The French Open is once again proving why it's the toughest Grand Slam to predict. The clay courts of Roland Garros always seem to send a couple big names packing early in the tournament, and this year has certainly been no different.
Stanislas Wawrinka and Li Na, the winners of the Australian Open to begin the major campaign, were both eliminated in the first round. Serena Williams and Kei Nishikori are among the other notable players who have already suffered early exits.
Now the focus shifts to whether the upset bug will continue to spread or if the other top players will buckle down and bring some normalcy to the event. Let's check out all of the important schedule information along with an updated outlook for the 2014 French Open.
Schedule and Viewing Info
Where: Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France
When: Sunday, May 25 to Sunday, June 8
Watch: ESPN, NBC and Tennis Channel (Full Breakdown via SI.com)
Updated Tournament Outlook
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic entered the tournament on a collision course. They played an outstanding final in the Rome Masters a couple weeks ago, which Djokovic won, and they were seemingly a step above the rest entering the season's second major.
The surprising exit of Wawrinka makes that matchup even more likely. Consistency has always been an issue for the Swiss star, but winning just two games over the final two sets in the first round was totally unexpected after his triumph in Australia.
With Wawrinka out, the question is which player is capable of knocking off either Nadal or Djokovic, and it's tough to find an answer.
Roger Federer looked good in the opening round, but he's only made one final at Roland Garros over the past four years. Navigating best-of-five matches for two weeks isn't as easy at age 32 as it was when he was dominating the sport.
Andy Murray is the other member of the big four. He's still working his way back into top form, however, which limits his chances of a run to the final.
Beyond that, the list of secondary contenders includes players like David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and perhaps John Isner if he can find a comfort zone with his serve on the clay.
But it would truly take an extraordinary effort for any of them to knock off Nadal or Djokovic given their recent play.
What makes Nadal in particular so tough to beat on clay is how his playing style perfectly fits the slower clay courts. He can therefore keep his game plan pretty simple from match to match. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated passed along comments from the Spaniard about his approach:
To win against anyone I need to play at a good level, and I need to be ready for the fight. I need to be aggressive and need to find a rhythm on the legs and play solid points, find real ways to win the points. That's it.
His past success at the French Open shows it really can be that simple sometimes.
On the women's side, the exits of Li and Williams obviously make the tournament completely wide open the rest of the way. This is the time where other players can look at the draw and seriously believe they have a realistic chance of winning a Grand Slam.
Veterans like Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic will likely take center stage. For a player like Ivanovic, who's struggled at the majors since winning the French in 2008, this represents a chance to get back to the mountaintop.
Yet, one player to watch out for is Simona Halep. The No. 4 seed has been steadily rising up the rankings in recent years and finally appears ready for her big breakthrough. With the top two players out, this could be the moment she's been waiting for.
She's also had success at Roland Garros, albeit as a junior, as the WTA points out:
Okay, it may not have been the same French Open she's going for now, but Halep was the junior champion here in 2008, and she was barely losing games for most of the tournament - she won her first five matches in straight sets and lost just 21 games in 10 sets. She was pushed to three sets in the final against fellow Romanian Elena Bogdan, though she did cruise in that third - 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2.
Whether it's Halep, one of the aforementioned veterans or somebody completely off the radar in the early going, the women's title is completely up for grabs.
Above all else, the unpredictability has made for a very intriguing start to the French Open. Nadal and Djokovic seem a step ahead of their counterparts, but nothing is certain after a string of huge upsets to open the tournament.
It could very well be a wild ride right down to the end.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!