With a few integral clay-court tournaments in the books this season, it's time the world of tennis turns its attention to Roland Garros for the 2014 French Open.
Translation—the best part of the tennis calendar is set to commence.
The spectacle at Roland Garros is especially important thanks to the fact the best names in the business descend upon Paris, otherwise known as Rafael Nadal's stomping grounds. With the tournament on fast approach, let's take a look at how to catch the event highlighted by some of the sport's best names.
Where: Roland Garros, Paris, France
When: Sunday May 25, through Sunday June 8, 2014
Television: ESPN, Tennis Channel
Live Stream: ESPN3
Contenders to Watch
A player who has career wins over Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will not sneak up on anyone.
Stanislas Wawrinka is a bonafide superstar at the top of the tennis world, even if he has been a bit streaky this season.
Wawrinka captured a win at the Australian Open in January, only to look sloppy at Indian Wells in Miami. He picked things back up at Monte Carlo but fell off in major tournaments shortly after like the affair in Rome that saw him ousted by Tommy Haas and the upset at the hands of 20-year old Dominic Thiem in Madrid.
So what does all this mean?
Wawrinka gets hot and the tournament is his. That sounds hyperbolic, but Wawrinka can get on a tear unlike almost any other in the sport and is at an advantage at Roland Garros on slower clay, which allows for better timing on power shots.
While Wawrinka was abused in straight sets by Nadal last year at Roland Garros in the quarterfinals, it was a career-best run, and the Swiss star already touts a win over Nadal thanks to his triumph in the final at the aforementioned Australian Open.
Is there a passing of the torch imminent? Do not be too alarmed if so.
The winner of eight of the last nine at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal is the star under the spotlight for the wrong reason this year.
He's simply off.
Gone is the Nadal who has bullied his way through the competition on clay courts. As Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times illustrates, Nadal's bad form as of late is both notable and alarming:
Nadal won last week in Madrid, but he has still had one of the worst clay-court seasons of his career, including quarterfinal losses at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he has dominated. The last time Nadal lost three matches on clay before the French Open was in 2003, when he was 16.
With Djokovic winning in Rome, Nadal in Madrid, and third-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka victorious in Monte Carlo, it is the first time that the three clay Masters events have been won by three men since 2004, the last year before Nadal began to dominate the surface.
Nadal did manage to squeak by with a win at the Madrid open, but only because Kei Nishikori had to retire from the match courtesy of a back injury after Nadal actually lost the first set.
Still, Nadal is no stranger to adversity or a so-called slump. He says his form has been on the mend since the beginning of the clay-court season, as captured by Kamakshi Tandon of Tennis.com:
“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."
If Nadal is going to fall off and lose at a place he currently holds a 59-1 record, it's going to happen this year. His form is out of whack, and the field itself is stout. A second loss is certainly a possibility, as improbable as it may seem.