2013 French Open: Under-the-Radar Players You Need to Watch

JA AllenSenior Writer IMay 28, 2013

2013 French Open: Under-the-Radar Players You Need to Watch

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    The 2013 French Open is well underway.

    As we settle into the second round, it is an opportune time to peel away the top layers—those men and women we expect to be standing at the conclusion of this event—to look at the players who just may surprise you this year.

    Some call them "dark horses" while others describe them as "flying under the radar." What it means is that these are players with experience in navigating through Grand Slams. Moreover they have produced recent good results on clay which point to an opportunity for success at the French Open in 2013.

    No one in the media is currently talking about them but these are players we should watch as they advance through their respective draws.

Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland

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    2013 Record: 26-9

    2013 Ranking: 10

    You cannot overlook the 2013 record of Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka coming into the French Open.

    Starting his clay-court season early, Wawrinka reached the finals in Buenos Aires, losing to world No. 4 David Ferrer.

    Wawrinka, however, went out in the first round on the clay at Acapulco to Italian Fabio Fogini,

    He won the clay court tournament in Oeiras, Poland, defeating David Ferrer in the final, 6-1, 6-4. Additionally, Wawrinka reached the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo and the semifinals in Casablanca. 

    He advanced to the final in Madrid by defeating Marius Copil of Romania, Santiago Geraldo of Columbia, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic before he lost the championship battle to Rafael Nadal.

    Wawrinka had to retire prior to his second-round match in Rome the week before the French Open began. He is, however, fully recovered this week.

    He has moved from world No. 17 at the start of the year back into the No. 10 spot this week.

    His first-round opponent was Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands who was ranked by the ATP at No. 95. They battled late into the night with Wawrinka prevailing in four tight sets. His second-round opponent has not yet been determined. The conclusion of that match was postponed until Wednesday due to darkness.

    Wawrinka reached the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He will be looking to extend that mark this year, peaking at just the right time.

Sara Errani, Italy

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    2013 Record: 31-13

    2013 Ranking: 5

    In 2012, Sara Errani was a finalist in Paris at the French Open.

    She met Russian Maria Sharapova in the final—but fell 6-3, 6-2 to the Russian after an awe-inspiring run through the 2012 draw.

    This year, after winning the clay-court title in Acapulco, defeating Carlo Suarez Navarro, Errani advanced to the semifinals of both Madrid and Rome after a stumble out of the gate in Stuttgart.

    Her first-round opponent at the 2013 French Open was Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands who fell 6-1, 6-2. Her next opponent is Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in Round 2.

    Errani has another excellent opportunity to go deep into the tournament where she is projected to meet No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. 

    This may be the year the little Italian goes the distance at Stade Roland Garros.

Kei Nishikori, Japan

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    2013 Record: 19-8

    2013 Ranking: 15

    At age 23, Kei Nishikori appears to be making a bid to move up the rankings ladder—into the Top 10 in men's tennis.

    He definitely made his presence felt during the clay-court season in Madrid by eliminating Roger Federer during the third round, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2. From there he advanced to the quarterfinals, where Nishikori lost to Pablo Andujar of Spain.

    Although clay is not his favorite surface, Nishikori is definitely a player not to overlook as he makes his way through his draw at Stade Roland Garros this week.

    During previous French Open tournaments, he has never advanced past the second round in two tries, but this year Nishikori comes in fully fit and injury-free.

    Nishikori dispatched Jesse Levine of Canada in the first round and will face Grega Zimlja of Slovenia in the second round.

    He is in Rafael Nadal's quarter of the draw and has some stiff but winnable matches ahead. It would be a testament to the man and to Japan to have Nishikori do well in Paris.

Angelique Kerber, Germany

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    2013 Record: 21-11

    2013 Ranking: 8

    During the 2013 clay-court season, Angelique Kerber reached the semifinals in Stuttgart, losing to Maria Sharapova 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

    She followed that by advancing to the quarterfinals in Madrid where she lost to Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-1.

    Last year Kerber advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open, losing to eventual finalist Sara Errani, 6-3, 7-6. It was her best result at the French in six tries.

    This year, Kerber won her first-round match over fellow German Mona Barthel, 7-6, 6-2 in a tight match. Her next opponent in Round 2 is Jana Cepelova of Slovakia.

    With former French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki looming in the distance, Kerber must keep an eye on her golden opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals where she could meet current No. 1 Serena Williams.

