French Open 2012: Safest Locks to Win Each Draw
On Tuesday at the French Open, Serena Williams lost in the opening round of a major for the first time in her career. The younger Williams sister showed signs of aging, as she fell short of a third-set comeback and fell to Virgine Razzano of France 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3.
When a player of Williams' stature gets knocked out in the first round at Roland Garros, it turns the entire tournament on its head.
Who stands to gain from this early upset? Whose draw just got that much more interesting? And if Serena Williams was beaten in the first round, who else is at risk?
Eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli lost in the second round on the women's side, and men's 10th seed John Isner was also ousted. The third round is under way in Paris, and we will soon find out who else will fall.
Until then, here are the eight men's and women's players with the best chances to make it through their draws and take a shot at a French Open championship.
Svetlana Kuznetsova continued the string of upsets in the women's tournament, as she shocked Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round.
While Kuznetsova was ranked second in the world in 2007, she is now 28th and hasn't advanced past the quarterfinals of any singles major since winning at Roland Garros in 2009. For her to beat the third-ranked player in the world was once expected, but now, it is a shock.
So with Angelique Kerber the highest-seeded woman remaining in her draw at 10th, it is a wide-open competition for the chance to advance. Kerber is skilled but unproven, having never advanced past the second round at Roland Garros before this tournament.
Kerber's opponent, 18th-seeded Flavia Pennetta, has never made it past the fourth, nor has Kuznetsova's fourth-round opponent, 21st-seeded Sara Errani.
While Kuznetsova does not seem like the safest choice to advance through her draw, with no clear favorite and both experience and clay prowess on her side, she is as good as any choice in this situation.
David Ferrer will likely face a seeded opponent in every round for the remainder of his draw, but he is the strongest clay player remaining and will become the only underdog to make the semifinals.
Granted, he is hardly an underdog as the sixth-ranked player in the world, but following matches against 27th-seed Michael Youzhny and 20th-seed Marcel Granollers, Ferrer is poised to run into fourth-ranked Andy Murray.
The pride of Great Britain is playing his best tennis right now, having made it to at least the semifinals in each of the last five majors. But we can leave his penchant for shrinking in big moments aside for now—and how fitting it is for Murray to have a streak of semifinals appearances rather than wins.
Ferrer has beaten Murray in all three matches they have played on clay, and that is what will matter.
It is never easy to beat Murray when he is on his game, but streak or no streak, Ferrer has Murray's number on this surface. Ferrer will make it through this draw.
Li Na does not have an easy draw, but the reigning French Open champion is a proven winner on the clay courts of Paris and cannot be counted out.
The first-ever Asian-born player to win a Grand Slam title, Na will cruise past unseeded opponents in both the third and fourth rounds on the way to a probable rematch against an opponent from her title run last year.
Francesca Schiavone and Petra Kvitova will likely face each other in the fourth round for a shot to play Na in the quarterfinals.
Schiavone, the 14th seed this year, failed to defend her 2010 title at Roland Garros when Na defeated her in the finals to secure a championship of her own. While both players have hit their 30s, only Schiavone is showing signs of decline with her sub-par play in 2012.
On the other hand, Kvitova is only getting better. Following her loss to Na in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year, Kvitova surged, winning at Wimbledon en route to being named the WTA Player of the Year.
However, while Kvitova is ranked three spots higher than Na at fourth in the world, her lack of speed makes Na the superior player on clay.
Na has done this before against these very opponents, and in a game where mental strength is everything, sometimes that is the difference.
For all Rafael Nadal's clay dominance, Novak Djokivic is still the best player in the world right now. However, Nadal's biggest strength is his main weakness. Not only has the Djoker never won a French Open, he has never made it past the semifinals.
That said, getting to the semifinals should not be a large task for Djokivic. Nicolas Devilder of France will need much more than a home-court advantage to best him in the third round, and Djokivic would have no problem in the fourth with Andreas Seppi, who has never advanced past even the second round.
