The draw is out for the 2014 French Open, and it has provoked numerous talking points and exciting potential clashes leading into the start of action at Roland Garros.
In the quest for his ninth French Open championship, Rafael Nadal once again was awarded the top seed in the tournament. The undoubted king of clay courts has only lost one time at the Roland Garros-hosted spectacle, rattling off four straight victories from 2005 to 2008 and four more in a row from 2010 until now.
It goes without saying, though, that at least a handful of contenders in the field are capable of beating him, even on clay. Nadal's undeniable presence doesn't mean that other world-class tennis stars like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray—both looking for their first ever French Open title—will be any less confident going in.
Let's break down everything you need to know about the French Open.
|2014 French Open: Top Seeds|
|27||Roberto Bautista Agut||ESP|
The entire bracket can be found at RolandGarros.com.
Andy Murray Won't Trip Up on Poor Seed
Is Andy Murray truly the seventh-best tennis player in the world at the moment? Roland Garros certainly thinks so.
The draw didn't do the British superstar any favors. At No. 7, Murray was the only member of the Big Four—Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer—not to land in the top four seeds. Instead, Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer—all of whom have played well as of late—jumped him.
But it won't deter Murray from making noise.
The only lower seed who is standing in his way of a second ever French Open semifinal appearance is Wawrinka, whom Murray has a 9-6 advantage against head-to-head, per TennisLive.net. As long as he gets past early tests such as No. 24 Fernando Verdasco and No. 12 Richard Gasquet, Murray has the mentality and skill necessary to beat Wawrinka, who won his first major in this year's Australian Open.
Murray has won two different majors and has three championship match appearances in the other, but hasn't made it past the semifinal round at Roland Garros. It's unlikely that he'll do it this year since he's on the same side of the draw as Nadal, but he'll at least get to the semis and avoid falling victim to his poor seed.
Djokovic Will Cruise to Championship Match
Entering the French Open, no tennis player is playing at a higher level than Novak Djokovic.
The sensational Serbian has only won one major championship in two years' time but has hardly lost his top form and perch as arguably the game's best player at the moment. That's only been validated by what he has done in 2014.
He probably would have won his fourth straight Australian Open if Wawrinka didn't slip past him in a five-set victory that ended in a 9-7 final set. That setback ended Djokovic's streak of 14 straight Grand Slam semifinals, but he didn't let it get him down.
He suffered two semifinal losses to Federer since but was hampered by a wrist injury. When he got back and healthy, he nullified that result in a big way with two championship final wins over Nadal at the Sony Open Tennis and the Rome Masters.
As the No. 2 seed in the French Open, the road is opening up for Djokovic to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the one major he's never won. He will likely face Federer in the semifinals, but if he's healthy this time around, he should have no problem proving his worth against the Swiss great who has lost a step or two.
Beating Nadal on clay once this season in the inevitable tune-up to the French Open bodes well for Djokovic heading into the final. But at the very least, he'll get to that dream-like showdown with Nadal, with less set defeats all tournament than you can count on one hand.
Rafael Nadal Will Win Fifth Straight French Open
You can bet against greatness, but don't even think about betting against sheer domination. However, there's no doubt that this year will be a new type of test for the Spaniard.
For the first time in 10 years, Nadal embarks upon Roland Garros while nursing three clay-court defeats. And according to The Associated Press via Fox News, the chance is there for Nadal to face all three of those opponents—No. 5 David Ferrer, No. 21 Nicolas Almagro and Djokovic—throughout the quest for his ninth trophy.
The early struggles on clay in 2014 don't worry Nadal, however, per RolandGarros.com's Drew Lilley:
During the clay court season I get a little bit better week by week. Last week in Rome, it was tough physically. I played a lot of time, but in the end sometimes you need these things. I was not that happy about what I did in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, but that's sport. The dynamic is positive, so that's always important for confidence. I felt that in Rome I was able to play without the nerves, the anxiety that I had in the first two tournaments and at some moments in Madrid, too. So that's always a positive thing.
Ferrer may have ousted Nadal from Monte Carlo, but the Spaniard disposed of him in straight sets at last year's French Open final. Almagro did beat the eight-time champ this year as well, but it was his first win over Nadal in 11 tries, and Nadal has been crushed him three times at Roland Garros—all straight-set victories.
Then, of course, there's the ultimate test of Djokovic, who will be more motivated than ever to complete his career Grand Slam, coming off four straight defeats of Nadal. But none of those came at the Grand Slam level.
Go back to major championship showdowns, and it's apparent Nadal should have the upper hand. He defeated Djokovic in both the 2012 and 2013 French Opens and also toppled him in the 2013 U.S. Open.
Nadal doesn't have very good form entering Roland Garros, but that has a way of working itself out through a few weeks of play on a player's favorite court. When he gets to the final, Nadal will get past a tough opponent to hoist his ninth French Open title.