    It is not an easy path ahead, but Kerber has the game to advance deep into the draw if she focuses and plays her best clay-court tennis.

Gilles Simon, France

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    2013 Record: 23-14

    2013 Ranking: 18

    Of all the Frenchmen entered into this year's major in Paris, no one looks seriously at the No. 15 seed Gilles Simon to inflict any serious damage to his opponents in the draw.

    The tenacious Frenchman took out Lleyton Hewitt in the first round in an epic five-set match which is not surprising when you consider two counter-punchers going at it for over 3.5 hours. Overcoming the man who refuses to go down was a major statement, in and of itself for Simon.

    Simon's second-round opponent is Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay who also endured a five-setter to advance.

    The Frenchman is in Federer's quarter of the draw and could meet the Swiss in the fourth round, if he survives.

    He has beaten Federer before—twice in 2008 in Canada and during the Masters Series final event in China. Federer, however, has defeated him the last three times they have played.

    In 2011, Simon had his furthest reach into the French Open—progressing through to the fourth round where he lost to Swede Robin Soderling.

    Clay would appear to be Simon's best surface as a finesse player and the 2013 French Open may just seem him advance deep into the draw—a true "dark horse" in Paris this year.

Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic

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    2013 Record: 25-12

    2013 Ranking: 7

    In 2012, Petra Kvitova made it to the French Open semifinals where she lost to eventual champion Maria Sharapova in straight sets, 3-6, 3-6.

    Coming into this year's French Open, Kvitova is definitely flying under the radar. No one is talking about the former Wimbledon champ in terms of winning this championship.

    She had her first clay encounter indoors at Katowice where she reached the finals, losing to Italian Roberta Vinci, 7-6, 6-1. 

    In Stuggart Kvitova reached the quarterfinals where she lost to Na Li of China, 6-3, 7-5. She advanced to the second round in Madrid and the third round in Rome before making her way to Paris.

    During the French fortnight, Kvitova has been stalled. Her first-round match with Aravane Rezai of France has been postponed until Wednesday, increasing the Czech's nervous energy.

    If Kvitova can get through the first couple of matches, she should be able to equal or surpass her results from a year ago.

    Settled nicely in Sharapova's quarter of the draw, the Czech has an excellent chance of meeting Sharapova again—but this time in the quarterfinals where the outcome may differ—seeing Kvitova walking away the winner.

Ernests Gulbis, Latvia

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    Current 2013 Record: 19-7

    Current 2013 Ranking: 40

    The world has patiently waited for the talented Mr. Gulbis to play up to his potential. Signs indicate that the Latvian may be ready to do just that at this year's French Open.

    Gulbis began the year ranked No. 136 and has climbed to the No. 40 spot in the ATP. He has made his way back into the top 50 in impressive fashion.

    After qualifying in Rome, Gulbis advanced to the third round where he met Rafael Nadal, winning the first set 6-1 before falling in three. He advanced to the second round in Munich and the third round in Barcelona.

    Earlier, he won his first title of 2013 at Delray Beach, defeating Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France in the final.

    Gulbis advanced to the second round of the 2013 French Open by defeating Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil in straight sets. But his next opponent is Gael Monfils who just upset the No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych. It should prove to be a very entertaining match.

    If Gulbis can get past Monfils, he has an excellent opportunity to make it to the quarterfinals—equaling his best result at Roland Garros achieved in 2008.

    This may well be the year and the tournament where Gulbis finally makes his mark.

Ana Ivanovic, Serbia

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    2013 Record: 18-10

    2013 Ranking: 14

    Ana Ivanovic, who won the French Open in 2008, has been struggling to get back to her championship form.

    So far this year on the clay, Ivanovic advanced to the quarterfinals in Stuttgart, the semifinals in Madrid but was knocked out in the first round in Rome by Urszula Radwanska.

    In her first-round match at this year's French Open, Ivanovic fought off a hard-charging Petra Martic of Croatia, to advance to Round 2 where her opponent will be Mathilde Johansson of France.

    Ivanovic was drawn into No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska's quarter and could face her in Round 4.

    Her opening-round matches appear to be very winnable—so you have to like her chances to go deep into her quarter of the draw.

    An upset or two might see the Serb well on her way to another French Open final.

Tommy Haas, Germany

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    Current 2013 Record: 21-9

    Current 2013 Ranking: 14

    At age 35, Tommy Haas has been playing lights-out late in his career.

