While anticipating the announcement of the 2013 French Open draws on Friday, May 24, it is natural for tennis fans to ponder who other than Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams will be left standing at the end of Week 1.
Grand Slam aficionados are accustomed to the top-four men marching through the draw as they have done frequently over the past few seasons. But this year, Andy Murray is out at Roland Garros with a back injury. This means there may be a slight opening for a male "rising star" to break through.
The women’s results at Roland Garros have been anything but predictable since former world No. 1 Justine Henin retired from tennis for the first time in 2008.
Several of the winners since that time have been first-time Grand Slam champions like Ana Ivanovic in 2008, Francesca Schiavone in 2010 and Li Na in 2011. Others like Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 and Maria Sharapova in 2012 had won majors—but never on clay.
The women’s game at the French Open in 2013 will definitely provide an avenue for a "rising star" to make her mark.
After dissecting the field, five men and five women stand out—all up-and-comers. While not in the top 10, these young stars are hopefully closing in on higher rankings and a higher seeding at future events.
Because they have shown by their recent successes and past results that they are on the rise, these players have demonstrated potential to make it into Week 2 and beyond.
Age 21, Ranked No. 44
Romanian Simona Halep would not be part of this listing if not for her recent showing at the 2013 Italian Open in Rome.
After qualifying to make it into the main draw, Halep defeated her first opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in Round 1.
During the second round, Halep, ranked world No. 64, defeated the No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in three sets.
Then the feisty Romanian took out the No. 13 seed, Roberta Vinci in the round of 16 and upset former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals.
Serena Williams, however, ended Halep’s run during the semifinals.
In 2012, Halep was eliminated during the first round at Roland Garros, but she is a former French Open junior champion—winning the title in 2008.
It is logical to conclude that she can play on clay. Now, fully fit and ready to play her best tennis, Halep is primed to make considerable inroads at the French Open this year.
Age 22, Ranked No. 59
At the 2012 French Open, David Goffin demonstrated his potential by surviving to the fourth round. There he faced Roger Federer to battle for a chance to advance to the quarterfinals.
The Belgian took the first set but could not sustain the effort, losing in four to the Swiss legend.
Unfortunately, 2013 has brought few similar results. But on clay, Goffin did advance to the semifinals at Bordeaux, France, where he lost to Gael Monfils in three sets.
This week in Dusseldorf, he lost in the first round to Grega Zemlja of Slovenia after winning the first set.
Without much size or power, Goffin remains a “touch” player whose shot-making ability allows him to stay in points by keeping his opponents off-balance. In this day and age with the power hitters taking center stage, finesse players like Goffin often have to wait for their opportunities and seize them when they come.
If 2012 saw the young Belgian advance to the fourth round at Roland Garros, 2013 might provide another opportunity to show tennis fans why they should pay attention to Goffin, whose best surface is clay.
Age 18, Ranked No. 59
The tennis world has long been aware of the tennis prowess of Madison Keys of the Unites States. Finally, at age 18, Keys has started to show why she had garnered so much attention.
She started out 2013 by making the quarterfinals at Sydney, where she lost to Li Na of China in a close contest.
Keys advanced to the third round of the Australian Open before losing to the No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber, 2-6, 5-7.
On clay, Keys advanced to quarterfinals at Charleston before losing to Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4. After qualifying in Madrid, she reached the second round before falling to Anabel Medina Garrigues.
In Rome, however, she did not reach the main draw. This week in Brussels, she lost in the first round to Kirsten Flipkens.
2013 will be her French Open tournament debut, but, it will not be her last time to dance on the red clay.
With her powerful serve and ground strokes, Keys will become a force to be reckoned with in Paris and elsewhere.
Age 22, Ranked No. 28
The world sat up and paid close attention when Grigor Dimitrov upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Masters earlier this month.
In the past, the Bulgarian found himself in similar positions against big-name players only to cave in at the end of a set or a match.
For example, earlier in 2013 during the Masters event at Indian Hills, Dimitrov similarly had Djokovic on the ropes but let him slip away, committing four consecutive double faults as he tried to serve out the first set.
Dimitrov repeated this folding act in Miami in a match with Andy Murray, as the Bulgarian tried to serve out the first set.
When he met Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, Dimitrov could have pulled off the upset, but his nerves overcame his ability. Nadal escaped with the win, breaking the Bulgarian’s serve in the last set.
Dimitrov shows real promise with a fluid all-around game. Many comparisons have been made between him and Roger Federer because of their similar styles and ease of movement.
As the Bulgarian continues to build his game and gain confidence, he must improve mentally and physically if he hopes to reach the top of the game.
The 2013 French Open will be his next challenge, offering Dimitrov an opportunity to enjoy his first breakout major tournament on the grounds of Roland Garros.
Age 19, Ranked No. 35
Laura Robson made her mark when she paired with countryman Andy Murray in mixed doubles at the 2012 Summer Olympics at Wimbledon. The two of them advanced to the finals, losing to the team of Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi.
She regained the spotlight by defeating former champion Kim Clijsters at the 2012 U.S. Open in the second round. It was Clijsters' final professional match. Robson followed that by defeating Li Na of China in the third round. Samantha Stosur put an end to her U.S. Open run, however, in Round 4.
It proved to be a breakout tournament for the young Brit. She would follow it up by reaching her first WTA final, losing to Su-Wei Hsieh at the 2012 Guangzhou Open.
In 2013, Robson climbed into the top 50 but lost to Sloane Stephens during the third round at the Australian Open. On clay so far, Robson lost in the second round in Charleston, the third round in Madrid and the second round in Rome.
Heading into the French Open, Robson has only one way to go—up. She lost in the first round in 2012 after making her way into the main draw as a lucky loser. There she met clay-court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues, who sent her packing.
