French Open 2014: Preview and Top Storylines at Roland Garros

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

French Open 2014: Preview and Top Storylines at Roland Garros

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    The 2014 French Open arrives with the same two players who entered the 2013 French Open as favorites, front-runners again.

    Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, less dominant on clay this season, remain the players to beat at Roland Garros. 

    Nadal and Williams are ranked No. 1 and thus will be seeded No. 1. Can they defend their titles? Will either make history? 

    Qualifying rounds kick off Tuesday. Brackets for the main draw will be decided Friday. Competition begins Sunday at 5:30 a.m. ET. You can catch the action via live stream at Roland-Garros TV

    It's been a weird, almost wacky clay-court season. Narratives and momentum changed as swiftly as the dust blows at Roland Garros.

    Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka played in an all-Swiss final in Monte Carlo. A few weeks later, in Rome, they were both gone by the second round. Fresh off a Sony Open title win, Serena Williams lost to some unknown in her opening match at the Family Circle Cup.

    Novak Djokovic had a wrist-injury scare that went from possibly season-ruining to something minor. Maria Sharapova was asked about being the queen of clay one week. The next week, she was defeated by Ana Ivanovic in Rome. 

    Still, with all the change, much stays the same. As the dust settles at Roland Garros, the same big names—Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Williams and Sharapova—are grabbing the headlines.

Will Novak Djokovic Finally Win His 1st French Open?

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    Djokovic's win over Nadal in the Italian Open final confirmed the obvious: The Serbian can beat the Spaniard on clay. 

    It wasn't the first time Djokovic defeated Nadal on clay. It was Djokovic's third time winning the Italian Open. Winning on clay is no longer the issue for Djokovic. Winning a French Open is. Djokovic has come so painfully close. He would probably trade a decade of Italian Open titles for one French Open championship.

Can Rafael Nadal Continue His Reign at Roland Garros?

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    Nadal has a stranglehold on la Coupe des Mousquetaires, the trophy given to the men's singles winner of the French Open. The dude has won eight titles in just nine appearance. He's kissed that trophy so many times, a marriage license might be in order. 

    Djokovic would like nothing more than to break up that happy marriage. Nadal certainly enters the tournament this year shakier than in the past. His loss to Djokovic was the first time in a decade that he lost more than two matches on clay in the same year.

Serena Williams' Quest to Tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova

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    Serena Williams needs just one more Grand Slam victory to tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova as the Americans with the most Slams (18).

    She's already a member of the Mount Rushmore of greatest American women's tennis players. After going 78-4 last year and winning two Grand Slams, winning No. 18 seemed like a given. But a thigh injury has hampered her play. Still, she looked impressive en route to winning a third Italian Open. The two previous wins in Rome (2002, 2012) were followed by wins at Roland Garros.

The Young Guns Gunning for the Big 4

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    Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and Jerzy Janowicz are among the young guns waiting in the wings for this Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray era to fade.

    They've been called the next big thing. However, it's been resurgent veterans such as Wawrinka and Federer who have produced the biggest surprises this clay-court season. 

    These guys better make a move, or soon they'll be too old to be considered young guns.

Li Na's Bid to Overtake Serena Williams

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    Despite trailing Serena Williams by more than 4,000 points in the WTA rankings, Li Na sees taking the No. 1 ranking as a real possibility. 

    It is. Williams has to defend the French Open title. An early exist and a victory here by Li could produce a mega points swing. That won't put Li in front, but it further chips away at what once seemed like an insurmountable Williams lead.

    Williams began the year with a 7,000-plus points lead over Li. With 3,000 points already shaved from that lead, Li could leave Roland Garros within striking distance of No. 1.

Which Stanislas Wawrinka Will Show Up?

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    How Wawrinka plays at the French Open depends on which Wawrinka shows up. Winner of the Australian Open, Wawrinka produces woe as easily as wow.

    He wowed the crowd in Monte Carlo by winning a final over Federer. But then he followed that up with early exits from Madrid and Rome. Similarly, shortly after winning the Australian Open, he failed to reach the quarterfinals at Indian Wells.

Andy Murray's Attempt to Bounce Back from Back Surgery

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    Is Andy Murray all back—pun intended—from back surgery? Never a favorite to win on clay, Murray has the added challenge of finding his groove post-back surgery.

    He looked impressive against Nadal in Rome. Murray took the first set 6-1. But Nadal came roaring back to win 1-6, 7-3, 7-5. The grind seemed to get to Murray.

Roger Federer's Return Redo

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    Federer played unevenly in his first tournament back since his wife gave birth to the couple's second set of twins. Just when we thought the Maestro was back, he gets booted in the first round by Jeremy Chardy? 

    It's understandable that Federer would be less than sharp after taking time away from the ATP World Tour to join his family. But now that he's had more time to refocus, what will the return redo look like?

The French Drought

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    Poor Yannick Noah, trotted out every year as the last Frenchman to win the French Open. It's been 31 years since Noah won the singles crown at Roland Garros. Wonder if he delights in this distinction like the 1972 Miami Dolphins celebrate their undefeated season? If so, with the present lot of French players fading fast, Noah can start chilling his best champagne.

What Will They Be Wearing?

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    It's Paris, the fashion capital of the world. Or course attire will make headlines. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have already previewed their Nike dresses. Apparently, gray is the new black. Even Federer will be wearing gray.  

    Venus Williams is sure to raise eyebrows. Who can forget her risque 2010 shoutout to the Moulin Rouge? 

    Instead of the red carpet, players will strike a pose—especially when serving—on red clay.