French Open 2011: 10 Bold Predictions for the Players Favored at Roland Garros

JA AllenSenior Writer IApril 27, 2011

French Open 2011: 10 Bold Predictions for the Players Favored at Roland Garros

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    Last season, the 2010 French Open marked the culmination of a player sweeping the major titles of the entire clay-court season––the final act of the Tao of Nadal.

    No man quite dominated the red dirt so completely since Bjorn Borg did in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

    That said, no individual has yet to equal Chris Evert's record on clay—man or woman—by winning 125 consecutive matches on the red dirt and seven French Open titles in nine finals appearances.

    Is it possible that Nadal could surpass even the ice maiden? 

    There are few mysteries abounding about the results on clay in 2011. If Nadal can hobble onto the court, then he will no doubt win, according to the odds makers. 

    The only unknowns come on the women's side of the draw, where no one stands out as a favorite to win. In fact, the bookies remain fairly clueless. 

    Past winners like Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova remain mired in unending slumps punctuated by an unexpected win or two along the way.

    Francesca Schiavone, who won it last year over the woman who was supposed to win, Samantha Stosur, may be the best bet. 

    The sure thing about watching the French Open is that it is not pretty. Play on the red dirt can be long and ugly on a hot afternoon, with unending rallies from the baseline. It often becomes truly survival of the fittest. 

    So selecting who will be standing holding the trophies at the end of the French Open can be a futile exercise. But here are the favorites and where they stand at the beginning of May...

Juan Martin Del Potro: The Dark-Horse Contender

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 29:  Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina looks on against Mardy Fish during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 29, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    After being listed as "missing in action" for almost a year, former World No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro is fighting his way back up the men's rankings. 

    The winner of the U.S. Open in 2009, del Potro has struggled to regain the form that once took him to the top of the men's game.

    Now ranked in the top 50 at No. 46, del Potro needs only one more significant win to get himself seeded for the 2011 French Open.

    In the meantime, the Argentine remains the most unpopular unseeded player on tour; no one is happy to see the big guy standing in their quarter of the draw.

    The last time del Potro made an appearance on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros was in the semifinals of the 2009 French Open where he met eventual champion Roger Federer, extending the Swiss to five sets before losing 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, 1-6, 4-6.

    Now at age 22, del Potro is perfecting his game once again, ready to win another slam title. If anyone is equal to Nadal on the red dirt and able to counter the Majorcan's high-kicking serve, it is this man from Argentina. 

    The dark horse of 2011 of the men's draw is Del Potro...

Andrea Petkovic: The Dark-Horse Contender

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 31:  Andrea Petkovic of Germany reacts after she won the first set against Maria Sharapova of Russia during their women's semifinal match at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 31, 2011 in Key Biscayne, F
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Andrea Petkovic became the first German woman with a top-20 ranking since Anna-Lena Groenfeld made it in 2007. 

    After reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart, Petkovic climbed all the way to the No. 15 spot. One year ago, the German was ranked No. 50.

    After reaching the final eight at the Australian Open, Petkovic has remained steadily in the tennis spotlight.

    After defeating Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open and world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open, Petkovic has definitely convinced her opponents that she is a legitimate force to be reckoned with on the ladies tour.

    Using deep, penetrating groundstokes and employing patience, waiting for her moments, Petkovic's game seems well suited to clay.

    Expect her to do well on the red clay in Paris. She may be the best dark horse in either draw...

Roger Federer: The Man for All Seasons and Surfaces

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    MONACO - APRIL 15:  Roger Federer of Switzerland looks down in his match against Jurgen Melzer of Austria during Day Six of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on April 15, 2011 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Ge
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    After appearing in four French Open finals and winning the crown in 2009, Roger Federer is no longer being discussed as a potential rival to Rafael Nadal for the 2011 French Open championship.

    How quickly fame fades.

    Last year, the Swiss was dismissed in the quarterfinals by eventual finalist Robin Soderling. The loss ended Federer's streak at 23-consecutive major-semifinal appearances.

    It also cost the Swiss the No. 1 ranking, leaving him one week short of equalling Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks at No. 1.

    Currently ranked world No. 3 behind Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Federer bides his time, ready to capitalize if the opportunity arises. 

    While the tennis world discusses the new rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic, they seem to have forgotten that Djokovic has never defeated Nadal on any surface other than hard courts, while Federer has won a few––very few—matches against the Majorcan on clay.

    The one person who continues to believe in Federer is Federer and that is really all that matters. As long as the Swiss player keeps himself mentally and physically fit, he is ready to win––especially when the majors roll around. 

    It is never smart to count out the Man for All Seasons and Surfaces.

Caroline Wozniacki: World No. 1 Without a Slam to Her Name

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    MONACO - APRIL 11:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark smiles after her match against Francesca Schiavone of Italy in the womens exhibition match during Day Two of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on April 11, 2011 in Monte Carlo,
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki took over the top spot from Serena Williams in October of 2010. She has been ranked in the top spot for approximately six months.

    Like Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic before her, Wozniacki has been severely criticized for holding the No. 1 ranking without winning a major. 

    The fallacy in this thinking, however, is simply that she has earned the points to be there and there is no requirement that states she must hold a slam title in order to be accorded the top ranking.

    The fault, dear WTA, is not in our stars, but in our ranking system. The fact of her failing does not seem to affect the 20-year-old Wozniacki, whose patience continues to be her primary virtue. 

    The Dane is content to wait until the right moment to win that first crown. It is the press whose impatience continues to unravel the nerves.

    Wozniacki's chances of winning the French Open are as great as anyone else's at this point. She wins a great many titles. None of her wins so far, however, have been majors.

    You must give credit to Wozniacki for her bravery and her work ethic; she is not afraid to win. At present, she is working on perfecting her game, growing into her role as a champion.

    The rest will come in time. Maybe even at this year's French Open.

Robin Soderling: Third Time the Charm?

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 27:  Robin Soderling of Sweden hits a backhand return against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 27, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Ima
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Swede Robin Soderling will forever be remembered as the first man to defeat Rafael Nadal on the red clay of Stade Roland Garros.

    The upset occurred during the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. It is, perhaps, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the great sport of tennis.

    Seeded No. 23, Soderling met Nadal with no one expecting the Swede to win. No one.

    Soderling won 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, which ended Nadal's 31-match winning streak at the French Open.

    Subsequently, the Swede went on to defeat Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals and Fernando Gonzalez in the semifinals to reach his first-ever Grand Slam final.

    He met Roger Federer in the final, which Soderling lost in straight sets 1-6, 6-7, 4-6.  Federer won his first-and-only French Open to date. Soderling climbed to the No. 12 ranking.

    In 2010, Soderling once again found himself facing Federer. This time, the two met in the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open, where the Swede defeated the Swiss for the first time in his career and ended Federer's consecutive semifinal streak at 23.

    For the second year in a row, Soderling defeated the French Open defending champion.

    The Swede went on to defeat Tomas Berdych in the semifinals. This took him into the finals where he faced Rafael Nadal, losing 4-6, 2-6, 4-6.

    Soderling contends that he has the right stuff to defeat Nadal again for the championship.

    After all, Soderling beat him once so he must believe that with a little luck and some good weather, his third try at the French Open crown will find the Swede the winner in 2011...

Kim Clijsters: Dancing Her Chances Away?

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 30:  Kim Clijsters of Belgium hits a backhand return against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 30, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Ima
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Certainly, Kim Clijsters would be the favorite to win the 2011 French Open had she not damaged her ankle while dancing at her cousin's wedding a few weeks ago.

    Clijsters was a finalist in Paris in 2001 and 2003, losing to American Jennifer Capriati and countrywoman Justine Henin respectively.

    The world No. 2 has been out of action after enduring "a severe strain of both the medial and lateral ligaments of the right ankle and torn ligaments, a torn capsule of the ankle joint, a hematoma and torn tendon sheath." 

    Clijsters is currently rehabilitating, expecting to miss at least six weeks of the season.

    Right now, Clijsters is walking without crutches and the expectation is that, if her progress continues, the Belgian may be able to compete at Stade Roland Garros as action gets underway.

    That assumes that she can get at least two weeks of training in before action begins.

    Those seem to be a great many "ifs" and "maybes" to overcome. Her status remains uncertain at this point.

    Clijsters may have danced her way right out of contention for this missing jewel in her Grand Slam crown.

Novak Djokovic: Stings Like a Bee

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - APRIL 03:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after he won match point against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles championship at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 3, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florid
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    So far in 2011, Novak Djokovic has not lost a match. He won the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells and the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. 

    He stands currently at 24-0 and feels he is up to the challenge of unseating Rafael Nadal for the No. 1 spot in men's tennis. 

    The Serb surpassed Roger Federer for the No. 2 ranking on March 21, 2011.  He states emphatically that he no longer fears playing either Nadal or Federer, regardless of the tournament or the surface. 

