The draw is set and the 2014 French Open is underway, giving tennis' brightest competitors a chance to add another trophy to the mantle at Roland Garros.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to see defending champions Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams occupying the No. 1 seeds, with Novak Djokovic and Li Na trailing behind at No. 2. This sets up another potential championship showdown between Nadal and Djokovic, who is still searching for his first French Open crown.
There's work to be done, however, before getting to the finals. Each of the top competitors must circumvent challenges throughout the bracket in order to make it to the end. None of the premier players received particularly easy draws, so they'll have to fight to stick around in Paris.
|2014 French Open: Men's Top Seeds|
|2014 French Open: Women's Top Seeds|
|14||Carla Suarez Navarro|
For the full French Open draw and schedule, check out RolandGarros.com.
Despite losing three matches on clay this season, the top-seeded Rafael Nadal has to be considered the favorite in France. That's what winning a tournament eight out of nine times will do.
Nadal has seized the last four French Open titles, making him the field's undisputed master. He discussed his fondness for Roland Garros' clay courts with Time's Sean Gregory:
“I always like to play on this beautiful surface that gives you an opportunity to attack, an opportunity to defend. I like this thing," Nadal said. "I understand the sport this way. It needs strategy, it needs suffering, it needs good possibilities to make the game interesting, no?”
The King of Clay could get tested as early as the second round when he may face Dominic Thiem, a 20-year-old Australian who shocked Stanislas Wawrinka at the Madrid Open earlier in May.
Fellow Spaniards Nicolas Almagro (No. 21) and David Ferrer (No. 5), who have both defeated him on clay this season, fall on his end of the bracket. Should they all run the gamut, Nadal would square off with Almagro in the fourth round to set up a 2013 French Open finals rematch with Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
Before thinking about Djokovic, he'd likely have to upend Wawrinka (No. 3) or Andy Murray (No. 7) in the semifinals. With only a .617 winning percentage on clay, Murray isn't a major threat at Roland Garros. It's Wawrinka, who emerged victorious over Nadal to win the 2014 Australian Open, who should frighten the King of Clay.
Of course, none of these guys are particularly thrilled to line up against Nadal in Paris.
This is as good a year as ever for Novak Djokovic to end Nadal's reign of terror at Roland Garros. While Nadal has not dominated like his usual self, Djokovic is riding the upper hand after beating him in the Rome Masters.
As they're wont to do, the two squared off in the finals, but this time Djokovic earned the upper hand on the clay surface. He has now won their last four meetings, and ESPN Stats & Info shows that he holds his own on Nadal's preferred course.
Before planning too far ahead, Djokovic should see his share of other ranked foes. A resurgent Marin Cilic is waiting in the wings for a third-round clash, and the dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be next.
His biggest potential challenge is Roger Federer, who topped him in their last bout at Monaco. They have met twice at Roland Garros, splitting the matches with Federer triumphing in 2011 and Djokovic prevailing the next year.
Although Federer is past his prime, one of the all-time greats still must be taken seriously before Djokovic can think about exorcising his French Open demons.
No opponent is too tough for Serena Williams, whose biggest danger of losing is growing complacent early in the tournament. That being said, this isn't the friendliest draw for the top-ranked female.
Alize Lim, a 23-year-old who has never forayed past the first round at Roland Garros, will likely play the sacrificial lamb in Round 1. She wasn't particularly thrilled at the news of drawing against Williams.
The two-time French Open champion could meet a very familiar foe for in the third round: her sister. Venus Williams is no sure thing to win her first two bouts, as 17-year-old French Open junior champion Belinda Bencic stands in her way during the opening round, but it'd set up an early battle between siblings.
Venus hasn't advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since 2011, where she held on until the fourth round at Wimbledon. But Serena only holds a slight head-to-head advantage at 14-10 and must combat the emotions tied with playing her sister.
"It never gets easier," Serena told the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "She's essentially the love of my life, so it's definitely difficult."
Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki (No. 16) and Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova (No. 9) also frequent her bracket, but the big name is Maria Sharapova, who is 12-1 on clay courts this season.
Sharapova would have been considered a stout threat to make her third consecutive French Open finals appearance if not primed for a collision course with Serena, who has won their last 15 head-to-head matchups dating back to 2005.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na are lurking in the final rounds, but the No. 1-ranked player has fared well against both of them.
Note: All stats, head-to-head matchup information courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.
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