The 2014 French Open will feature big names like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic fighting for the championship at Roland Garros, but there are some lesser-known competitors that will surprise the game's best.
In fact, a few upsets could be in order if their paths cross.
Predicting the outcome of the French Open before the opening service hits the red clay is a bold endeavor, but you can rest assured knowing that the predictions for the following three players are pretty safe bets.
While clearly a tier below the likes of the aforementioned names, the following athletes have been playing well lately and won't be easy to defeat at Roland Garros.
Former tennis champion Michael Chang is a believer in Kei Nishikori's abilities. Now a member of his coaching staff, Chang told Alvin Sallay of The South China Morning Post he believes Nishikori could win a Grand Slam title:
Winning a grand slam is certainly a possibility. Kei is beating guys who have won slams or got to the finals and that will be a confidence booster for him to say, 'Hey, I'm doing well against these players, so why can't I just do as well [as them].'
Nishikori has found success on clay already this season. He won in Barcelona and made it to the finals in Madrid before a back injury forced him to retire against Nadal.
According to Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, that back injury apparently won't affect him in the French Open:
Michael Chang on Kei Nishikori coming back from inuury at the French Open: "I think he'll be ready to go"— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 22, 2014
Given his recent success on clay, Nishikori has to be considered a dark-horse candidate at Roland Garros. He's the first Japanese tennis player to crack the world's top 10—he's currently No. 9—and will look to improve on last year's top-16 finish in the tournament.
Fabio Fognini is a clay-court specialist. The Italian is remarkable on red clay, and that will work to his advantage in this tournament.
While it's crazy to predict that he'll make it through the rest of the field and win the whole thing, Fognini could turn some heads by winning a few matches early.
Just how successful is Fognini on clay? Well, here are the 26-year-old's top accomplishments on the surface:
|2013||Winner||International German Open|
|2014||Winner||Royal Guard Open|
While Fognini has found success recently, his short temper could very well impact just how well he is able to execute his shots. Earlier in the month while competing in Madrid, Fognini got into a verbal altercation with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani.
Here's what part of the dispute looked like:
Fognini will need to keep his emotions in check during the tournament. There's nothing wrong with playing with a little fire and intensity, but he can't lose his nerve and pull the same thing he did in Madrid.
The only way Fognini will succeed is if he's focused on the opponent at hand—not the chair umpire.
Grigor Dimitrov is certainly capable of beating anybody in this field if he takes care of business early and makes it to the quarterfinals.
Dimitrov was last in action on clay just last week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. He was taken care of quickly by Nadal in the semifinals of the tournament—6-2, 6-2—but making it to the semifinals proved that Dimitrov has begun to figure it all out on clay.
Would Dimitrov defeat Nadal in the quarterfinals?
The Bulgarian had won at Bucharest just three weeks prior, marking his first ever win on clay.
Nadal and Dimitrov could meet yet again at Roland Garros. The two would likely face each other if they both make the quarterfinals, and expect Dimitrov to come out much stronger than he did at the Italian Open.
If Dimitrov can get a few quick points early and put Nadal in catch-up mode, then the Bulgarian would have a chance to pull off the upset.
With a few wins already under his belt in the tourney at that point, Dimitrov would likely have it all figured out by then.