What do we already know heading into this year's second Grand Slam event in Paris?
We know that Rafael Nadal still remains the menacing favorite.
We know that there will not be a rematch of last year's final.
We're well aware that Andy Murray has a great shot of getting in some extra grass-court practice this year.
And finally, Novak Djokovic may have once again been saved by the fortune of the draw gods.
After musing through the draw, the names David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco still mean something. The dynamic Spanish duo have put forth determined clay-court campaigns this year, and their hard-work could very well pay dividends over the 15 day tournament.
They are so close in form in fact, that their names reside on line 80 and 81 in the draw, respectively.
Well folks, the stage is once again set for a Grand Slam to take place.
We're all accustomed to that feeling of suspense that lies before us, while we wait for the court warriors to take over Paris.
Let's now give our best rendition of how we think it will all unfold.
The defending champ will embark on the greatest challenge of his illustrious career: Defending the lone Slam that has historically given him the most difficulty.
Entering Roland Garros as the reigning title holder will be new territory for Federer.
Not only is he the man to knock off now this year, he also has a lot to prove to himself this time around. Capturing every other Slam title a minimum of four times, Federer desperately wants another crown in France to silence the naysayers.
Opening up against an under-matched Peter Luczak, Federer could run into some adversity against good friend Stan Wawrinka.
The "other Swiss" has had a remarkably consistent clay-court campaign, but once again showed in Madrid that he has far too much respect for the top seed.
There are three other names that stand out to me in this section: Gael Monfils, Ernests Gulbis and Robin Soderling.
The second of these three stands perhaps the best chance of facing Federer in the quarterfinals, simply because Monfils is returning from injury, and Soderling has been in a serious funk as of late.
Gulbis did defeat Federer in Rome, and pushed him to three sets in Madrid, but how will the Latvian playboy hold up over five sets?
To me, Gulbis' "swing for the fences," "not taking life too seriously" modo may just serve him well in France. He makes us all believe that he doesn't care, while he so effortlessly detonates another forehand on the sideline.
Reading the mind of a player like that is never easy, and Federer has recently found that out on a first hand basis.
Look for a mighty drop in the rankings from Soderling at the conclusion of this event, considering that the 1400 points he gathered from last year's trip to the finals results in more than a fourth of his total points.
It appears that Gulbis will be Federer's lone thorn in this section—a danger that won't cause the top dog the same amount of harm under the three out of five format.
It ain't so bad being Rafa Nadal these days.
That nonsense of not winning a title in almost a year is a thing of the past.
He's trotting into France on a 15 match win streak.
His form sharply resembles his brilliant level of 2008—a year in which he won every event under the sun except for the US Open.
His knees have been tape-less for the entire clay season, and his results have backed up the feedback on his health.
Finally, he'll be sporting a watch for the first time in match play; a watch that encompasses space exploration material—which is reportedly worth about as much as the winners' check.
Nadal will begin his Roland Garros campaign against French hopeful Gianni Mina. Mina is the talk of tennis in France, and will be a name to follow in the foreseeable future.
Round two could bring forth Horacio Zeballos, who knows the clay all to well, while remaining well aware of what Nadal will do to his backhand.
Looking ahead to the latter rounds, Nadal could lock horns with Lleyton Hewitt or Jeremy Chardy in the third-round (is it just me, or does Nadal play Hewitt in France every year?), with the potential of facing Ivan Ljubicic in the round-of-16.
Ljubicic began the year hot, but has since cooled down courtesy of a back strain.
The top half of Nadal's quarter could provide a few challenging characters for the Spaniard to deal with.
Fernando Verdasco will be coming in off of his best clay-court season; ditto for Nicolas Almagro, who grabbed a set off Nadal in Madrid; and let's not forget last year's semifinalist Fernando Gonzalez.
My concerns for Verdasco reside in a few but critical variables.
First, he was ambushed by Nadal in Monte Carlo, while not playing poor tennis be any means.
Second, he injured his ankle in Madrid, but insisted on playing a boutique tournament in Nice the week before the Roland Garrros, simply to rack up a hefty appearance fee.
Finally, Verdasco has never advanced past the final 16 in Paris, further illustrating his lack of consistency on the clay during five sets.
All in all, it doesn't bode well for Nando, and his quest to bounce Nadal in France.
Almagro has registered a few commendable results during the spring, but his lack of movement will draw him deeper and deeper in the court if he faces his superior countryman.
Gonzalez will enter the French with little-to-no match play (not that that's ever hurt him), but his bigger concerns remains that he's never provided the necessary ingredients for podium glory.
Nadal has confessed that he's not the favorite coming into Paris this year.