The only thing that stands in Djokivic's way is a potential match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. The fifth-ranked player in the world will have to best 18th-seeded Stanislaus Wawrinka in the fourth round, but he is clearly the next best player in Djokovic's draw and is more than capable of doing so.
But despite his talent, Tsonga's power game would not work well on clay against the Djokovic's finesse play. Should a Djokovic-Tsonga match come to pass, the Djoker would move past him with relative ease.
The top-ranked woman in the world does not necessarily have a cakewalk through her draw, but like Djokivic on the men's side, Victoria Azarenka is well-equipped to deal with it.
Azarenka and her third-round opponent, Alexandra Wozniak, used to be considered rivals when both were up-and-comers in the world of women's tennis. But now Wozniak is ranked 58th in the world and should not be a bother for Azarenka.
Dominika Cibulkova, Azarenka's prospective opponent in the fourth round, has had more success at Roland Garros than at any other major, making the semifinals in 2009, but she was also knocked out in the opening round in 2011. With a 1-7 career record against Azarenka, Cibulkova will not stand in her way.
The same goes for American Samantha Stosur, the sixth-ranked player in the world. Stosur played in the French Open final in 2010 and won in doubles in 2006, but she has never been able to solve Azarenka on the court, losing to the Belarusian in all six meetings they have had.
While there are skilled players in Azarenka's draw, history shows she has the upper hand on every one of them. This draw is hers to lose.
It appears that chalk is the safest bet in the men's tournament thus far, but it's no news that there's Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and then everybody else.
Luckily for Federer, it seems he has drawn opponents who are less playing for a major title and more fighting to survive. For all his heroics in the marathon match against Isner at Wimbledon in 2010, Federer dispatched 89th-ranked Nicolas Mahut in the third round. David Goffin, who Federer would face in the fourth round, is ranked 109th.
Federer would also run into the same luck Djokovic would have in the quarterfinals, as both of his prospective quarterfinal opponents are unabashed power players. Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro may both be ranked in the top 10, but both struggle on clay.
Berdych lost in the first round at Roland Garros last year and has lost five-of-six career clay matches against Federer, while Federer has knocked del Potro out at Roland Garros before, defeating him in the semifinals back in 2010.
He may be getting older, but he is still Roger Federer. He has the edge in finesse that will carry him on through the draw.
Though she has not been the top-ranked player in the world in nearly five years, Maria Sharapova is still ranked second today and shows no signs of faltering. She has lost just two games total in advancing to the third round at Roland Garros, and the draw ahead of her should not give her much trouble.
Sharapova will face Shuai Peng of China in the third round and will likely breeze by her, and her likely fourth-round opponent, fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will not be any bigger of an issue.
Caroline Wozniacki, another former top-ranked player who is now ninth in the world, could present a challenge for Sharapova, though Wozniacki has played second fiddle to Sharapova in the past. Sharapova has beaten Wozniacki in six of their eight meetings, including both matches on clay.
Considering Wozniacki has only made it to the quarterfinals of the French Open once, that is likely as far as she will get after Sharapova is done with her.
The King of Clay will not be dethroned by just any player. Rafael Nadal should tear through Eduardo Schwank of Argentina in the second round before facing off against either 13th-seeded Juan Monaco or 19th-seeded Milos Raonic.
Monaco is 1-3 against Nadal in his career, with his lone victory coming on the hard courts at the Cincinnati Masters back in 2007. Raonic has never beaten Nadal, and neither he nor Monaco is likely to upset Rafa on his favored surface.
One stumbling block on Nadal's path through this draw appears to be Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, the eighth-ranked player in the world. But upon closer inspection, Tipsarevic has never advanced past the third round in the French Open or past the quarterfinals in any major, and he is winless in three previous matches against Nadal.
Despite Tipsarevic's lofty world ranking, he is not anywhere near Rafa's level, especially not on clay. Nadal will blow by him as he rolls through his draw with ease.