This is perhaps an expedition in absurdity. This is a ridiculous article, some may suggest: Why speculate? Aren't the Big Three—Nadal, Federer and Djokovic—the hands-down favourites for the French Open title (with Nadal a big way ahead)?
Yes, that probably is the case. For all the delinquents and misanthropes out there, however, who have chosen for whatever reason to oppose the natural trend of sanity and order, there will also be the buts. Nadal is the favourite by a long, long stretch, but, they will always say.
For every million fanatics and worshippers, there are the skeptics, and this article will cater to them. What of the underdogs and players who could make fools of us all? What of people like Soderling or Del Potro, who have stunned us in times before?
Here is a look at 10 contenders—or perhaps, possible heavily unlikely champions—for the French Open crown this May, whatever the state of tennis now. I only ask that you suspend rationality for the next few slides; it isn't in any particular order—it is far too arbitrary for it.
For one thing, the tall Swede has been at the edge before. Perhaps we start from the sane part of the contender spectrum. Soderling, after all, has been to two consecutive French Open finals and is indeed the defending finalist this year.
His gigantic groundstrokes, too, played no small part in downing Rafael Nadal in the decade's (possible Open Era's) greatest upset, defeating him in four sets at Roland Garros in 2009. No less distinguished a victim, too, was Roger Federer last year in the quarterfinals. Let it be known: his hunger and forehand will be enough to bring him across the finish line, should he find himself without a Nadal or Federer at yet another French Open final.
Monfils is really a wild card. Other than certain enlightened performances at the Australian Open in 2007, and at Roland Garros twice when he reached quarters and semis in 2009 and 2008, there isn't much going statistically for him.
His joker-like charisma and style of play, however, does lend him well to the French crowd, so tough on its local heroes, and he has often ridden the waves of excitement and passion; of expectation, however, he doesn't have too much to say. A kind draw, and some thrilling moments, could see this man, one of the few with the natural depth of weaponry needed for a grand slam, make some interesting progress.
If for nothing else, one would give Andy Murray the heads up for the French simply because he is badly after a grand slam victory. Nothing would the Scot wish more now, for this wayward first three months, than for a win at the highest level.
Which only begs the question: Is he really up for the task? Can he really win on clay against the toughest players out there? Certainly, he could, were it not for the singular problem of the dirt—he has routinely won before against the Big Three, and on his day, has definitely got the breadth of weaponry to beat just about anybody.
Barring an early meeting with a seed or a clash with Rafael Nadal, one should not rule out Andy Murray at Roland Garros—just for the winning talent itself.
Gulbis may be a surprise addition, but so is, in some measure, everyone else here. Besides, it isn't as if he hasn't got any right.
Last year he was the only person to take a set off Rafael Nadal on the clay, and while that mightn't seem like much, his run on this surface had also seen him beat Roger Federer at Rome. Certainly, he has the hugeness of game necessary to make some big dents on court.
His is a sort of tuned-down, slightly more mobile Robin Soderling, and we all know what that Swede has achieved at Roland Garros. Why not for himself?
A big serve, a big forehand, but a lousy history—that about sums up Fernando Verdasco's fortunes at Roland Garros.
He hasn't done poorly, but certainly nowhere near as well as his big game, and clay-court prowess, should have gotten him by now. He has never gotten past the fourth round, and one woeful match stands out especially in memory—a crushing defeat to Nadal in 2008.
Nonetheless, Verdasco does have a big game, which should it find its A-mark would be very hard to handle on the clay in Paris.
We have in David Ferrer someone who, should this list have been appropriately ranked, would probably come near the top of it.
Lets face it, the Spaniard has an impeccable record on clay, marred—if marred they were—by losses to Nadal or Federer, often deep in tournaments. Without the name of Nadal, he reached, indeed, the final of Rome and the semifinals of Madrid last year.
The problem, of course, has been the grand slam syndrome, as it is with so any names here. Ferrer has had a great run at the five-setters, however, with a semifinals appearance at the Australian this year already. He may yet improve upon it at the French.
Another Spaniard, one might remark, but another damn fine player at that.
Almagro is one of the guys, perhaps, for whom destiny has yet to reward for all his efforts otherwise. A multiple clay tournament winner, with a fine streak of his own early on this year, the third Spaniard in our list has routinely proven his prowess on this surface.
He has, unfortunately, also too often folded in the biggest moments. Should he get his mind right, and his game right, however, there would be little that might deter him from doing exceptionally well at the French. With a good draw, he might even win it.
Then, the darkest of all dark horses, Juan Martin Del Potro. It would be criminal to omit his name from this list, or indeed from any list of contenders.
Indeed, at any tournament. Juan Martin Del Potro has done it before, winning the US Open and stunning everybody, in beating Nadal and Federer in straight victories and was in fact close to winning the French earlier that 2009, when he was close to beating Federer in the semis.
It would have left him a favourite in the final. With a booming serve and crushing forehand like his, why wouldn't anyone reckon against him? His game is a monster, there's no doubt about it, and there is little most people would be able to do against it on its day.
Another dark horse, although one who has never ever quite reached the pitch-black potential of the aforementioned Del Potro.
Berdych is another fine player, who can belt his forehand just about as well as Del Potro, and in fact was in a similar position to him last year, when he lost a close five-set semifinal at the French. Make no mistake, the Czech is a legitimate contender for the biggest titles.
His mind, so often, has unfortunately let him down, and his woes in that department would likely be compounded by a poor 2011 thus far; a fair draw, and a good few matches, however, might just get started the killer groundstrokes.
Finally, some local flavour to round things off. It was a battle between Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Monfils for this spot, but some things would decidedly favour the former.
For one, he has the better grand slam record, and the more all-rounded game, if not the same fantastic, jaw-dropping power. But of course, as to the (non)-neccesity of favouring either him or Monfils, he too would draw the cheers of the French crowd—we all know how tough they have been to impress in the last few years.
Parisians, nonetheless, are always looking for a home favourite to savour, and with Tsonga, they likely have the best hope. He is a very fine player, and with a fine draw, some luck and French passion, could just possibly be the next Frenchman to lift the Musketeer's Cup since Yannick Noah did so in 1983.