    Djokovic feels he has paid his dues, and he is now ready to reap the rewards of his hard work and sacrifice. 

    Of course, defeating Nadal on clay is not the same thing as defeating the Majorcan on hard courts; Djokovic has never defeated Nadal on clay. 

    So far, Nadal has won both tournaments he has entered on clay in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona.

    Perhaps, the two will have the opportunity to test their mettle against each other in Madrid, which begins next week on May 1, where Nadal will be the No. 1 seed and Djokovic the No. 2. The Serb is playing his first tournament on clay this week at the Serbian Open, where he is expected to win against token opposition.

    Djokovic has much to prove on clay, where the red dirt can eat into your soul and soften your resolve.

    The sting of the confident Serb may find itself ground underfoot by long rallies dictated by Nadal who refuses to give up—especially when the challenger is so vocal and so bold.

Samantha Stosur: From "Also-Ran" to Queen of the Court

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    INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 14:  Samantha Stosur of Australia returns a shot to Dinara Safina of Russia during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 14, 2011 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    In 2010, Samanta Stosur played a magnificent tournament all the way to the French Open final.

    She defeated some real heavyweights to reach the final, including three-time French Open champion Justine Henin, world No. 1 Serena Williams and former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

    The Aussie advanced through the draw utilizing her powerful serve and her devastating ground strokes.

    After such impressive wins over former world No. 1 players, Stosur, unfortunately, did not seize the day against Schiavone during the final. 

    The Italian played unorthodox tennis and stole the championship away by being aggressive and unpredictable.

    She rushed Stosur all during the match and never allowed the Aussie to settle into the match.

    This year, perhaps the Australian has learned better how to win the big match. 

    Stosur certainly has the right game to win on clay. A victory in 2011 would help heal the wound left by losing the championship in 2010. 

    No doubt Stosur feels compelled to win it all this year to prove that she can. It will take great resolve, as well as another great run, to accomplish it in 2011...

Rafael Nadal: With 6, You Nudge Immortality

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the trophy after beating David Ferrer during the final match on day seven of the ATP 500 World Tour Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell 2011 tennis tournament at the Real Club de Tenis on April 24, 2011
    David Ramos/Getty Images

    There is an aura these days enveloping Rafael Nadal––a cloud of nervous energy tinged with desperation.

    You cannot help but wonder why this barely discernible sense of panic exists.

    It is not as if the Majorcan has had any real competition so far in the clay season. Twice he has met and defeated countryman David Ferrer in the finals at Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

    With a rare week off to ready himself for Madrid, followed quickly by the tournament in Rome—both ATP Masters 1000 events—Nadal seems more than capable of repeating his clay feat of 2010. 

    Last year, the Majorcan became the first man ever to win all three Masters 1000 tournaments on the red dirt, polishing off that record by capturing his fifth French Open crown by defeating Robin Soderling in the final.

    It was Soderling who dismissed Nadal on the center stage at Stade Roland Garros during the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. 

    It was this same Soderling who in 2010 sent the defending champion, Roger Federer, home after the 2010 French Open quarterfinals. 

    This year, Nadal claims he can be beaten. One suspects he anticipates an attack by Djokovic on the top ranking. 

    With a massive number of points to defend on the clay, Nadal senses his own vulnerability. But we suspect that this makes the Majorcan even more dangerous on the red clay...

Francesca Schiavone: Happy to Be a 1-Slam Wonder

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    MONACO - APRIL 11:  Francesca Schiavone of Italy in action against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the womens exhibition match during Day Two of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on April 11, 2011 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  (Pho
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    While Francesca Schiavone was the first Italian woman to win the French Open crown in 2010, she will not repeat as champion. 

    This is because no woman has repeated as champion at Stade Roland Garros since Justine Henin won the title three-straight years from 2005-2007.

    The chances of the feisty Italian making it back to the finals in 2011 would be quite remote.

    That said, however, there is no real favorite coming into the 2011 French Open in the women's draw.

    Schiavone played inspired tennis to defeat Samantha Stosur 6-4, 7-6 in the 2010 French Open final, often standing inside the baseline in order to offer some surprise returns against the huge Stosur serve.

    No one expected the Italian to win, especially the way Stosur had dominated coming into the final.

    But Schiavone retained a firmer grasp on her nerves than the Aussie Stosur. She deserved to win the title in 2010.

    But so far, the oddsmakers have not given Schiavone the nod as the favorite coming into Stade Roland Garros...