French Open: 10 key questions national columnist Greg Couch digs into 10 questions that get to the heart of the French Open, which starts Sunday at Roland Garros in France.

Q. It’s Nadal, Djokovic and … ummm … can anyone else on the men’s side win this thing?

A. Only Federer. And even he doesn’t have much of a shot, especially with his back and knee problems. The thing is, with Nadal out so long last year and into this year with worn-out knees, his ranking has dropped. Also, he and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw and may have to play each other before the final. It is the perfect storm of a draw for Federer. That’s sort of the equivalent of the SEC Championship Game — with the two best teams — deciding who gets to play in the BCS title game. Then, the rest of the country, basically the minor leagues, gets to fill the other spot. Federer is able to beat Djokovic on the right day, and Nadal’s knees might blow up at any time.

Q. Serena is the women’s favorite, but this isn’t her best venue. How do you see her doing?

A. I do think it’s possible that Serena might lose her serve once or twice in the tournament. I’m willing to go out on a limb like that. But she’s just too dominant now. I think when she came from having blood clots in her lungs, she somehow changed her perspective. She seems more relaxed to me. I asked Chris Evert the other day if anyone on tour is mentally capable now of taking down Serena. Chris paused so long that I didn’t think she heard my question. Then she said that a few were — Azarenka, Sharapova. In other words, she was politely saying no.

Q. What can Viktor Troicki possibly do for an encore?

A. Should I assume you’re asking me this question so that you can post the video of his meltdown against Gulbis the other day? (Editor’s note: That’s just a bonus, Greg!)

Great move on his part to grab the TV camera, and show the ball mark up close. I think he was robbed. The only thing that really bugged me was that he went onto Gulbis’ side of the court. If I’m playing and someone comes over onto my side of the net, my turf, I’m likely to get a ball and drill him with it. That could make for a pretty good encore.

Q. What’s the matchup you most want to see?

A. I don’t really have anything clever to say here, other than any matchup that would include an American man in the final. But the truth is, I want to see Nadal and Djokovic. Nadal was psyched out by Djokovic before his injury. I think his break to rest his knees also gave him a needed mental break. Meanwhile, the most dominant thing in all of sports is Nadal at Roland Garros. That’s a hell of a hurdle for Djokovic, who needs to win a French Open.

Q. How many Americans (total, men and women) will make it to the second week?

A. Well, the American men (especially with Mardy Fish and Brian Baker out) will be so far from the second week that they might not even be allowed to watch it on TV at home. Serena will be there. Venus won’t. A few US women have a shot at losing early in the second week, including Sloane Stephens. To answer the question, though, of how many Americans, men and women, will be in the second week, I’ll go with this:


Q. If anyone is to win a first Grand Slam title at this event, who do you think is the most likely to do so (either gender?)

A. If I were a radio-talk-show host, this is where I would fake a coughing jag to force my co-host to answer the question. I suppose the smart money would be on Sara Errani. She did get to the final last year and is ranked No. 5. She has been winning some matches this year.

I guess I feel that the best bet, though, would be on the men’s draw, if Nadal and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw. David Ferrer’s name keeps popping into my head, but there is no way in hell he can beat Nadal, even if Nadal’s knees fall off. Although, I did see that happen, pretty much, at the Australian Open two years ago. I was so confident that Nadal would win that match that I was actually playing on an outer court when I heard he had gotten hurt. I ran back to Laver Arena to watch him lose to Ferrer. I don’t know, Ferrer is just such a great talent, but his brain won’t allow him to think he can be a champion.

Q. Is Roger Federer finally too old to win a Slam?

A. No. I mean, I don’t think he’s going to win another major, but he’s still good enough to take down all of the lesser players who don’t crush the ball at him with modern technology, while he stands back there with his antique racquet and strings.

He is also slowing down. Even the past two majors he has won have come against dinkers. That’s Murray in the Wimbledon final last year, and Murray in the Australian final in 2010. Nadal was hurt, and Federer had an amazing draw of old guys, lesser lights and dinkers. I asked Cliff Drysdale the other day what he thought was the state of Federer’s game, especially his movement. Cliff said that it’s always dangerous to count Federer out, and that we’ve done that before. Thing was, I never had said anything about counting Federer out. That idea was in Cliff’s head.

Q. Who lasts longer (in the tournament): Maria Sharapova or Grigor Dimitrov?

A. It’s always great when new blood comes into the game. Dimitrov is exciting, and he did beat Djokovic this year and take a set off Nadal. But he’s not consistent. Come on, Sharapova is either the second- or third-best player in the world. And she’s the defending champ. I’ll go with her.

Q. Who are we not looking out for but should be on the men’s and women’s sides?

A. Well, this is going to sound like a joke, but maybe John Isner. He isn’t playing really well, but I think he has clearly made a big adjustment in his backhand grip. I swear he used to hold it on the wrong side of the grip. I once showed a bunch of pictures of that on my blog.

People think he’s best suited for the speedy grass at Wimbledon, but I don’t. The ball will bounce nice and high for him here, and the clay is fast enough now to let him beat people down with that serve. He’s bound to start playing better. Of course, he could also draw Nadal in the first round and go home in 57 minutes.

Dimitrov could be interesting. I think too many people are expecting too much out of Sloane Stephens now, and it’s freaking her out.

Q. Who do you see winning the singles titles?

A. Serena for sure.

It’s funny on the men’s side, because Drysdale said that Nadal is invincible, that he’s picking Djokovic, and that if he had to bet his house on it, he’d take Nadal. I feel that Nadal’s backhand and mind are better than they were before he got hurt. But while no one is saying this, I think he’s spraying his forehand all over the place. I’m going to have to go with Cliff on this one and say that no one can beat Nadal, but that Djokovic will win and I’m putting my money on Nadal. Let’s just go with Nadal at Roland Garros until someone proves otherwise.