French draw: Djokovic-Federer semi?
No Andy Roddick. No Williams sisters. American tennis is certainly in dire straits as the French Open rolls around.
Never fear. The French Open draw was released Friday, and we still have plenty of storylines. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be gunning for a historic showdown in the final. The women’s field is as wide open as ever and the opportunity is ripe for the next generation to assert themselves.
But the draw can make all the difference in deciding which top players end up deep in the tournament. Let’s take a look at the highlights:
Men’s draw, top half
Five-time champion Rafael Nadal is the top seed for just the second time at Roland Garros, believe it or not. It’s tough to call any French Open draw he receives "tough" given his dominance on clay, but there’s at least one name he can’t be too thrilled to see in his section.
That would be No. 5 seed Robin Soderling — the only man to beat Nadal in Paris and a finalist each of the last two years. The Swede looms as a potential quarterfinal opponent. He beat Roger Federer in 2010 on the way to losing to Nadal in the final, and he’s the only man besides Nadal to beat Federer at Roland Garros since 2004. Soderling has the chops to pull off another stunner.
Fellow Spaniard and potential fourth-round foe Fernando Verdasco is always a wily competitior, but the No. 16 seed has dipped from his top 10 form of recent years. He’s 0-11 all-time against Nadal and has suffered even worse on the clay, never winning a set off his countryman in five matches.
This quarter also features all of the three highest-ranked American men in the field — No. 10 seed Mardy Fish, No. 24 seed Sam Querrey and unseeded John Isner, who faces Nadal in the first round. With Nadal, Soderling and Verdasco all lurking, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the American misery in Paris will be extended in a hurry.
In the top half’s other quarter, No. 4 seed Andy Murray received a virtual free pass to the third round, as his first- and second-round opponents will both be qualifiers. After that, though, he may have his hands full with a couple of the game’s hotter young players.
No. 26 seed Milos Raonic of Canada could be a potential third-round opponent for Murray. No. 21 Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine might be there in the fourth. Raonic won a title in San Jose this year and came from the qualifier rounds all the way to the fourth round of the Australian Open. Dolgopolov made it all the way to the quarters in Melbourne, where he fell to Murray in four sets.
Don’t count out the No. 11 seed Nicolas Almagro in this quarter either. Almagro has twice been a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros and he beat Murray there in 2008.
Men’s draw, bottom half
All eyes will be on Novak Djokovic in the bottom portion of the men’s draw as he tries to extend his astounding unbeaten streak, currently at 39 matches. Nadal — who is 0-4 against Djokovic this year — has called the Serb the favorite.
Djokovic, though, will have his share of obstacles getting out of his quarter, which features a host of players capable of taking down top talent any day.
Juan Martin del Potro, still trying to get back to his US Open-winning form after multiple injury problems, is the No. 25 seed and would make for one of the most intriguing third-round showdowns.
No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet — who will have the home French crowd on his side — is playing his way back toward the top 10 form he displayed in 2007-08. Gasquet has never been past the third round at his home tournament.
No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny was a quarterfinalist in Paris last year and would potentially meet Djokovic in that round this year. Youzhny has won three of seven career matches against Djokovic, though the two have never met on clay.
No. 6 Tomas Berdych also looms large in Djokovic’s quarter, but the Serb has had the Czech’s number recently, winning four straight matches against him going back to last year’s Davis Cup.
Roger Federer would be the dream semifinal foe for Djokovic for the fans’ sake, but first the No. 3-seeded Swiss will have to get through a quarter that features most of France’s top talent.
No. 9 Gael Monfils, No. 17 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 22 Michael Llodra are all in Federer’s portion of the draw and could present problems for the struggling Swiss to overcome with the anxious French fans on their side. Federer is a combined 10-2 against those three all-time.
Federer’s stiffest test may come from No. 7 seed David Ferrer, a potential quarterfinal opponent. Ferrer is one of the best there is on the clay, but he has only twice made it to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and is 0-11 against Federer all-time.
Women’s draw, top half
Top seed and world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has never won a major and she’ll have to grind just to get out of her quarter at this French Open. A couple of experienced, successful players wait for her.
Last year’s runner-up Samantha Stosur is the No. 8 seed and at the other end of Wozniacki’s quarter. No. 13 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, is a potential fourth-round opponent.
No. 11 Marion Bartoli is France’s top female hope in the draw, but clay is not her surface and she’s never been past the fourth round at her home tournament.
Defending champion Francesca Schiavone is in the other quarter in the top half. She’s the No. 5 seed this year after coming out of nowhere from the No. 17 slot in 2010. The Italian has had a disappointing clay season so far, though, and figures to be a longshot to repeat. She faces American Melanie Oudin in the first round.
After Schiavone, it’s all about the Russians in this quarter. No. 3 Vera Zvonareva is the highest seed, and she’s joined by No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 23 Alisa Kleybanova and No. 26 Nadia Petrova. Petrova was a quarterfinalist last year and twice a semifinalist earlier in her career.
No. 10 Jelena Jankovic is a three-time semifinalist at Roland Garros and her overall resume — former No. 1, five career Slam semifinal appearances and one final — might just make her the favorite in this quarter.
Women’s draw, bottom half
Victoria Azarenka is the No. 4 seed and heads the upper quarter of the bottom half. After three quarterfinal appearanes in four Slams between the 2009 French and the 2010 Australian Open, Azarenka hasn’t been past the fourth round in any major since, leaving this quarter wide open.
Australian Open finalist Na Li is the next highest seed in the quarter at No. 6, but the French Open has been her worst major. Petra Kvitova, one of the top young players on the tour, has played her way into the top 10 and looks to be a factor as well. She won the clay tournament in Madrid earlier this month.
No. 20 Ana Ivanovic was a finalist at Roland Garros in 2007 and champion in 2008 but has dropped off considerably, not getting past the fourth round at any Slam since.
The very bottom portion of the women’s draw features the tantalizing prospect of a Kim Clijsters-Maria Sharapova quarterfinal clash. Clijsters is the No. 2 seed, Sharapova is No. 7.
Clijsters has won the last two majors, but she hasn’t played in the French Open since 2006 and hasn’t played at all since March’s Sony Ericsson Open, making her a bit of a wild card. Sharapova is coming off a strong title run in Rome and has as good a shot as anyone in this women’s field.
No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 21 Yanina Wickmayer have the talent to contend but have never had much luck on the red clay of Paris.
This quarter really should be all about Clijsters and Sharapova. Clijsters is 5-3 all-time against Sharapova, all on hard courts. The two have combined for seven Grand Slam titles, but neither has ever won the French.
Zack Pierce is an assistant managing editor and tennis editor for FOXSports.com.