French Open 2012: Top 10 Storylines at Roland Garros

Carlos TorresContributor IMay 21, 2012

French Open 2012: Top 10 Storylines at Roland Garros

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    The second Grand Slam of the tennis season, the French Open, is just a week away and all the elite players are expected to be present at Roland Garros.

    The clay court's season culmination is the tournament for the grinders, the mentally tough, the top strategists. It takes everything a player has in his arsenal to win it.

    Starting this next Sunday May 27th and through Sunday June 10th, we will be able to see the world's best go at it for a piece of history as the winner of a tennis Grand Slam tournament.

    On the men side you have the big three, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who will have all eyes on them.

    And on the women side, the two top stories are Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

    But they are not the only stories and ones to watch this year. Let's take a look at this year's top storylines for the 2012 French Open at Roland Garros.

Top Players' Injuries

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    Some of the top players face some health issues heading to the French Open.

    The world's No. 1 female player, Victoria Azarenka, withdrew from the Italian Open with a shoulder injury. That was something that drew some criticism, especially from Maria Sharapova.

    It seems very unlikely she'll be 100 percent for the big challenge at Roland Garros.

    Serena Williams withdrew from the Italian Open with a lower back injury shortly before she her scheduled semifinal against Li Na. That ended her 17-match winning streak.

    But these two are not the only big name players nursing injuries.

    Men's fourth-ranked Andy Murray skipped last week's Madrid Open with a back problem. If he is not 100 percent, he will not last long next week.

    Women's fourth-ranked and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has been bothered by an abdominal injury, and Flavia Pennetta retired with a right wrist injury while trailing Serena Williams 4-0 in the first set last Friday.

    The injury cloud is set above Roland Garros. Hopefully it will clear before the start on Sunday.

Can a Male Player Beyond the Big Three Win?

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    All eyes on the men's tournament are on the big three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

    After all, Nadal has won six of the last seven editions with Federer winning the other, and Djokovic seems like the one to contend as he is going for the Novak Slam.

    So can the French Open title go to anyone besides them?

    When you look beyond the top three, you first take a look at Murray as he has been for the past few years as the one expected to break through and join the top three elite ranks.

    As stated in the slide before, Andy Murray's back is bothering him, so it doesn't bode well for his chances.

    Spaniards David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco are playing very good tennis and on their favorite surface.

    There is also Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who thrives on the fans support and will have the home crowd behind him all the way. And maybe Tomas Berdych or Juan Martin Del Potro, who are playing red hot coming to Roland Garros.

    Even with all this, it's really hard to envision anyone else other than the big three winning here, but it will be interesting watching everyone else try.

Does Any Woman Not Named Sharapova or Williams Have a Chance?

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    Just like on the men's side, the women's side seems to be a two-way race to the final and the championship between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

    These two are the ones playing the hottest tennis going into the tournament and are arguably the top two female players.

    But in this case, there are some players that play very well at Roland Garros who can upset either Williams or Sharapova and go on to win it.

    The injuries to Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova make you look elsewhere.

    And you have to start by the defending champion Li Na. She had Sharapova down 6-4, 4-0 and later match point in the Italian Open final. Then the rain was arguably a factor on her demise afterwards.

    She is one that should be looked at.

    Agnieszka Radwanska and Francesca Schiavone, the winner in 2010, are two dangerous contenders for the title. 

    Or you could go with other players who historically perform well, like Marion Bartoli and Samantha Stosur.

    In all, there are options in the women's side, which makes it more compelling to watch.

Can an American Male Player Win?

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    American men's tennis is almost at an all-time low, and clay has never been their forte.

    The best bet would have been Mardy Fish, but he has been out and is almost a lock to miss the French Open. He has fallen out of the Top 10 tennis players in the world.

    John Isner remains at No. 10, but this is not his best surface, and his best showing here was the third round in 2010.

    Andy Roddick is ranked No. 27, and like Isner, this is not a surface where he thrives on. Although he hasn't been thriving on any surface as of late, his best showing here was fourth round in 2009.

    From there on, you have Donald Young (49th) and promising Ryan Harrison (57th), who had never gone beyond the first round.

    Sam Querrey's (89th) best was third round in 2008. Veteran James Blake (98th) has seen his best year gone by and also has a best showing of a third round in 2008.

    It seems like another year, another American men's tennis debacle at Roland Garros.

