The top competitors in men's tennis will compete at Roland Garros in the 2014 French Open, but it will be the lesser-watched challengers who steal the show during the action.
The French Open has been dominated recently by Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has won eight of the last nine at Roland Garros, as his dominance on clay has allowed him to take down even the toughest of competition.
Several candidates in the field this year have a chance to upset Nadal and the rest of the top seeds. Be on the lookout for the following three names.
Milos Raonic has one of the best serves in men's tennis. It's so good that even Novak Djokovic struggled with it at the Rome Masters. Djokovic told the Agence France-Presse just how impressive the serve was, via NDTV.com: "I can't recall the last time when I was feeling so helpless returning, even his second serves."
Coach Robert Bettauer thinks Raonic's serve could end up being one of the best ever, via NDTV.com: "His serve gives every indication of being arguably the best in history because of the quality of both his first and second serves when factoring in the consistency of its power, placement, spin, variety and the trajectory coming from a 6ft 5in (1.96m) individual."
The fact that he gave Djokovic a run for his money solely because of this serve makes him an underdog to watch heading into the French Open. The 23-year-old might be slowed down just a bit by the clay, but it shouldn't impact his game enough to put him at a disadvantage.
Djokovic even struggled returning Raonic's second serves. That's an indication of just how overpowering he can be. On his serve alone, Raonic has a chance to upset a top seed.
Roberto Bautista Agut
Despite living in the shadow of fellow Spaniard Nadal, Robert Bautista Agut has impressed this year with wins over Tommy Robredo, Tomas Berdych, Jerzy Janowicz, Fernando Verdasco and Juan Martin del Potro. While none of those men are at the top of the sport, Berdych and Del Potro represent quality tennis players.
Resiliency has been key for Bautista Agut this year. He won some tough draws that made him capable of playing closely contested matchups on bigger stages.
Sure, he likely won't make it very far in the tournament. He doesn't show the consistency you like to see from a Grand Slam competitor, but with that said, he does have the chops to pull off an upset before exiting the tournament.
Sometimes resiliency is all you need on the biggest stage.
John Isner just might be one of the best Americans on clay in the field, as Hannah Wilks of LiveTennis.com points out: "It’s not so much that John Isner is good on clay – although he does have one title on the surface to his credit, in Houston in 2013 – but that he’s not as bad on it as Americans are often expected to be."
Isner knows that clay is the best surface for his game. He said so in Madrid, via Wilks:
Clay does suit my game very well. I’ve had some very good results on clay and I’ve had some results that haven’t been so good. Sometimes it’s a bit of a slower surface. I think more than that, it bounces up high, which I like because I’m so big. When it’s warm and sunny […] it actually plays pretty fast and the ball bounces up high.
Clay is a surface that can make or break a competitor. Those who can adjust to the difference in ball speed and bounce height often do well. Those who struggle to adjust see an early exit.
Isner knows how to adjust to clay. His size allows him to get on top of the ball even on high hops, which helps him to strike the ball harder and with more downward force.
He's not on the same level as Nadal, Djokovic or other top players, but Isner is a dark-horse competitor at Roland Garros.
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