French Open 2013: Dark-Horse Players to Watch for in Roland Garros

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IMay 22, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland lines up a shot to Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic in the semi-final match on day eight of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 11, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

No two players enter the 2013 French Open in Roland Garros hotter than Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. 

Between them, Nadal and Williams have won a combined 39 straight matches, including each of the last two tournaments in Rome and Madrid. But the bad news for both Rafa and Serena is that now they each enter Paris with Eiffel Tower-sized targets on their backs.

Plus, every year the men's and women's draws feature a handful of surprises, and 2013 will be no different. After all, Serena Williams was bounced in the first round at the French Open a year ago.

With upsets sure to unfold, here we'll highlight a trio of dark-horse players to watch for at the 2013 French Open.



John Isner

American hopeful John Isner has struggled on clay as of late, but did earn his first singles title of the season on the tricky surface last month, winning the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston.

In that tournament, the 6'9" Isner, currently ranked No. 21 in the world, took out a pair of talented clay-court specialists in Juan Monaco and Nicolas Almagro.

Recent early-round failures at Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome have Isner flying under the radar heading into Roland Garros, but if he can pick up some positive results in Nice, France this week, there's a good chance he'll enter Paris with some key confidence. 

While Isner has achieved most of his Grand Slam success on the hard courts of the U.S. Open over the years, he has reached the third round of the French Open in the past.

Will this be the year the 28-year-old goes a step further?



Roberta Vinci

An extremely talented doubles player, Italy's Roberta Vinci has won three Grand Slam titles in the past two years with teammate Sara Errani. 

Vinci hasn't been quite as successful by herself, however, bowing out of the French Open in the first round a year ago. 

But after beating former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on the indoor clay in the final of the Katowice Open in Poland last month, the 30-year-old Vinci has made it clear that she'll be a tough out for any contender in Roland Garros this summer.

Vinci has won only eight career singles titles since 2007, but five of them have come on clay.

While the underrated Italian lacks the overall game to defeat the likes of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in Paris in 2013, her experience and ability to maneuver on the red stuff makes her a dark-horse player worth watching at the French Open.



Stanislas Wawrinka


Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka has had a strong clay-court season in 2013 and looks like a legitimate threat to the top contenders at the 2013 French Open.

The 28-year-old won the Portugal Open earlier this month and has elevated himself all the way up to No. 11 in the ATP World Rankings. After winning in Portugal, Wawrinka made a deep run at the Madrid Masters, upsetting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych and reaching the final before losing to Rafael Nadal.

He withdrew in the second round at the Rome Masters in his most recent outing, but should be well-rested for Roland Garros.

An accomplished doubles player, Wawrinka has achieved most of his singles success on the red stuff, winning three clay-court tournaments since 2006 and reaching eight clay-court finals since 2005.

Like Roger Federer, Wawrinka possesses a vicious one-handed backhand. But he also boasts a lot of power from the baseline, which allows him to have above-average success on clay. If the veteran can keep his cool in Paris, there's no telling how far he can go.


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