French Open 2013: Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Deep Runs at Roland Garros

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Nicolas Almagro of Spain returns the ball againts Rafael Nadal of Spain during his final match of day seven of the 2013 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on April 28, 2013 in Barcelona. Nadal won 6-3, 6-4.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

While it's only natural that most tennis fans are talking about the likes of Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova in relation to the 2013 French Open, there are some soft spots in both draws that could potentially lead to some surprising names making it deep in tournament.

The absence of the injured Andy Murray in the men's draw definitely opens things up as the "Big Four" have become the "Big Three" and a semifinal spot is seemingly there for the taking. Also, while Williams and Sharapova appear to be the dominant players on the women's side, neither is a clay-court specialist, so there are upsets to be had.

Here are some potential dark-horse candidates on both the men's and women's sides who could make some noise and last much longer than anticipated at Roland Garros.


Nicolas Almagro

While nobody measures up to Rafael Nadal, it seems as though most Spanish players are very good at playing on clay. That is the case with world No. 13 Nicolas Almagro as well.

Almagro hasn't had the greatest 2013 season, thus far, as he has yet to win a title, but he has reached two finals, and his track record on clay is impeccable. Almagro has reached 20 finals in his career and won 12 tournaments, all of which came on clay.

Almagro has never advanced past the quarterfinals at the French Open, but this could be his year. Not only has he excelled on clay in the past, but he has really developed other areas of his game that could potentially help him at Roland Garros. According to tennis journalist Chris Goldsmith, Almagro is third among top-20 players on tour this year in aces per match.

Serving is an underrated aspect of clay-court play as great serves can get opponents off balance, which is a death wish on clay. When you mix that with great movement, Almagro has all the tools.

Perhaps most importantly, Almagro is in the easiest quarter of the tournament as it contains David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych as its top seeds. Neither player is a pushover, but Almagro could very well reach the semis and possibly even upend Roger Federer to make it to the final.


Ana Ivanovic

Serbian bombshell Ana Ivanovic was once the No. 1 player in the world, but she has dropped off noticeably over the past several years. She is certainly in the mix at No. 14, but her most recent success was a quarterfinal appearance in last year's U.S. Open.

Recent play doesn't suggest that Ivanovic will do much damage at Roland Garros as she has yet to reach a final this year, but history and a weak draw are on her side.

It may be hard to believe, and perhaps it's difficult to remember at this point, but Ivanovic is a former French Open titlist. She won the tournament back in 2008, and that stands as the only Grand Slam victory of her career.

Picking her to win it again in 2013 would constitute going out on a very shaky limb, but she is comfortable at Roland Garros and looks pretty loose heading into the tournament, according to the WTA's official Twitter account.

Even if Ivanovic isn't playing her best tennis right now, she has a chance to take the path of least resistance to the semifinals. She is in the quarter headed by Agnieszka Radwanska, and while Radwanska is a very solid player, she's certainly vulnerable.

If things go as expected, Ivanovic will have a chance to reach the quarters by beating Radwanska and could then potentially reach the semis by defeating Sara Errani. Her luck would run out against Serena in the semifinals, but that would be a great result for Ivanovic.


Juan Monaco

Much like Almagro, Juan Monaco is a clay-court specialist who has had marginal success in Grand Slam tournaments. While the Argentine has never advanced past the fourth round at Roland Garros, he is in a pretty good position to do so this year.

His play over the course of the 2013 season has been spotty, but he just reached his first final of the year at Dusseldorf and has a chance to enter the French Open on a winning note, according to Live Tennis.

Monaco has seven career titles, and seven of them have come on clay. In fact, 2012 was his best year yet as he won four tournaments. It didn't translate to French Open success, but he has been on the precipice of reaching the final eight at Roland Garros for quite some time. Based on the way his draw appears on paper, he definitely has a chance to make it this year.

Federer resides on the bottom part of his quarter, but he wouldn't have to worry about him until the quarterfinals. Monaco's biggest roadblocks until that point include Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Both of them are ranked higher than Monaco, but neither is as proficient as he is on clay. Monaco has a big opportunity in front of him, and he has to seize it in order to reach the next level.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter