Two players whose names start with “F” should give the French Open men’s singles draw an “A” grade.
Most notably, No. 2 seed Roger Federer got his absolute dream scenario when the draw, released Friday, pitted his major foes Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the other side of the bracket. That gives Federer the best possible chance to add to his men’s record of 17 Grand Slam singles titles — but the pressure is on to take advantage, and Fed is no sure thing on the red clay.
That news added to an already newsworthy week for Federer, who finally joined Twitter on Thursday and already has about 200,000 followers. No gloating tweets about the draw, however, as you’d expect from the understated Swiss star.
The potential elimination semifinal between No. 3 seed Nadal and No. 1 seed Djokovic also won’t be lost on Spaniard David Ferrer, the No. 4 seed in the absence of injured Andy Murray. The dogged, talented Ferrer has been knocking on the door of breaking the Big Four’s Slam stranglehold, yet he’s failed at each attempt to capture his first major title. Should form hold, he’ll get Federer in the semis. Yes, he’s 0-14 lifetime against the Swiss maestro, but the slow clay gives him at least a chance.
This all evolved because Nadal has only climbed to No. 4 in the rankings since his return from injury. Though the Spanish superstar is clearly the ATP Tour’s dominant clay-court player, and Roland Garros has been his playground — he’s 52-1 all time there and has a record seven French Open titles — the French tennis federation continues to follow the tour rankings rather than switch to a surface-centric seeding system a la Wimbledon.
Some other insights from the men’s and women’s singles draws heading into Sunday’s start in Paris:
Three US men qualified for the main draw for the first time in more than 30 years. Great achievement, but the youngsters all face tough first-round draws against clay-court veterans: Jack Sock, 20, faces Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez; Denis Kudla, 20, meets Czech Jan Hajek; and Steve Johnson, 23, takes on Spain’s Albert Montanes.
American John Isner, the No. 19 seed whom our Greg Couch thinks could make a run, looks to have a favorable draw, starting with Carlos Berlocq of Argentina. Potential roadblocks to a quarterfinal meeting with Djokovic include German vet Tommy Haas, the No. 12 seed, and No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia. Nothing overly scary there.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams’ road to the semifinals looks smooth as can be. She opens against Georgia’s Anna Tatishvili, who is a paltry 2-10 this season. Roberta Vinci awaits as a potential fourth-round foe, with No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber a quarterfinal possibility. Though good players, Serena should overpower them with ease.
Rising US star Sloane Stephens, seeded 17th, also got a favorable draw. She opens against Karin Knapp of Italy and could make a run to a fourth-round showdown with No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova. On the other hand, Venus Williams has a much tougher task — she opens against Urszula Radwanska, with her sister, No. 4 seed Agnieszka, looming in the third round.
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS
Caroline Wozniacki (10) vs. Laura Robson: Former No. 1 Wozniacki could be in trouble against talented British teen Robson, who is No. 35 in the world and reached the fourth round at the 2012 US Open. Wozniacki is just 16-12 this year, and she’s lost in her first match at the past three tournaments. Time to make it four in a row?
Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka (3): Certainly not the easiest draw for Vika, who must tussle with the talented Russian. Vesnina isn’t a great clay-court-player, but at No. 36 in the world she is certainly a quality first-round foe. Expect Azarenka to advance, but this one could be a workout that gets her right into the tournament mentality.
Tomas Berdych (5) vs. Gael Monfils: This draw for French favorite Monfils drew groans from the audience Friday in Paris, but Berdych had to be groaning inwardly as well. Monfils is a top-10 talent whose ranking has dropped to 109 after an injury-filled 2012. But he’s an entertainer, and the support of the French crowd is sure to lift his game. Watch out, Tomas!
Milos Raonic (14) vs. Xavier Malisse: The powerful Canadian is a threat, even on clay, and he landed in a great section of the draw — with Ferrer and No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych. If Raonic is going to make a charge, he’ll have to start against Malisse, a crafty veteran who won’t get put off by Raonic’s booming serve. The youngster should prevail, but it could be a workout.
James Blake vs. Viktor Troicki: At 33, American veteran Blake doesn’t have many big tournaments left, so he’s sure to give it everything he’s got. And, if this match does get tight, watch out for fireworks from Troicki, who lost his, um, stuff in a recent match in Rome. Wouldn’t want to umpire this one …