The weather figures to provide an important storyline throughout the 2014 French Open. We've already seen one weather delay in the action, and based on the forecast, poor weather appears likely throughout the week:
Rain affects all surfaces, of course, but clay in particular can require an entirely new change in style. Per Accuweather.com's Kristen Rodman, Tennis Channel's Justin Gimelstob believes that the weather will require a more defensive style of play:
The cooler and more mild the conditions, the more defensive skills are at a premium.
Predicting the French Open is already difficult enough given the injury to Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams' inconsistent history at Roland Garros. Now that the weather adds an additional element, it heightens the possibility of a dark-horse champion.
Considering both the rainy conditions and recent form, here's an updated look at how the top favorites will fare at the French.
Federer has been the runner-up at Roland Garros four times, a reflection of his inability to break through against the top clay-court stars and Rafael Nadal. And yet, with his first-round win, Federer served a reminder of how well he has played at the French over the years:
Roger Federer got his 59th match win at French Open today. He entered the event 1 behind Rafael Nadal's wins record— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 25, 2014
This year, the Swiss superstar is not necessarily among the primary favorites, especially off the heels of a second-round loss at the Italian Open. However, Federer does face a fairly easy draw compared to the other contenders, as he should cruise through to a round of 16 match against either Mikhail Youzhny or Ernests Gulbis. From there, a quarterfinals matchup against Tomas Berdych may loom, a player Federer has never lost to on clay.
Thus, Federer could make it back to the semifinals after bowing out in the quarters last year. However, a matchup with Novak Djokovic in that round would likely spell the end for Federer's quest for a second French title.
The eight-time champion enters this year more vulnerable than ever. Nadal is actually only the tournament's second-favorite behind Djokovic based on the betting line. In an indication of the changing times, Nadal's first match was not even on the feature Court Philippe Chatrier:
Falling behind Stan Wawrinka for priority on the featured court illustrates the lowered expectations surrounding Nadal this tournament. A back injury has plagued Nadal incessantly since his loss in the Australian Open final. Consequently, he has lost three times during clay-court season, including to Djokovic in the Rome final last week.
While Nadal does not face a particularly daunting draw, it's also difficult to imagine him defeating Djokovic. Thus, look for Nadal's second four-peat at the French to end this year in the finals.
Williams remains the dominant force on the women's tour, having won three titles and posting a 23-3 singles record in 2014. As the defending champion, it would be a shock to see anything less than a repeat title, especially given her dominance on the serve this season:
The only player to win over 75% of her service games in 2014 is of course.......... Serena Williams with 82%— Chris Goldsmith (@TheTennisTalker) May 19, 2014
Nevertheless, there are reasons to worry about Serena, even if she will remain the favorite under virtually any circumstance. Her hyper-aggressive and powerful style plays well on most surfaces, but on the slower clay, defensive players stand a better chance of extending points and wearing down Serena.
She also faces a brutal draw, with potential matchups looming against Sabine Lisicki, Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na from the round of 16 on. It's fallacious to predict anything short of a championship for the world's most dominant player, but do not be surprised if Serena gets upset this year.
Sharapova has been the best clay-court player in the world the past few years, and won a pair of clay-court tuneup tournaments at Madrid and Stuttgart. However, Serena has always been her kryptonite, as Sharapova has not won a head-to-head meeting since 2004.
The draw did the Russian star no favors, as Sharapova is currently slated to draw Williams in the quarterfinals. As a result, the seeding process has pitted a potentially riveting finals in a much earlier round than many desire:
The two best clay-court women in the world are in the same quadrant (Serena/Sharapova). Rigid seeding based on tour rankings is dumb.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) May 23, 2014
Serena denied Sharapova a second consecutive title last year, winning 6-4, 6-4 in the finals. If the two meet again, look for Serena to once again deny Sharapova a Roland Garros crown.