The 2014 French Open is still in its early stages, but getting a gauge on how some of the best players are faring in the opening rounds can be useful in determining how they will manage the tougher parts of their draws.
Roland Garros' red clay has seen Rafael Nadal triumph eight times at this Grand Slam event, and the No. 1 seed will commence his pursuit of a ninth title on Monday as the headliner, battling American Robby Ginepri in the first round. Nadal's final opponent for his last singles title in Madrid, Kei Nishikori, is the ninth seed and has a rather difficult matchup with the volatile but dangerous Martin Klizan.
The highest seed on the women's side kicking off her tournament Monday is No. 5 Petra Kvitova, who's slated to duel Zarina Diyas.
Among the many matches and stars that will take to the courts on Day 2, those three stand out. Below is a look at the TV and live stream coverage, along with a more detailed preview of that trio of fixtures.
2014 French Open Day 2
When: Monday, May 26
Where: Roland Garros, Paris, France
TV: ESPN2, NBC, Tennis Channel
|Monday, May 26||Network|
|5 - 10 a.m.||ESPN2|
|12 - 3 p.m.||NBC|
|10 a.m. - 7 p.m.||Tennis Channel|
Source: Sports Illustrated
Day 2 Matches to Watch
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Robby Ginepri
A loss to Novak Djokovic in the Rome Masters final has Nadal entering Paris without quite the invincible mystique that typically surrounds him at the season's second Grand Slam tournament.
Nadal has actually shown some signs of shakiness throughout the clay season, losing in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo to David Ferrer—the man he walloped in the 2013 French Open final in straight sets. That was followed by a fall to Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona, and the defeat at Djokovic's hands marked Nadal's third loss on clay in 2014.
"Everyone expects a lot from him, and every year, believe me it is not easy to give yourself a challenge, a reason," said Nadal's part-time coach, Francis Roig, per Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal.
It doesn't seem likely that Nadal is bored of winning, because he continues to come back and compete at Roland Garros, winning the title as the third seed last year. To the surprise of many, Nadal won't be playing on the venue's main court to begin his quest for another trophy. That prompted Tennis View Magazine's Nick Nemeroff to weigh in:
Beyond shocked to see that Nadal is scheduled to play on Lenglen tomorrow. Very disrespectful for a guy who is 59-1 at the tournament.— Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff) May 25, 2014
Since Nadal has lost to some inferior foes as of late, lingering questions about his game will persist.
But Ginepri, though he's been in a Grand Slam semifinal before at the 2005 U.S. Open and has been ranked as high as No. 15, is a wild card who doesn't figure to pose too much of a threat. How Nadal handles him in Round 1 will be a good indicator of where his focus and game are at, and may provide more insight into how strong Nadal's desire is to win the French again.
Anything less than greatness would be a relative shock, as Nadal has something to prove following his "worst" run-up to the French Open in recent memory. A recently wayward forehand has plagued Nadal as of late, but the opening match gives him the latitude to take risks, attempt to smash winners and get his confidence back on the surface he has so thoroughly dominated in the past.
Look for Nadal to come out of the gates firing and to cruise to a straight-sets victory.
Prediction: Nadal wins, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2
Petra Kvitova (5) vs. Zarina Diyas
Just after her clay season-best semifinals appearance in Madrid, Kvitova suffered a letdown of sorts in being bounced from Rome in the second round against Zhang Shuai in three sets.
That is just the latest setback for the 2011 Wimbledon champion and semifinalist at Roland Garros two years ago, per Tennis View Magazine's Chris Skelton:
Three top-10 women fall in the first round of Rome as Kvitova suffers her fourth opening-match loss in nine 2014 tournaments.— Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87) May 13, 2014
Being the fifth seed was a rather generous deal for Kvitova, whose status and recent form perhaps should have commanded a lower spot in the draw. She finds herself on a collision course with her Madrid semifinals opponent in fourth seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. It's going to take a valiant effort to ramp up her efforts ahead of that prospective encounter.
Diyas is just 20 years old and is still trying to establish herself on the WTA after winning four titles in the ITF, but she could cause problems for her heavily favored foe. Interesting enough, in their only prior meeting in 2009, Diyas, who was 15 at the time, beat Kvitova in straight sets on clay in Prague.
There is no doubting Petra's talent, and she's ascended to her career-best ranking within the last month.
Extra rest from the abrupt exit in Rome should aid Kvitova in her effort to get back on track, and she has to be eager to get back onto the court to establish herself as a legitimate contender. It will be important to start off well with a potential vengeance match versus Halep looming.
Prediction: Kvitova wins, 6-3, 6-4
Kei Nishikori (9) vs. Martin Klizan
There is reason to put Nishikori on upset alert here. Although the Japanese star has gotten far better in terms of conditioning and fitness, which translates well to clay, he is a bit of an unsure commodity. Nishikori reached the final in Madrid, beat Nadal 6-2 in the first set but had to retire in the third due to injury.
The testimony he provided regarding an ailing left hip ahead of Monday's match wasn't all that encouraging.
"It's getting better," said Nishikori, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "It's obviously not 100 percent yet, but ... it should be OK."
Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated provided an encouraging practice update days before the tournament began:
Good to see Kei Nishikori back on the practice court. Moving casually but just hit a solid tweener. #rg14— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) May 22, 2014
During Round 2 of the 2013 French Open, there was a brief time where it looked as though Klizan could have been in for a career-defining moment. The Swede took the opening set off of Nadal before falling in four sets, but that had to be a massive confidence boost.
At the 2014 BMW Open, Klizan defeated Mikhail Youzhny, Tommy Haas and then Fabio Fognini in the final for his second ATP victory.
Which star will have the toughest time advancing in Round 1 on Monday?
If Klizan can take a set off Nadal and beat such quality opponents as he's done within the past month, he can surely nab one off of Nishikori and at least make this match interesting. However, the consistency isn't there for Klizan to hold up over the course of a five-set match. A regular three-setter may have been a different story, but Nishikori has shown too much promise in winning twice already this year to fall in the first round.
Prediction: Nishikori wins, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-2
Projecting upsets at this juncture of the French Open among the biggest names in the game is far too bold, and that's why even the best matches to watch are rather lopsided in their predicted outcomes. Nevertheless, this is a vital stretch for everyone involved. Any wild-card player can come along, going for broke with incessant winners and cause a scare.
Clay tends to bring out those who have great finesse and movement, though, which is why Nadal, Kvitova and Nishikori—facing tougher opponents than most in the first round—should advance through, with mild adversity to weather coming off of losses. Their maiden tests at the 2014 French Open should sharpen their respective tools and lend to some spectacular tennis even with the stakes so low.