French Open 2012: 15 Reasons We Can't Wait for Tennis' Next Grand Slam

Kevin Pacelli@kjp0205Correspondent IFebruary 29, 2012

French Open 2012: 15 Reasons We Can't Wait for Tennis' Next Grand Slam

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    Although there is plenty of tennis for hardcore fans to follow during the time between the first two Grand Slams, many people less familiar with the sport find it a lull period during the season.

    However, even for those people, it is never too early to begin getting excited for the season's next Slam, and the 2012 French Open promises to be a good one.

    Here's a look at some of the most interesting stories going into Roland Garros.

Isner to Break Top 10?

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    At the relatively old age of 26, American John Isner has started his career off slowly. Until his record-breaking first round Wimbledon match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010, his name was barely even on the map in the tennis world. 

    Currently ranked a career-high No. 11 in the ATP rankings, he is showing that it isn't too late for him to make some noise on the tour.

    Isner is undoubtedly in his prime right now. By winning two tournaments in 2011 and shocking Roger Federer on clay to kick off the 2012 Davis Cup, he has made it clear that he is still striving to hit No. 10 or higher at this point in his career.

    Although he saw a first-round dismissal at Roland Garros last year (after taking Rafael Nadal to five sets), it could actually work out in his favor; he now has plenty of potential to gain points entering the 2012 French Open.

    With Isner playing some of the best tennis of his career right now, don't be surprised to see him break the Top 10 after the year's second Slam.

Azarenka on Top

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    To start off her 2012 season, Victoria Azarenka put on quite a show in Melbourne by taking her first career Grand Slam title. Now sitting at the top of the WTA rankings for the first time, fans of the sport are anxious to see how she will be able to capitalize in the French Open.

    Since the Australian, she still has not lost a match, and she secured another title in Doha. Based on her play to start the season, it seems that 2011 could be the year she dominates the WTA tour.

    Having said that, it is clear that Roland Garros is not Azarenka's best venue. In 2010, she was upset in the first round by Gisela Dulko, and her 2011 appearance resulted in a quarterfinal loss to Na Li, who went on to win the title.

    If Vika can see a better result in the 2012 French Open, her chances of staying on top for the remainder of this season will increase dramatically.

If Not Vika, Then Who?

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    Many fans of women's tennis would love to see Azarenka remain on top for a while, but in recent years, the female side of the sport has lacked stability. Since 2008, eight different women have been No. 1 in the rankings, compared to three on the men's side (Nadal, Federer and Djokovic). The French Open has been no exception to this inconsistency, with no repeats in victors since 2007.

    These statistics may concern Azarenka and her fans.

    So the question remains: If Vika can't stay on top of the women's game, who will be fighting for the position in the near future?

    Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova are both still within 2,000 points of the No.1 spot, and a strong showing at Roland Garros would certainly help both of them. Let's also not forget Na Li (champion in 2011), Samantha Stosur (discussed later) and even Caroline Wozniacki, who is undoubtedly still hungry for a Grand Slam title.

    At a time where the women's game is unstable, every Grand Slam has a significant effect on the rankings, and this one won't be an exception.

Raonic to Make Further Impression

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    Canadian Milos Raonic is undoubtedly one of the game's best prospects, and he has lived up to the hype so far.

    At only 21 years old, he has already won three titles and reached No. 24 in the rankings. He also has one of the best serves on the ATP tour.

    Raonic has started 2012 on a strong note, with titles in San Jose and Chennai and a finals appearance in Memphis. He has yet to impress at a Grand Slam, though, and he will be hoping to do so in the coming French Open.

Tomic's Time to Shine?

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    Another big name among the rising stars is Bernard Tomic, who has been in the picture as a top prospect for a few years now.

    The 18-year-old Australian impressed his home crowd in Melbourne by taking down two seeded players (Fernando Verdasco in first round, Alexandr Dolgopolov in third). He will obviously be looking for an even better showing at Roland Garros in May.

    Players with as much potential as Tomic can ignite at any time, and it usually starts with a strong impression. If Tomic shows his talent at the French Open, look out for him to make even more of a splash later in the season.

DelPo to Make a Statement

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    Since his epic victory over Roger Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final, Juan Martin del Potro has not seen anything near that same success. A wrist injury caused him to miss most of 2010, and as a result, he plummeted in the rankings.

    DelPo has made it clear that he is on his way back, though. He has risen back to the Top 10 relatively quickly since his injury and just recently signaled more of a comeback by taking the trophy in Marseille. 

    One thing's for sure: The Argentinian will not be content with one Grand Slam title under his belt. The miraculous success he saw at Flushing Meadows in 2009 has left him hungry for more, and his search will continue, stronger than ever, at the 2012 French Open.

Fate of the Williams Sisters

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    Anyone who follows tennis at all is at least somewhat familiar with the unfortunate turn of events experienced by Venus and Serena Williams in recent years. The late part of their careers has been riddled with injuries and illnesses that have severely limited their success.

    Although both were No. 1 in the world at multiple different times, they currently sit quite a bit farther down in the rankings. Serena is not in such bad shape (No. 11), but without big wins soon, she will begin to slip further and further down.