    Earlier this year he won a title on clay in Munich, defeating fellow German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the final.

    Haas has played a great deal of clay court tennis during the past two months. He began in Houston, Texas, where he lost in the second round.

    After winning the tournament in Munich, he reached the round of 16 in Madrid, losing to No. 4 David Ferrer.

    In Rome, he fell coming out of the gates to Mikhail Youzhny, which propelled him to Dusseldorf where he advanced to the quarterfinals but had to withdraw at that point.

    Seeded No. 12 in Novak Djokovic's quarter of the draw, Haas had to get by Guillaume Rufin of France to advance to Round 2. There he will face American Jack Sock who has a tremendous power game. Should Haas advance he could possibly meet John Isner in the third round.

    In truth, Haas has a very favorable draw all the way to the quarterfinals. There is a definite window for the aging star who needs to make his move now while he has the legs to do it.

Carla Suarez Navarro, Spain

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    2013 Record: 23-15

    2013 Ranking: 20

    So far in 2013, Carla Suarez Navarro took to the clay courts in Acapulco where she advanced all the way to the final, losing to Italian Sara Errani 6-0, 6-4.

    Her next outing on clay in 2013 at Charleston saw the Spaniard dismissed in the second round. She had the same result in Stuttgart, losing in Round 2 to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-4.

    At Oeiras in Portugal, Navarro once again reached a clay court final, losing to Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-5, 6-2. In Madrid, Navarro advanced to Round 2 before losing. But, she reached the quarterfinals in Rome, losing to Serena Williams 6-2, 6-0.

    In 2008, Navarro reached the quarterfinals at Stade Roland Garros as a qualifier, so she knows how to win in Paris.

    Although the Spaniard has not enjoyed that kind of success in Paris since 2008, Navarro continues to work diligently to reach the quarterfinals and beyond in 2013.

    She got by a very tough Romanian Simona Halep in the first round and next faces Shelby Rogers of the U.S. This is a match Navarro should win.

    Her draw is remarkably easy—meaning the lady from Spain should make it all the way to the fourth round and conceivably the quarterfinals before the opposition stiffens.

Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria

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    2013 Record: 17-11

    2013 Ranking: 28

    Grigor Dimitrov has become one of the promising newcomers the media continues to follow in part because of his amazing tennis and in part because of his association with Maria Sharapova.

    Most players without a great deal of experience find it difficult to compete at Grand Slams where they might be forced to endure multiple five-set matches on their way deep into the draw.

    But Dimitrov may have what it takes.

    When the Bulgarian faced Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, he played extremely well for the first set. But Nadal came back to win in three. Dimitrov might have managed an upset, but his nerves stilled his ability.

    Following Monte Carlo, Dimitrov advanced to Round 2 in Barcelona, Round 3 in Madrid, falling to Richard Gasquet in the second round in Rome.

    But no one can overlook the fact that Dimitrov defeated the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the second round in Madrid before losing to Stanislas Wawrinka in the next round.

    In Djokovic's quarter of the draw, Dimitrov faced Alejandro Falla of Columbia in Round 1. He will face Frenchman Lucas Pouille in Round 2.

    Most feel that Dimitrov, of all the newcomers, shows the most promise for success at the French Open in 2013.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia

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    2013 Record: 22-10

    2013 Ranking: 39

    Former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova won this tournament convincingly in 2009.

    She knows what it takes to win a major on clay. But since that triumph, Kuznetsova has seen her career decline as she grew less and less satisfied with her life on tour.

    Recently Kuznetsova took a six-month break from tennis. Now she is in the process of building her ranking again.

    The Russian has climbed all the way to No. 39 in the world. This week, she has her sights fixed firmly on advancing deep into the draw at Roland Garros by playing her brand of aggressive tennis.

    In 2013 Kuznetsova advanced to the quarterfinals at Oeiras, the Round of 16 in Madrid, but lost in the first round in Rome.

    She defeated the No. 22 seed, Ekaterina Makarova of Russia in her opening round match and she is slated to face Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in Round 2.

    If she wins that match, Kuznetsova could face Caroline Wozniacki in the third round.

    She was drawn into Serena Williams' quarter and could conceivably face the American in the quarterfinals if she advances that far.

    A renewed Kuznetsova is a dangerous opponent with her all-court game and her vast experience—the very essence of being a "dark horse."