Robson adapts quickly and will look upon her time in Paris as a chance to advance her clay-court skills.
Age 24, Ranked No. 26
Throughout the years, we have seen talented Frenchmen whose acumen on the tennis court should have brought them more success.
While Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s talent has propelled him into the top 10, he has yet to win a major. Gael Monfils has discovered that his athletic ability is not enough to take him all the way to the top. Then, of course, there is Richard Gasquet, who had so many expecting him to break into the top four early in his career.
Perhaps Benoit Paire will accomplish what these gifted athletes could not—by winning consistently at the upper levels of the game.
Time will tell. In the meantime, during the past year, Paire has made his presence felt on tennis courts around the world.
Recently he advanced to the semifinals in Rome, where he met Roger Federer for a chance to continue to the finals.
On his way to that match, Paire defeated world No. 18 Juan Monaco and No. 32 Julien Benneteau. In the round of 16, he sent No. 7 Juan Martin del Potro home and then dismissed No. 37 Marcel Granollers.
Earlier in 2013, Paire reached the finals in Montpellier, losing to Gasquet. He also made it to the semifinals in Chennai, where he lost to Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut.
His ranking has climbed from world No. 95 to world No. 26 since the start of 2012. Standing 6’5", Paire possess the traditional French power and speed on court with excellent ground strokes, especially his backhand.
He loves the clay but has yet to do well at the French Open. This could be the year Paire puts it all together.
Age 21, Ranked No. 19
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova started 2013 in fine form, advancing to the finals of the tournament in Brisbane, where she lost to Serena Williams in straight sets.
On her way to that showdown, moreover, Pavlyuchenkova defeated Lucie Hradecka of Czechoslovakia, followed by an upset of Petra Kvitova in Round 2. In the quarterfinals, she dispatched Angelique Kerber and then eliminated Leslie Tsurenko in the semifinals.
During the finals in Monterrey, Pavlyuchenkova won her first tournament of 2013 by defeating Angelique Kerber. Moving to clay in Stuttgart, she advanced to the round of 16, losing this time to Kerber.
Pavlyuchenkova won her first clay-court tournament of 2013 at Estoril, defeating Carla Suarez Navarro in the final.
In Madrid and Rome, however, Pavlyuchenkova went out in the first round.
At the French Open in 2012, she reached the third round, but in 2011, Pavlyuchenkova reached the quarterfinals.
The Russian can play on clay and is capable of sustaining a winning run.
2013 may be her year to shine on the red clay.
Age 22, Ranked No. 23
Jerzy Janowicz made a name for himself at last year’s Paris Masters, where the young unseeded Pole made it all the way to the finals.
After qualifying to make it into the main draw, Janowicz defeated No. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 15 Marin Cilic, No. 3 Andy Murray, No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic and No. 20 Gilles Simon before losing the final to No. 4 David Ferrer.
The win propelled Janowicz into the top 30. For a player who began 2012 at No. 221, Janowicz has scrambled up the ranks quickly.
At 6'8", the lanky Pole makes life difficult for his opponents with his powerful first serve and his ability to return with depth, power and accuracy.
When you add those pluses to his unreadable and unconventional approach to the game, you are watching a talent in the making.
After a mediocre start to 2013, Janowicz finally showed his true form in Rome at the Italian Open. After defeating Santiago Giraldo in the first round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round and Richard Gasquet in the third, Janowicz advanced to the quarterfinals where he met and was defeated by world No. 3 Roger Federer.
2013 will mark the Pole’s first French Open tournament, but without a doubt, it will not be his last.
No top-ranked player who finds Janowicz in his path will be pleased with the prospect of meeting him in the early rounds.
Age 20, Ranked No. 17
Everyone felt Sloane Stephens had arrived when she reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open, where she defeated Serena Williams.
This was after she had advanced to the quarterfinals at Brisbane and the semifinals at Hobart. Her career was definitely looking up. She climbed to world No. 29, which was her ranking at the 2013 Australian Open.
Stephens lost her semifinal contest to world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne but climbed to a career-high ranking of No. 17.
But since that time she has floundered, in part because of an abdominal muscle strain suffered in Melbourne.
On clay, Stephens lost in the second round at Charleston after receiving a first-round bye. She also fell during the first round at Madrid. Then, she advanced to the third round in Rome, losing to Maria Sharapova.
In Brussels on Thursday, Stephens lost her quarterfinal contest to Peng Shuai, 6-2, 6-3.
Will she continue her improvement on clay and find her way into Week 2 of the French Open—perhaps into her second major semifinal in 2013?
She advanced to the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2012, so there is no reason to doubt she has the ability to play on the red clay. Stephens is someone to watch.
Age 22, Ranked No. 16
The big Canadian with perhaps the biggest serve in the game is poised on the brink of success, waiting to break through into the top 10 and beyond.
The only question that remains is: when? Will it be at this upcoming major in Paris?
It could very well be, depending on the weather conditions at Roland Garros, which play a role in determining court speed.
At the 2013 Australian Open, the Canadian reached the round of 16, where he lost to Roger Federer.
Raonic won in the tournament in San Jose on hard courts, defeating Tommy Haas in the final.
On clay, the Canadian reached the semifinals in Barcelona, where he met and lost to Rafael Nadal after working his way through the draw.
Clay has not been that kind to the big Canadian, but he worked hard to improve not only his clay-court skills but his overall game with additional training on the surface provided by his coaching staff.
Playing in his first French Open in 2011, Raonic fell in the first round. In 2012, the Canadian advanced to the third round, where he lost to Juan Monaco in five sets.
This year, Raonic hopes to advance further by taking his clay game to the next level.