The 2014 French Open is one of the most physically demanding tournaments in the world. The premiere clay-court event draws the best in men's and women's singles each and every year. The slow-playing courts force players to dig deep into their reserves of strength every match, and it is a true testament to a player's durability to even entertain the prospects of winning the whole thing.
The biggest stars in the world will descend upon Paris, France to take part in this unique tennis major. It has been Rafael Nadal's tournament to lose for many years now, as he has won at Roland Garros in eight out of nine attempts. On the women's side, the results have been much more egalitarian.
Here is the crucial information for the tournament draw, as well as a quick look ahead at how the top stars are faring heading into this major.
Date: Friday, May 23
Time: 5:30 a.m. ET
Where: Roland Garros, Paris, France
Live Stream: Roland-Garros TV
No clay-court column would be complete without checking in on the frantic Spaniard. He has an unparalleled record at Roland Garros, but his game has been exposed a bit in recent weeks.
Novak Djokovic surprised many onlookers with a rare clay-court victory over Nadal at the Rome Masters final. He smashed 46 winners to Nadal's 15 and won the match after dropping the first set, no less. Djokovic also took him to task with a 6-3, 6-3 win on May 30 at the Sony Open.
The Rome Masters' upset was Nadal's third loss of the clay-court season, and ATP commentator Rob Koenig noted this is an unprecedented occurrence for Nadal.
Of course, it's nice when your slumps still leave you as the standard-bearer in tennis. Nadal hasn't relinquished his No. 1 overall position, but that ranking is up for grabs should he and Djokovic clash again in France (or if Nadal bows out unfathomably early at a contest where he's 59-1 overall). It should also be noted that Nadal's 78.6 winning percentage on clay this year is still higher than every other active player's career average on clay, as per USA Today's Chris Chase.
“Two weeks ago, my chances to play well in Roland Garros were not very high," Nadal said. “But I will arrive now more encouraged. Each week of the clay season got better for me."
His indomitable spirit keeps him in the conversation for any tennis contest, and he should garner the No. 1 ranking based on his previous displays on this course. However, Djokovic has exposed the microscopic faults in his game these past few weeks, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Nadal fails to win the French Open for only the second time in his illustrious career.
Does Serena Williams get bored with her dominance?
It's a legitimate question, considering she's been one of the most commanding athletes in sports history.
Williams had no trouble brushing off her competition in the Rome Masters tournament. The victory was the 60th WTA title of her career. She squashed Sara Errani 6-3, 6-0 in the finals, and the only player to really challenge her was Ana Ivanovic, who took Williams to three sets.
The Rome Masters tournament has proven to be an excellent tuneup for Williams before the French Open. She had previously claimed victory in Rome in 2002 and 2013. She followed up both of those titles with victories at Roland Garros.
Williams used a classic comparison to describer her game, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com):
"I'm like a fine wine, I guess -- at least my tennis is,'' Williams said. "My game gets better with age.''
Her game may be getting better with age, but she will always have to contend with the physical toll the sport brings.
After her stunning 2013 season, she's had to battle through injuries in 2014, which saw her win just two titles before coming up big in Rome. The victory boost couldn't have come at a better time, as the clay courts of the Roland Garros have proven to be one of the great equalizers in women's tennis. Tennis columnist Reem Abulleil relays the key information:
The high-profile victory at the Rome Masters and her world No. 1 ranking ensures she will be in the spotlight in Paris. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, relayed how the lack of a No. 1 ranking has proven to be beneficial in the past, even though she can't afford that luxury this time around. Via Douglas Robson of USA Today:
It's different from the past, because if you look at her career she's been No. 1 several times, but many, many times she was not No. 1 when she came to the Slams and she was really relaxed. This is really new to be dominating that much.
Her era of pure dominance may be relatively new, but Williams dominating on the clay at Roland Garros will soon sound like old news.