For the first time in recent memory, Rafael Nadal isn't the overwhelming favorite at the French Open, which began Sunday in Paris. Nadal is 38-1 all time on the red clay with his one loss coming in the 2009 quarterfinals to Robin Soderling. Nadal faces John Isner—the 6'9'' American with the booming serve—in the first round.
The favorite at the French (for the first time in his career) has to be second-ranked Novak Djokovic. The Serb stands perfect on the year with 37 wins and no losses, including four wins over Nadal. With his pounding backhand and heavy forehand (as well as his superb movement, topped only by Nadal and, perhaps, Gael Monfils), Djokovic has defeated Nadal on his home surface (clay) twice this year already.
Of course, the third-seeded, formerly anointed Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will be in attendance as well. The struggling Federer drew a tough first-round match against Spaniard southpaw Feliciano Lopez. If Federer can get by the free-swinging lefty, his draw opens up—only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Monfils should pose even remote problems.
Nadal, Djokovic and Federer are the favorites (as they are in every tournament), but there's a lot of tennis to be played elsewhere. Here's a few predictions on the tournament, including my pick to win the 2011 French Open at the conclusion.