French Open Tennis 2013: Championship Odds and Predictions for Top Contenders

Nick McCarvel@nickmccarvelFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2013

French Open Tennis 2013: Championship Odds and Predictions for Top Contenders

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    The tennis world descends on the City of Love in a sport where players aim to be loveless for the second major of the year, the French Open at Roland Garros. In tennis, love means nothing, and it's a score every player wants to avoid, no matter the cost.

    Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are no doubt the favorites. Serena has won 24 matches in a row, while Rafa's streak stands at 15 after he bounced back from his first loss in Monte Carlo after claiming the tournament a jaw-dropping eight years in a row.

    But who can drop some jaws in Paris? Maria Sharapova is the defending women's champion, and over the past year, Victoria Azarenka has proven that she is perhaps the biggest threat to Serena's solid grip of power. Novak Djokovic has said it is his biggest goal of 2013 to win the French, while Roger Federer sits safely on the other side of the draw from his two biggest rivals.

    We'll take a look at the top players' draws at Roland Garros while placing odds on how they'll perform and breaking down just what they'll have to do to win seven straight on the grueling, unforgiving red clay.

Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Odds to Win the Title: 50-to-1

    Things aren't getting much better for the world No. 4. Agnieszka Radwanska, who has gone through an uncharacteristic slump over the last four weeks. She has a tough draw with former top-20 player Shahar Peer to start, up-and-coming American Mallory Burdette or dangerous 16-year-old Donna Vekic in Round 2 and Venus Williams or Agnieszka's younger sister Urszula potentially awaiting in Round 3.

    That's all just to perhaps face 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in the Round of 16, last year's finalist Sara Errani in the quarterfinals and—if she can get through all of that—Serena Williams in the semis.

    Prediction: A bum shoulder hasn't helped Radwanska much as of late either, aiding in her two-match losing streak. But the ever-consistent Pole should get through her first three matches, challenging as they may be, including what could be a popcorn third round against Venus Williams (put that one on Philippe Chatrier, oh schedule makers).

    But we don't think the 22-year-old can get past a resurgent Ivanovic in Round 4, who will hit through Radwanska's tired shoulder and body to make her first quarterfinal in Paris in five years.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    Odds to Win the Title: 20-to-1

    France's best hope comes in the form of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a perennial top-10 player who has won big matches against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic but hasn't been able to string a streak of W's together at a major tournament.

    He'll get to work his way into this one nicely, facing his first real challenge in fellow countryman Jeremy Chardy—a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open—in Round 3. He'd likely encounter Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, the same round he nearly knocked out Novak Djokovic here a year ago. 

    Prediction: A bum back for aging Federer and a potential finally realized in front of a home crowd? That's a storyline that could likely play out for Tsonga, who will groove his game in the first three rounds before exploding into form and trotting into the final. Yes, he'll take down Federer and David Ferrer in the semis, but Djokovic or Nadal will await, meaning once again he'll have to settle for prince.

Li Na

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    Odds to Win the Title: 15-to-1

    Can Li Na recapture the title that made her so globally famous two years ago? She'll have to play her best tennis off the bat in order to do so, facing veteran Anabel Medina Garrigues to start, then perhaps surging American Bethanie Mattek-Sands thereafter. But should Li keep her errors down in her first couple of matches, she'd be set for a major showdown against Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals and then defending champion Maria Sharapova in the semis.  

    Prediction: When she's on, Li's game really is up there with the absolute best. But when she's off, it's...well, ugly. And unfortunately for the Chinese 30-year-old, she tends to be off quite often. She should work her way into the second week, but to ask her to get by Azarenka, then Sharapova, then Serena is a bit much. It's likely she'll do the first but then falter against the defending champion before getting the chance to taste Parisian victory champagne a second time.

Tomas Berdych

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    Odds to Win the Title: 30-to-1 

    Sometimes, the "luck" part of "luck of the draw" just abandons a player, and in this case, that player is Tomas Berdych. The big-serving Czech scored a huge win over Novak Djokovic a week ago in Rome, but he faces former top-10 player and French star Gael Monfils to start, then could play tennis' Dennis Rodman in Ernests Gulbis.

    Should the 27-year-old work his way through those challenges, clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro could be his foe in Round 4, while No. 4 David Ferrer is slated to be his quarterfinal opponent. 

    Prediction: It's one-and-done for the big man in Paris this year. Monfils, who has been a French Open semifinalist, is into the final in Nice, France this week and will continue his return from a nagging injury that put him out for much of 2012. Berdych fans, fear not: This one will be a classic, five-set tussle that (we hope) will barely squeak to a finish under the fading daylight on Philippe Chatrier Court. 

Victoria Azarenka

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    Odds to Win: 10-to-1

    The Australian Open winner has a draw that is softer than the clay at Roland Garros, at least to start the tournament. Victoria Azarenka doesn't face any player of note until potentially running into Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the Round of 16, who skids into Paris with an exceptionally ordinary 10-11 mark on the season, including two straight losses on red clay. She could potentially face Li Na in the quarterfinals, then defending champ Sharapova.