That humble—yet inaccurate—self assessment will only further exemplify the salt in the wound of anyone that stands in his way.
Decked out his new yellow jersey, Djokovic has experienced a puzzling first quarter of the season.
Encountering a gamut of injuries and technical woes, the Serb was recently sidelined by pollen in Belgrade.
He'll certainly be rested coming into France, but something tells me that won't be enough.
His first opponent Evgeny Korolev hits the cover off of every shot, but that shouldn't be enough to cause an initial upset.
Round two could bring forth an interesting clash with Japanese sensation Kei Nishikori, a match that could very well push Djokovic to a fourth or fifth set. Niskikori recently won two Challenger level events in Florida, and gained entrance into the event after the monsoon of withdrawals.
Former champ Juan Carlos Ferrero is also in this section, but he's also struggled with injury in recent weeks. Viktor Hanescu and Sam Querrey have reeled in quality results as of late, but they've historically faltered in Major tournaments.
Considering the aforementioned variables brought into the equation in Djokovic's bottom half of this quarter, I'd say that regardless of his current form, he should at least advance to the quarterfinals.
But that's where a scrappy Spaniard could likely take over proceedings.
David Ferrer has done everything in his power to resurrect his diminutive career.
He's made the semifinals or better of all six clay events he's entered this season, and apart from Nadal, and maybe Verdasco, his form is tops on the clay.
Ferrer should blaze through his opening two rounds and find himself in a dirt ball affair with Juan Monaco or Andy Roddick in the final eight.
Monaco is currently battling a left hand injury, while Roddick will enter Roland Garros with not a single tournament under his belt.
As funny as it seems, Roddick has a great shot at making the quarterfinals—simply because of the lack of fire power in his section.
Monaco is without question a better clay-courter than Roddick, but the American is the healthier of the two players at the moment.
However, regardless of heath or clay-court prowess, Ferrer's 27 matches won on the dirt this year will allow for optimal confidence and efficiency to be displayed.
The good old days should return for Ferrer—along with his best French Open showing to date.
It's about that time of year where Murray arrives in Paris with one foot on the clay, and the rest of his attention occupied with All England pressure.
Coming into France in his worst form in years, Murray was granted no favors when the draw was revealed.
Facing in-form Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the first-round, Murray was handed the toughest opening round opponent from all the top seeds. Trailing Gasquet 2-1 in career head-to-head meetings, the pair will contest their first ever match on clay.
Gasquet has made it clear to the French media that his goal coming into the season was to improve on his Roland Garros results. Winning a Challenger level event in Bordeaux, while advancing to the finals in Nice, Gasquet will enter his home Slam with renewed belief.
Murray did pick up his form slightly in Madrid, but he's shown little resistance towards any player with an adequate clay-court arsenal.
If Murray is to survive Gasquet, he'll have to be on top of his form (which he's been lacking since Australia) from the opening rally.
Moving on in the draw (which is also the most wide open quarter of the four), four-time quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo must be put in the mix as a contender, along with French heartthrob Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Robredo will enter France slightly injured, while Tsonga's fast court mentally would take him to a respectable showing.
We should really keep John Isner in mind in this quarter, simply because his serve and clay-court form have given us no reason to count him out. The big man's draw seems more than workable, and he could very well challenge for a final 16 spot.
Other contenders in this section include: Marcos Bagdhatis, Tomas Berdych and French unknown Josselin Ouanna.
In the toughest quarter to pick a winner, it really comes down to a toss up between Robredo and Tsonga. Considering that Robredo has been there and done that on more than one occasion, the sensible pick would be to go with the Spaniard.
However, there's something about a good draw and the Parisian air that should elevate Tsonga to his deepest showing in Paris.
Pearl earrings and all, the French crowd will have much to cheer about over the fortnight.
First-round Matches to Watch Out For:
Murray vs. Gasquet (Biggest upset of first-round)
Gael Monfils vs. Florian Mayer (Slider man vs. Unconventional German)
Julien Benneteau vs. Ernests Gulbis (French flair vs. Latvian curls)
Viktor Troicki vs. Tommy Robredo (Serbian power vs. Bridesmade Robredo)
Kei Nishikori vs. Santiago Giraldo (Future top tenner vs. Potential surprise of the event)
Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr. (Youngest player in the top 100)
Lukas Lacko (Happiest player in the top 100)
Lukasz Kubot (Best singles and doubles player in the top 100)
Federer vs. Gulbis; Gasquet vs. Tsonga; Ferrer vs. Djokovic; Nadal vs. Verdasco
Federer vs. Tsonga; Nadal vs. Ferrer
Federer vs. Nadal
For my audio version of the French Open men's preview, Click the link below.