The official draws for the 2014 French Open have likely been met with great approval from stars like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but not everyone was lucky enough to get a dream path at Roland Garros.
Some of the very best players on both the men's and women's tours will have their work cut out for them if they intend to conquer the clay. That doesn't necessarily mean that they can't win it all, though, as a tough draw could help them maintain their focus and better prepare them for the closing rounds.
Here are three top stars who will be in the mix in terms of capturing a French Open title but will have to work harder than anyone else to accomplish that goal.
Most would probably agree that Murray is one of the top five players in the world at the very least, but time missed due to injury has caused him to fall to No. 8 in the ATP rankings. That inevitably impacted his French Open seeding as well and ensured that he will need to beat at least three elite-level players to reign supreme in all likelihood.
As seen in this graphic courtesy of BBC Tennis, Murray's prospective draw won't allow him to let his guard down from the third round on:
Andy Murray's projected route through the French Open. pic.twitter.com/5QNcK3tHa6— BBC Tennis (@bbctennis) May 23, 2014
Philipp Kohlschreiber and Richard Gasquet won't be pushovers in the third and fourth rounds, as both have beaten star players in the past, but things really get tough in the quarterfinals. If things hold true to form, Murray would have to beat 2014 Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarters, eight-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the semis and six-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic in the final.
It doesn't get much tougher than that, especially for a player who is still trying to round into form. According to Chris Jones of the London Evening Standard, Murray believes his recent play suggests that he is trending in the right direction:
I don't feel like people have respected the severity of having back surgery, it takes time and I feel I am getting closer to where I want to be. Rome was the best I hit the ball and best I felt physically since the surgery. I was expecting to start playing well around this time, so that's pleasing.
Murray pushed Nadal to three sets in Rome, and even though he lost, his performance was promising. Perhaps Murray will be able to capture some magic and go on a heroic run through the French Open, but the odds aren't in his favor no matter how well he thinks he is playing.
Much like Murray, Maria Sharapova is a victim of circumstance at Roland Garros. By all rights, she should be the No. 2 seed in the women's draw behind only Serena Williams. Instead, Sharapova is No. 7 and may not even reach the semifinals if things go the way most expect them to.
Myriad injuries have bothered her since late last season, causing her to miss some time. Although she has had plenty of success when she has played, the fact that so many of her counterparts have played in almost every tournament has inevitably hurt her standing.
She faced Williams in the French Open final last year, but that match is on track to happen in the quarters this year, per Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Serena Williams gets Maria Sharapova in her quarter, a possible rematch of last year's final in the QFs. Tough luck for Maria. #RG14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 23, 2014
That is a terrible break for Sharapova, considering how well she has played on clay this year. According to Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN.com, she actually rates higher than any other woman on the red stuff this year, so her tough draw means Serena has a tough draw by proxy.
As seen in the draw courtesy of RolandGarros.com, Sharapova could have some tough battles before she even gets to Williams, including a third-round clash with Kaia Kanepi and a fourth-round match against Dominika Cibulkova, who ousted her from the Australian Open this year.
This is a nightmarish draw for Sharapova, but she might be home free if she can get past Williams.
Perhaps no player has a better chance of ending Nadal's incredible string of success at Roland Garros than Novak Djokovic, but it will be a major test for the Serbian star. "Djoker" is coming off a Rome Masters title that saw him beat Nadal in the final, though, so his confidence should be at an all-time high on clay.
Unfortunately for Djokovic, he has some extremely difficult matches on his hands. After playing Joao Sousa in the first round, he will likely face Jeremy Chardy on the heels of a huge victory for the Frenchman, according to Christopher Clarey of The New York Times:
Djokovic plays Sousa in the first round of French Open with possible match in next round vs Chardy, recent winner over Federer— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 23, 2014
Which player has the toughest French Open draw?
A fourth-round match with France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is possible too, per RolandGarros.com, as well as a quarterfinal against the up-and-coming Milos Raonic. Although Djokovic beat Raonic in Rome, that match went three sets as the Canadian youngster gave him everything he could handle.
The semifinals could potentially bring a meeting with the legendary Roger Federer before Djokovic finally gets to Nadal, who may be largely untested. Djokovic would be battle-hardened by that point, which could help, but he could just as easily be worn out.
His status as a No. 2 seed didn't necessarily net him a one-way ticket to the final, but he has the ability to get there regardless.
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