Odds for French Players

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    The French Open originally was open only to tennis players who were members of French clubs up to 1924.

    But since 1950, only three French players have won the tournament: two women, Francoise Durr in 1967 and Mary Pierce in 2000; and one man, Yannick Noah in 1983.

    So every year the French go and cheer their own in hopes of carrying one of them through the brackets and go on to win the championship.

    On the men's side, they are loaded with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (fifth) as their biggest hope. Gilles Simon (12th), Gael Monfils (14th), Richard Gasquet (22nd) and Julien Benneteau (33rd) round the high-flying contingent of players in the Top 40.

    On the women's side, only Marion Bartoli (eighth) is their true hope to win it. She was a semifinalist last year.

    From there, the dropoff is significant. Pauline Parmentier (66th) is their next best ranked player and has not gone beyond the second round here.

    Alize Cornet (83rd), Stephanie Foretz Gacon (86th) and Mathilde Johansson (92nd) have not passed the second round either.

    Will this be the year a French player wins? Seems unlikely, but it will be fun watching them.

Is This the Year for Maria Sharapova?

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    Maria Sharapova is healthy and playing at her best again.

    She is up to second in the WTA rankings, and now the only Grand Slam tournament she has not won is finally here.

    For her to complete the career Grand Slam, she needs to win the French Open. She has been a semifinalist twice before, in 2007 and last year.

    She comes riding high in confidence after coming from 4-6, 0-4 and match-point down to defeat Li Na in the Italian Open finals.

    Her game is at her best right now, and if there is a time for her to win, this is the year.

Can Serena Williams Win Another French Open?

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    Serena Williams is once again on the comeback trail.

    Injuries have been limiting here the past few years. She had a 17-match winning streak before her withdrawal from her semifinal match at the Italian Open when her back started bothering her.

    Just when it seemed like she was primed for another run at the French Open, another injury surfaces. It may not be a big issue since she will be playing, and she has done this before to save her best for the big tournaments.

    But it still makes you wonder if the wear and tear of all these years have finally gotten the best of her, and she will be able to win the French Open again.

    It's the only Grand Slam she has won only once, and that was back in 2002.

Does Federer Have Enough for One More Slam?

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    Roger Federer has been able to climb back to the No. 2 ranking in the world this year, thanks to his recent excellent play.

    The former No. 1 has won a record 16 Grand Slam tournaments and has completed the career Grand Slam. He is the only player other than Rafael Nadal to win here since 2005.

    But does he have enough left to win his first Grand Slam since the Australian Open on 2010?

    He has been remarkable, but for the standards he once set, he is just playing average. A win here at the French Open would take him to Supernova status once again.

    It will be difficult as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are still on his way and playing as good as ever on a tough surface for him.

    He has won every other Grand Slam at least four times. You can bet he wants his second one here as badly as any other. As usual, he will be a must watch.

The Singles Record

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    The King of Clay in this era wants to become the open-era all-time King of Roland Garros.

    Right now he stands tied with Swedish legend Bjorn Borg at six titles each. Just like Borg, Nadal won his six in a seven-year span.

    This year he could surpass Borg and move up the career Grand Slams titles ladder and one closer to Roger Federer. It would be No. 11 on his record and the seventh overall French Open.

    He seems to be peaking again at the right time for the Open as he has just won the Italian Open defeating Novak Djokovic once again.

    If he were to meet Djokovic in the final it will be like watching a WWE WrestleMania title match. The Singles Record vs. the Novak Slam—you can bet that will be an all-time ratings high finals.

    Even if he doesn't face Djokovic, the singles record is on the line, and watching Rafa is always a hot ticket.

The Novak Slam

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    The world's No. 1, Novak Djokovic could easily be going for a sixth Grand Slam in a row.

    But last year, on his best year to date, he got derailed by Roger Federer in the semifinals and lost the shot at the Grand Slam.

    Now he is gunning to win his fourth consecutive, but to do so he will most likely have to face both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on his way to a potential win and fulfillment of a career Grand Slam.

    Both Federer and Nadal have achieve the career Grand Slam, so for Djokovic to do it beating them it would be double sweet.

    But sweet and a distant memory seems to be his dominance from last year. While he is still the world's No. 1 player, he has been a far cry from the dominating player he became.

    Still, now is when it counts, and I am sure he will lay it all on the line to go on and win the French Open, especially if it's against Rafa in the finals.