Bring on the clay.
It never quite feels like summer until the French Open, when the world's best slide and slam and groan atop that most fickle of surfaces. This year's tournament has plenty of intriguing storylines, but perhaps the most interesting will be whether Rafael Nadal can continue his dominance at this tournament.
This is more than a one-man tournament, however, and below, we'll break down the whole field while also providing a Day 1 schedule so you don't miss a thing.
Let the summer begin.
|May 25||5 a.m. to 10 a.m.||1st||ESPN2|
|May 25||12 p.m. to 3 p.m.||1st||NBC|
|May 25||10 a.m. to 7 p.m.||1st||Tennis Channel|
Everyone will want to see Novak Djokovic face Rafael Nadal in the final in this year's tournament, but the two players have to reach one another first. Nadal's first challenge likely won't come until the fourth round, when he could face either No. 21 Nicolas Almagro or No. 16 Tommy Haas.
But the really intriguing potential matchup will come in the quarterfinals, when No. 5 David Ferrer should be waiting in the wings. Remember, Ferrer reached the French Open final last year and beat Nadal in Monte Carlo this season, so he's a very difficult draw for Nadal.
Djokovic has a very intriguing potential matchup in the fourth round, as No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be waiting. One of No. 8 Milos Raonic or No. 9 Kei Nishikori will likely reach the quarters, but in general, Djokovic should feel confident heading into this draw.
In the semifinals, Djokovic could find Roger Federer, who will be the favorite in a bracket that includes No. 6 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 John Isner and No. 17 Tommy Robredo, among others. But don't be shocked if Berdych survives that group.
Meanwhile, if Andy Murray survives to the quarterfinals to face Nadal, he'll likely have to get through No. 12 Richard Gasquet in the fourth round and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. That's a tough draw for Murray, no doubt, perhaps the toughest any of the "top four" players on the men's side will face.
One the women's side, the most intriguing early-round matchup could be a family affair, as Serena and Venus Williams could face one another in the third round. How much fun would that be?
It won't get any easier for Serena from there, as either No. 16 Sabine Lisicki or No. 17 Roberta Vinci could be waiting, while No. 7 Maria Sharapova or No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova should be waiting in the quarterfinals. That's a tough draw.
Should Serena reach the semifinals, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska could be waiting for her. The Polish star should cruise into the quarters, where No. 8 Angelique Kerber or No. 12 Flavia Pennetta could be waiting.
On the other side of the bracket, both No. 4 Simona Halep and No. 5 Petra Kvitova will like their chances to reach the semis, but No. 15 Sloane Stephens and No. 11 Ana Ivanovic might have something to say about that. On the other side, Na Li will likely be facing No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round and either No. 6 Jelena Jankovic or No. 10 Sara Errani in the quarterfinals.
There are no easy paths at the French Open, folks.
On the men's side, look for Nadal, Wawrinka, Federer and Djokovic to advance, with Nadal and Djokovic facing off in the final. In a French Open shocker, it will be Djokovic who wins, ending Rafael Nadal's reign of terror and becoming just the second man in the past 10 years to beat Nadal at Roland Garros.
After beating Nadal in the Italian Open final, Djokovic proved he could replicate the feat. And as Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press wrote, if there was ever a year we could see Nadal fall at Roland Garros, it's this one:
Yes, Rafael Nadal will still be favored by most to win the clay-court Grand Slam tournament yet again. He is, after all, 59-1 for his career at Roland Garros, winner of a record eight championships, including the last four.
Still, if the 2014 tennis season to date is any indication, there could be some surprises in store when play begins in Paris on Sunday. So far, there already was one new major champion, Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open. And there has been a rather egalitarian feel to the spring clay circuit, with nine winners at nine tournaments.
The three top men in the ATP rankings—No. 1 Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Wawrinka—each claimed a Masters title on the slow red surface, including Djokovic's victory over Nadal in the Rome final last weekend. That gave Nadal three clay losses in a season for the first time since 2004, when he was all of 17 and yet to make his French Open debut.
On the women's side, history suggests an unusual suspect could emerge and win the tournament. Since Justine Henin-Hardenne won the tournament in back-to-back years in 2005 and 2006, we've had seven different winners.
On the other hand, former winners such as Serena Williams (three WTA wins), Li (two WTA wins, including the Australian Open) and Sharapova (two tour wins, both in the past month) are the players most in-form in the moment.
While Sharapova lost in the third round in the French Open lead-up, the Italian Open, she told Jim Caple of ESPNW that she appreciated the rest:
In a way, I think it gave me a few extra days maybe to rest, instead of trying to hurry up and come here and trying to get on the courts as soon as you can and get as many hours on the big courts as you might get before everybody else comes. So in a way it's been great to have that.
I would have loved to have done well in Rome, as well. I had great preparation. I had two great tournaments and had really tough matches, easier matches. I think a lot has been thrown at me in the last few weeks in all the matches I have played, and I think that's great for coming into a big tournament like this.
Since Williams is such a boring pick, look for Sharapova to win this year's tournament. Yes, she'll have to beat Williams in the quarters, and yes, she hasn't beaten Williams in their last 15 meetings, but she's fresh, and she's been in great form, so she's up to the task.