    Prediction: There will be no Sharapova showdown, not if 2011 champ Li has anything to say about it. The win for Li would be a revenge of sorts: Since beating the Belarusian in Paris in 2011, Li has gone 0-5 against her, including a three-set loss in the Australian Open final earlier this year. Azarenka's game just doesn't have the same gusto on the clay as it possesses on hard courts.

Roger Federer

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    Odds to Win: 5-to-1

    Federer gets a dream draw to start, as three qualifiers were placed in his section of the draw, meaning he gets two no-name opponents to loosen his bad back on the clay.

    But in the third round, Federer could face a stiff challenge in French veteran Julien Benneteau, the player who had Rog against the ropes at Wimbledon in the same round a year ago (leading two sets to love) and who also registered a straight-set win over Federer just three months ago. Should Roger win there, he has two more Frenchmen potentially in the waiting—Gilles Simon in Round 4, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. 

    Prediction: As glorious as it would be for Federer to reach another Slam final here in Paris, it just won't happen this time. Tsonga is due for a big win with his new coach, Roger Rasheed, and Federer proved in Rome that just because a final has blockbuster names attached to it, that doesn't mean it's worth the extra-buttery popcorn.

    Trade in those dirtied clay clothes for your crisp whites, Roger—your best bet is Wimbledon! 

Maria Sharapova

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    Odds to Win: 3-to-1

    There's plenty to ogle at in Maria Sharapova's early draw, including hard-hitting Su-Wei Hsieh, her first opponent. But should Maria work through that, she has either Canadian youngster Eugenie Bouchard or Tsvetana Pironkova, who has twice beaten Venus Williams at Wimbledon but seems more akin to grass. Sharapova is likely to meet either No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova, whom she beat in the semifinals here a year ago, or 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals.

    Prediction: While we're on the topic of Kvitova and Stosur, it should be said that both have struggled with consistency, which is why we're betting on the outside chance of No. 18 seed Jelena Jankovic, a former world No. 1, coming through this quarter of the draw to face the defending champ. Sharapova will be able to belt her way past J.J. and then Li Na in the semifinals, but then it's a familiar story against Serena Williams in the final. Can Maria at least try to make it competitive?

Novak Djokovic

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    Odds to Win: 2-to-1

    He's the top seed, but that doesn't mean the tennis gods gave Novak Djokovic top priority Friday during the draw. The Serb will have to open against David Goffin, a lithe, speedy retriever who wowed the French crowd a year ago in the fourth round against Roger Federer.

    Should Novak win early, he could meet Grigor Dimitrov in the third round, the same player who gobsmacked him in Madrid earlier this month. All that work, and Tommy Haas or fellow countryman Janko Tipsarevic await him in the quarterfinals, just to earn the right to play Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

    Prediction: Forget the Dimitrov upset, or even the one just over a week ago against Tomas Berdych: Djokovic will make the semifinals against Nadal.

    But that is where the world No. 1 will get stopped a second straight year by the Spaniard, who has won this title seven out of the last eight years. While 2012's final was somewhat deflating, this match could bring out the grueling, dueling best in these two. Perhaps an encore to the 2012 Australian Open final?

Serena Williams

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    Odds to Win: 2-to-1 

    When was the last time Serena Williams was the No. 1 seed at a major and the favorite to win there? That would have been at Wimbledon in 2010, when she romped to the title without dropping a set. Such a scenario could play out again for the now-31-year-old Williams, who doesn't have any player of note to face until No. 15 Roberta Vinci in the fourth round and No. 8 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals. 

    Prediction: You might want to prepare yourself to start talking of the "Serena Slam" once again. Williams arrives in Paris with a 24-match win streak and will look to shake off the demon of last year's shocking loss in the first round early against Caroline Garcia of France (a potential second-round encounter).

    Sharapova is Serena's most likely opponent, though the defending champ has wilted in every meeting these two have had since 2005. 

Rafael Nadal

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    Odds to Win: 1-to-1

    Could it be any brighter for the defending champion? Rafael Nadal opens against a journeyman, only to face the winner of two journeymen in the second round before facing his first test in flashy Italian Fabio Fognini in the Round of 32. It is Frenchman Benoit Paire or Kei Nishikori of Japan who Nadal is likely to face in the fourth round before taking on either Richard Gasquet or Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, his first major battle. After that? Novak Djokovic in the semis.

    Prediction: Nadal has lost just once at the French Open in his storied career, and 2013 won't mark a second time. The Spaniard has delivered in his fullest since returning from a bum knee in February, capturing six of the eight tournament titles he's competed for and running up 15 straight matches on the red stuff in the lead-in to Paris. Another year for Rafa at Roland Garros? Bet on it.