French Open 2014: Examining Favorites' Path to Roland Garros Final

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French Open 2014: Examining Favorites' Path to Roland Garros Final
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Multiple important tournaments have taken place since the Australian Open, but the second Grand Slam of the season is finally upon us.

After some of the best players in the world on both the men's and women's sides were bounced in the Aussie Open, each is looking for a huge showing in Roland Garros. With names like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams all looking for their first Grand Slams of the year, the French Open is sure to be tightly contested.

Both No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 2 Li Na come into the French Open looking to repeat as a major winner after taking the Aussie Open. While Wawrinka has only made it to the quarterfinal in Roland Garros, Li has a French Open title from 2011, her first major win.

With the tournament already underway, here's a look at the current path to the French Open final for favorites in Paris.

 

Where: Roland Garros, Paris, France

When: Sunday, May 25, through Sunday, June 8, 2014

Television: ESPN, Tennis Channel

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

No. 1 Rafael Nadal

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As dominant as Nadal has been over the course of his career, the World No. 1 has earned the nickname "King of Clay" for his control over the French Open.

He spoke about the famed Roland Garros surface, via Sean Gregory of Time magazine.

I always like to play on this beautiful surface that gives you an opportunity to attack, an opportunity to defend. I like this thing. I understand the sport this way. It needs strategy, it needs suffering, it needs good possibilities to make the game interesting, no?

With a 59-1 record coming into the tournament in France, expectations for Nadal to pull off the five-peat are remarkably high. But what lies ahead for the eight-time champion in Roland Garros is a daunting task.

While there are a few worthy opponents leading up to the quarterfinals, Nadal's first real test will likely come against No. 5 David Ferrer. The Spanish player has typically been outmatched by Nadal, with his fellow countryman holding a 21-6 advantage, but he had a win on clay recently in Monte Carlo.

After Ferrer could be Wawrinka or Andy Murray, both Grand Slam winners, with Wawrinka obviously having a huge win over Nadal from the Aussie Open fresh on his mind.

It's anyone's guess who the final might be against, but with Djokovic and the surging Roger Federer in the other bracket, Nadal will have another massive matchup on tap.

 

No. 1 Serena Williams

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

When it comes to the world of women's tennis, there's Serena Williams and there's everyone else.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner has won the fewest amount of her majors at the French Open, with only two in her career. But coming in as the defending champion, the pressure to repeat is firmly on her shoulders.

The world No. 1 will likely face tough competition early in a very familiar face. Older sister Venus Williams is scheduled to play Williams if both advance to the third round.  Williams referenced the potential matchup, telling Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press (h/t U.S. News), "It never gets easier. She's essentially the love of my life, so it's definitely difficult."

If the younger Williams can advance past her sister, a potential date with Maria Sharapova or Dominika Cibulkova awaits her in the quarters. ESPN Tennis shared a great statistic for Sharapova over her last 50 matches on clay courts:

Continuing her dominance over Sharapova could lead to a showdown with Li in the final for Williams. With Li having experience as a Grand Slam winner this year and a 2011 French Open title to her name, the 32-year-old might be a huge contender to Williams' throne.

 

No. 2 Novak Djokovic

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Playing second fiddle to Nadal at Roland Garros is something the Djoker is used to, but he's ready to change all of that this year.

This might just be the season in which Djokovic finally makes it happen, according to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated:

It's starting to feel a lot of like his opportunity. He's come close in recent years, particularly in 2013 when he was up a break in the fifth set of the semifinals against Nadal. If he can avoid injury and continue his mastery of Nadal, we're likely to have another career-Slam winner.

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While the Serbian player clearly has hopes of taking down Nadal, he'll have a tough path to get there. Djokovic's side of the bracket includes potential matches with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the round of 16 and Kei Nishikori in the quarters, but the semifinal will be the biggest test. With Federer playing brilliant tennis as of late, the Swiss player has his sights set on his second French Open title.

Federer just so happens to have the only Grand Slam win at the French Open outside of Nadal in the last nine years, and he might be destined to play in the final against Nadal a fifth time in their rivalry. If the Djoker has any chance of winning the career slam, he'll have to play a masterful match against Federer to get there.

 

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