    Venus has already dropped out of the Top 100, and does not show signs of returning.

    While it is not likely that Venus will regain anything near her former glory, Serena can still re-enter the Top 10, and maybe even the Top Five, if she stays healthy and keeps at the top of her game.

    The 2012 French Open should give us a better idea of what we will see from them both in the future.

Gael Monfils

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    Perhaps one of the most entertaining players on the ATP tour, Frenchman Gael Monfils will be looking to please the crowd of his home country in the season's next Slam.

    He will definitely need to step up his game if he hopes to be successful in the tournament, after suffering a disappointing loss to unseeded Mikhail Kukushkin in the third round of the Australian Open. Although the prospect of Monfils winning some matches does interest us, we are also looking forward to seeing him for other reasons.

    Monfils has always been known as a showman and crowd-pleaser, and what better place is there for him to embrace this role than in his home country? Look for plenty of acrobatics and stellar shots in the early (and possibly late) rounds of the French Open.

Harrison May Give Americans Hope

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    One more prospect on the men's side is 19-year-old Ryan Harrison, who currently represents hope for United States tennis. With players like Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish growing old, someone is going to need to take their place.

    Harrison is the symbol for the next generation of American tennis, and a strong showing at Roland Garros would instill a lot of hope into the United States.

    Harrison was eliminated in the first round of the Australian Open, but considering the fact his opponent was Andy Murray and he managed to take the first set, that isn't too bad. It will be interesting to see how Harrison represents his country at the French Open.

Stosur Will Look for Redemption

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    After her shocking victory at Flushing Meadows in 2011, the tennis world was anxious to see how Sam Stosur would ride that momentum in front of her home country in Melbourne. Unfortunately for her fans, she did anything but ride the momentum by losing her first-round match in straight sets to Sorana Cirstea.

    If Stosur can bounce back from that dreadful performance with a solid showing at Roland Garros, the WTA tour will once again view her as a contender. On the other hand, another first- or second-round dismissal will show us that the 2011 US Open was a fluke, and that she will not see more success like it anytime soon.

    It will definitely be interesting to see how Stosur performs after two polar opposite Slam performances. 

Showtime for Tsonga

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    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been a contender in tournaments of the ATP circuit for a while now, and has even been a dark horse going into the Grand Slams since his Aussie Open final appearance in 2008. He is currently at his highest career rank ever in the No. 5 spot, and being a Frenchman, he can be very hopeful for an impressive showing at the upcoming Slam.

    Some might debate that if put in another era of tennis, Tsonga could have won several Slam titles; the current times are too tough for almost anyone outside of the Big Four. However, winning one or two titles is definitely a possibility for his future, and the 2012 French Open is his prime opportunity.

Another Chance for Murray

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    Andy Murray is another player that would most likely have been a Grand Slam champion if he had played at a different time. Even though he doesn't usually pull out the win against his three superiors, he has proven that he can stand up to them on several occasions. 

    All it will take for Murray to win his first Slam will be two upsets—once in the semifinals, and once in the finals (assuming his opponents are other Big Four members). He has beaten all three of them in the past, and if he can capitalize on two consecutive opportunities, he will have his first Slam title.

    Will he do it at Roland Garros, or will the search have to continue in the future? Andy has been playing some of his best tennis, and now is a great opportunity for him to take home the trophy.

What's Left of Federer?

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    Throughout his long career, Roger Federer has accomplished and completed some incredible feats that will go down in the tennis history books. The tennis world is still wondering what he has left in him, though.

    The French Open has never been the Slam that Roger excels at. It took him longer to win at Roland Garros than it did at any of the other three venues (his first title there didn't come until 2009). However, he was the first man to beat Novak Djokovic in 2011, and he did it in the French Open semifinal.

    Undoubtedly, Federer wants to do all that he can to prove his value on the ATP tour even at his old age, and that will be his goal in May.

Can Rafa Remain King?

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    Though he still has plenty of his career left to go, many will argue that Rafael Nadal has already defined himself as the greatest of all time on clay. His French Open performances certainly support that idea; since 2005, he has won all but one title at Roland Garros.

    Will Nadal retain the title of clay king after the coming French Open? Or will his recent rival, Novak Djokovic, dethrone him, further proving his current superiority?

    Without a doubt, another French Open title would cool down the Djoker thunder and give Nadal some confidence for the rest of the season. Nobody needs it more than Rafa.

Djoker Looks to Put Name in History Books

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    And finally, the man who has been on the minds of tennis fans throughout the world since the Australian Open of 2011.

    A championship win at Roland Garros this year would mean several things for the Serbian superstar. For one thing, it will complete the Career Grand Slam for Djokovic. The Career Slam is an accomplishment that most of the Greats have under their belt, and if Novak hopes to become one of them, he needs to achieve it for himself. 

    And who can forget that a victory at Roland Garros will be the fourth straight Slam title for the Serb, a feat known as the Non-calendar Slam that is nearly as prestigious as its single-season counterpart?

    Djokovic may not need this title nearly as much as his Spanish rival, but it would definitely be a step in the right direction for him if he hopes to put himself in the "greatest of all time" discussion.

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