as a potential quarterfinal opponent. The Latvian showed his clay court skills by reaching the quarters at Roland Garros in 2008 and has been rejuvenated this year.
Two players seeded in the top 10 would present an even bigger quarterfinal challenge for Federer: Marin Cilic and Robin Soderling. While Cilic has posted uneven results since the Australian Open, the Croatian's power fueled his run to the fourth round in Paris last year. Soderling could face Federer is a rematch of last year's championship match. Soderling has proved his stunning win over Nadal was year at the French Open was not an aberration. The Swede has clicked well with his coach Magnus Norman---the 2000 Roland Garros runner-up----but is still capable of puzzling results like his recent loss to Olivier Rochus in Nice, France.
The bottom section of the top half of the draw includes some intriguing names and is tough to project. Fourth-seeded Andy Murray spent part of his formative years in Spain and has grown more comfortable on clay in recent years advancing to the quarterfinals last year in Paris. But the Scot comes to Roland Garros with just a 13-7 record in singles play failing to reach a final since losing to Federer in the championship match at the Australian Open. Murray drew a very tough opening round assignment against the Frenchman Richard Gasquet. American John Isner has proven he can excel on clay reaching the finals in Serbia and losing to Nadal in the round of 16 in Madrid. Isner could take on Berdych in a spicy third round match. This portion of the draw also includes eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will feed off partisan crowds but has yet to show he's ready to handle the weight of expectations a French star endures while playing at Roland Garros.
Men's Draw---Bottom Half. Nadal should be on a mission in Paris as the "King of Clay" seeks to regain his throne. Unlike last year, Rafa seems healthy and no longer bothered by the nagging knee issues that slowed him France in 2009. Nadal's brilliant run --- winning three consecutive titles in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid --- should serve notice to the rest of the field that the Spaniard is still playing at a higher level than the competition on clay.
Nadal's quarter looks very straight forward for him to advance to the quarterfinals. Once he's reached the final eight, Rafa could take on either Fernando Verdasco or Nicolas Almagro. Neither Spaniard has been able to defeat Nadal in Masters Series events in recent weeks. While Verdasco has been playing outstanding tennis this year, it's difficult to envision him knocking off Nadal on this surface on a Grand Slam stage.
In the upper section of the bottom half of the draw, Andy Roddick occupies the top line. The American hasn't played a match since winning the title in Miami and traditionally hasn't enjoyed his time in Paris. This year shouldn't be any different. Third-seeded Novak Djokovic has reached a pair of semifinals at Roland Garros, but was bounced in the third round last year by Philipp Kohlschreiber. It is difficult to get a handle on Djokovic's level of play heading into Paris this year. He reached the semis in Monte Carlo, lost in the quarters in Rome and was unable to play in Madrid because of respiratory trouble. The nine seed David Ferrer could give Djokovic a lot of trouble if they meet in the quarterfinals.
Women's Draw---Top Half. Serena Williams comes to the French capital healthy after being sidelined for three months with a knee injury following her win at the Australian Open . Williams only played into a pair of tune-up events and posted mixed results. The American reached the semifinals in Rome and then lost to Nadia Petrova in the third round in Madrid the following week. Williams seems to put more pressure on herself at Roland Garros than at the other slams and has not received much affection from the Parisian crowds over the years.
Serena hasn't reached the singles final at Roland Garros since she captured the title in 2002. If the American makes it to the championship match this year, she will have earned the opportunity by surviving a brutal quarter of the draw. Serena could renew her rivalry with No. 22 seed Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. It's rare that a player not seeded in the top 16 would be considered a real threat to win the championship, but there aren't many players in the history of women's tennis who can match what Henin has done on this surface. Prior to her retirement in 2008, the Belgian captured three consecutive French Open titles and will be riding a twenty five match winning streak at the French Open when she returns to Paris. The former world No. 1 has reached the finals in three of her six events this year and looks ready for another outstanding performance on the red clay.
If Henin is going to take on Serena, she'll have to win some tough matches along the way. The Belgian could face Maria Sharapova in the third round and will probably have to get past Samantha Stowsur first in the fourth round. The Aussie made it the semifinals at Roland Garros last year and has been sharp on the dirt this year winning the title at Charleston, while losing the championship match to Henin in Stuttgart. Stowsur moves well around the court and has the power needed to end rallies on this surface.
The bottom section of the top half of the women's draw seems to offer a clear path for Jelena Jankovic to take on whomever emerges from the rugged top section. Former French Open Champion Ana Ivanovic could be a dangerous floater as an unseeded player, but Jankovic beat her countrywoman last week in Madrid. Dinara Safina is also in the portion of the draw. While the Russian has reached the last two singles finals in Paris, Safina hasn't been the same player since she returned from her serious back injury last month.
Women's Draw---Bottom Half. Second-seeded Venus Williams has lost in the third round in Paris each of the last three years. Although she reached the championship match at Madrid, Williams has been let down at times in recent weeks by inconsistency with her serve and her forehand. The American has some tough potential opponents looming in her quarter of the draw. Elena Dementieva stands out as the five seed, but has posted inconsistent results on clay this year. No. 15 seed Aravane Rezai could face Venus in the fourth round just a few weeks removed from the Frenchwoman's convincing win over Williams in Madrid. Rezai is one of the biggest hitters on tour with shot-making skills that are difficult to counter. Another name to watch is Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The Spaniard won the title in Rome as an unseeded player and offers an array of skills on the court. Martinez Sanchez will serve and volley, dink and dunk, and hit a drop shot at any time---including the return of serve.
The top section of this half of the draw appears to be wide open. Third-seeded Caroline Wozniacki re-aggravated her ankle injury and had to retire in her quarterfinal match this week in Poland. But as Wozniacki examines the draw, she may be inspired to try to play through the pain in the Paris because there aren't many imposing names in this quarter. Sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova is a nominal favorite as the defending champion, but the Russian hasn't reached a quarterfinal in a tournament this year. While the 11 seed Li Na is extremely consistent, she doesn't possess any huge weapons on the court. A steady but unspectacular player like the No. 24 sews Lucie Safarova could be in a good position to make a splash in this murky section of the draw.