Stars Most Likely to Struggle at the 2015 French Open

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2015

Stars Most Likely to Struggle at the 2015 French Open

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    The second Grand Slam of the tennis season is underway as the top men and women in the world dream of a a triumphant fortnight at the French Open.

    But not everyone will be so fortunate in Paris. While some are destined for a deep run, others are likely to stumble on the red clay.

    Injuries, inexperience or simply a lack of momentum could prematurely derail their stay at the tournament. So which stars are most susceptible to disappointment? Here is a look at a few players inside the Top 20 most likely to struggle at Roland Garros. 

Marin Cilic

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    A Cinderella run at the 2014 U.S. Open wrapped up in grand style, earning Marin Cilic an unexpected major title. And then the clock struck midnight.

    An unfortunate shoulder injury suffered last fall stalled Cilic's rise. Forced to skip the Australian Open and Miami Open, he has only played 10 matches this season entering Roland Garros. When he's been able to actually get on the court, the big-hitting Croatian hasn't been able to recapture the form that carried him to Grand Slam glory.

    There's no blueprint or universal time frame for how long it takes a player to recover from injury. Cilic's comeback has proven especially slow. When or if he finds the spark again is unclear, and his Paris forecast is therefore gloomy. 

    Never the most adept on clay to begin with, Cilic is just 4-5 on the dirt in 2015 and has yet to reach a quarterfinal at the French Open. Matched against a tricky first-round opponent in Robin Haase and set to collide with David Ferrer in the fourth round, it's safe to project another early exit on the terre battue. 

Madison Keys

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    Make no mistake, Madison Keys' time is coming. But the 20-year-old still needs more seasoning.

    Since her run to the semifinals at the 2015 Australian Open, Keys hasn't put together consistent results. A runner-up finish in Charleston has been tempered by early-round losses at Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Madrid. She's bubbling with potential, but Keys hasn't yet found the recipe to let it loose.

    Learning the nuances of the professional game is a process for any player. And that phase is where Keys currently finds herself.

    Blessed with a cannon of a serve and an equally lethal forehand, the American is best suited to hard and grass courts. On clay, however, the slower conditions will make life more difficult for her. 

    Though Charleston and her recent quarterfinal run in Strasbourg show Keys is capable of winning on the dirt, she's not yet fully comfortable on the surface. Playing just her third French Open this week, she'll have to contend with veteran Varvara Lepchenko in the opening round before facing potential opponents like Belinda Bencic, Daniela Hantuchova and Timea Bacsinszky.

    She'll need to pass those hurdles just to set up a fourth-round clash with Petra Kvitova. That draw makes a long stay at Roland Garros unlikely for Keys. 

Eugenie Bouchard

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    The WTA rankings list Eugenie Bouchard as the No. 6 player in the world. But her results tell a far different story.

    Last year's breakout star, Bouchard is currently toiling through the dreaded sophomore slump. At 7-9 this season with four opening-round losses, she's a long way from the form that landed her in three Grand Slam semifinals in 2014, including a runner-up finish at Wimbledon.

    No, this Bouchard has come down to Earth after that meteoric rise. Struggling to find any sort of rhythm with her game and struggling with drama both on the court and in her coaching circle, she's embroiled in a severe skid.

    Her problem doesn't seem to be an issue of talent or work ethic, but rather the pressure of the sudden fame heaped onto her 21-year-old shoulders. Although not shy when it comes to the spotlight, dealing with those increased expectations has been a different sort of ordeal.

    Now with a bull's-eye on her back, Bouchard is finding out just how difficult it can be to take that next step. Since her quarterfinal showing at the Australian Open, she hasn't won more than two consecutive matches at any event. 

    Breaking out of her current rut won't be easy. It will require patience and likely more growing pains. Just 1-3 on clay entering the French Open, the Canadian isn't primed for a deep run here. 

Grigor Dimitrov

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    A year ago, Grigor Dimitrov looked to be on the verge of winning a Grand Slam title. This time around? Not so much.

    The 24-year-old has taken a step back in 2015, putting together middling results on his way to an 18-10 record. With only one win over a player in the Top 10 (Stan Wawrinka in Madrid), Dimitrov has fallen behind his peers.

    Since his run to the Wimbledon semifinals last summer, the Bulgarian has gone off the track. All the raw tools are still there, but Dimitrov seems unsure how to actually put all that talent together. Whether it's because of impatience or just a lack of tactical clarity, he's stagnated on the court.

    His best showing this season? A semifinals berth at a season-opening event in Brisbane, which ended in a decisive 6-2, 6-2 loss to Roger Federer. Since then, he's reached only one other semifinal (Istanbul) while failing to win more than one match in five different tournaments.

    That trend will continue in Paris. Drawn into a quarter with Jack Sock, Pablo Carreno Busta, Tommy Robredo, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the world No. 11 has his work cut out just to survive the first week. Until he scores another victory over a top-tier opponent, doubts will continue to hover over Dimitrov.

Ana Ivanovic

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    A 20-year-old phenom once scaled to the top of the tennis kingdom in 2008, lifting a first Grand Slam trophy high above her head in Paris.

    Much was expected of Ana Ivanovic after that moment. But in the following seven years, she's yet to come close to replicating that magic.

    In fact, she's failed to reach even a single major semifinal since that moment, let alone a final. During that span, Ivanovic has only advanced to a pair of quarterfinals at Grand Slam events. That drought has amplified at Roland Garros.

    Her six previous entries at the French Open have all ended in the fourth round or earlier. Based on her current form, it's tough to see her snapping that skid.

    Still ranked No. 7 in the world, Ivanovic has hung around in the Top 10 and won smaller events the past few years. Yet on the biggest stages, she falters. 

    A fit and nimble athlete, Ivanovic lacks the firepower (especially on serve) to really threaten her peers. And her absence of weapons makes her susceptible to upsets. At 11-9 in 2015, she's once again stuck in the mud.

    Fortunately for the Serbian, she doesn't face an overly imposing draw in the first few rounds here. But she needed three sets just to survive her first opponent, Yaroslava Shvedova. That's not a promising start.

    Ivanovic could well make the fourth round. Going further than that point shouldn't be expected from the former prodigy. 

Caroline Wozniacki

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    Caroline Wozniacki is a technically proficient player and a remarkably fit athlete. Her main weakness is a crippling one: passivity.

    Like the Andy Murray of old, Wozniacki has been content to sit on the baseline and trade punches. Against most players, that strategy can be quite efficient. But when she plays bigger hitters like Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova, it's tougher to just goad opponents into mistakes and expect to win.

    After 10 straight Grand Slam entries which ended in the fourth round or earlier, the Dane finally ended that dubious mark with a run to last year's U.S. Open final. Since then, she's stagnated.

    A loss to Victoria Azarenka in the second round of this year's Australian Open caused those old concerns about her style of play to resurface. Sure, she won a small title in Kuala Lumpur and finished runner-up in Auckland and Stuttgart, but Wozniacki has lost before the quarterfinals at five events in 2015.

    That inconsistency has her at a crossroads. At 23-10 this season, the Dane has done enough to stay in the Top 10, but she hasn't made up ground on her rivals. The French Open is an unlikely place for that to change.

    In eight previous trips to Roland Garros, Wozniacki has made only one quarterfinal (2010), and she exited in the first round last year. With her game not a great fit for the surface, Wozniacki could struggle against early-round foes like Karin Knapp, Julia Goerges, Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani.

    Advancing to the second week to face her good pal Serena Williams seems too difficult a task for Wozniacki on the slow red clay in Paris.

    All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com and WTATennis.com unless otherwise noted. 

    Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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