Friday May 23rd, 2014

No. 1 Serena Williams is seeking to win her second French Open title in a row and third overall.
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images's Jon Wertheim breaks down the women's seeds at the French Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups and predictions. Click here for the men's report. The women's draw is available here.

Top 16 seeds

1. Serena Williams: Simply the best, as she showed in Rome, which should fire her with confidence. A source of hope for the field: She has won "only" two of her last five Grand Slam tournaments. Still, it'd be a considerable surprise if the 32-year-old doesn't defend her title. Her draw isn't the most benign, with sister Venus a possibility in the third round and Maria Sharapova looming in the quarterfinals, but it shouldn't much matter.

NGUYEN: Five minutes with Serena Williams

2. Li Na: It's hard to see her beating Serena in a final. But if she catches a break and avoids that scenario -- as she did in Melbourne -- the 2011 French Open champion is as good a bet as any player to win.

3. Agnieszka Radwanska: A disarmingly clever player. We know that she can play deep into a major. Cab she take the next step?

4. Simona Halep: Credit Halep, 22, for this mid-career rise. (I never thought we'd hear the phrase "the Halep quarter.") But my sense is that she's not quite ready to contend for the biggest prizes. A second-week showing would add to her bona fides.

5. Petra Kvitova: Always dangerous. But there always seems to be something to prevent her from fulfilling her vast potential. Cool conditions will help her.

6. Jelena Jankovic: The inimitable J.J. is back in sniffing distance of the top five, which makes life more fun.

7. Maria Sharapova: The 2012 French Open champion came alive with titles in Stuttgart and Madrid, and she's 47-4 on clay (including three losses to Serena) since 2011. Unfortunately for Sharapova, though, she's in Serena's quarter, and could face Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round.

8. Angelique Kerber: What's German for "admirably solid but seldom spectacular"?

NGUYEN: French Open storylines to watch

9. Dominika Cibulkova: The Australian Open finalist has been as deep as the semifinals (2009) at Roland Garros.

10. Sara Errani: The 27-year-old Italian lacks weapons, but she is a 2012 finalist and '13 semifinalist who has played well lately. Errani gets a tough first-round match against Madison Keys.

Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, has played well in the lead-up tournaments.
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

11. Ana Ivanovic: The 2008 winner is playing her best ball in recent memory. After Serena -- whom she beat, incidentally, in their last Grand Slam match, at the Australian Open -- she might stand as good a chance as anyone.

12. Flavia Pennetta: The flashy, likable Italian generally plays well at big events. And she is in a soft section of the draw.

13. Caroline Wozniacki: How do you not root for her after what she endured this week? She opens against former U.S. Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer.

14. Carla Suarez Navarro: Firmly in the "sleeper" category, and she gets bonus points for that picturesque sweeping one-hander. A player to watch.

Complete French Open television schedule

15. Sloane Stephens: The 21-year-old American has suffered several dismal, listless losses this year, many of them on clay, but she comes to play at the majors. Stephens sure can't complain about her draw -- provided she can get past her opener against the 28-year-old Peng Shuai, who has dominated both of their matches, on clay.

16. Sabine Lisicki: An up-and-down player whose game is ill-suited for the slow stuff. Wait for Wimbledon.

Seeds 17-32 to watch

18. Eugenie Bouchard: Her results have been building steadily — and she's a better clay-courter than she's given credit for being.

19. Sam Stosur: The 2010 finalist is on the downside of her perplexing career. But the 30-year-old Australian can play well on clay -- provided her head is willing.

20. Alize Cornet: The Frenchwoman always brings the drama, but she's also figured out how to win close matches.

22. Ekaterina Makarova: Good athlete with a solid all-around game, though clay is not her best surface.

23. Lucie Safarova: She can beat anyone -- and also lose to anyone -- on a given day.

26. Sorana Cirstea: Not a big hitter but a fun, resourceful player.

27. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The 2009 champion made the Portugal Open final and lost a third-set tiebreaker to Radwanska in Madrid.

28. Andrea Petkovic: The German has worked her way back from tennis' disabled list and is playing top-10-caliber tennis.

29. Venus Williams: The seven-time major champion hasn't been past the third round of a Slam since 2011. Serena looms in the third round.

NGUYEN: Keys not your typical 19-year-old

Dark horse stable

Garbine Muguruza: A potential future star. (And she's only 20.)

Elina Svitolina: A potential future star. (And she's only 19.)

Madison Keys: A potential future star. (And she's only 19.)

Donna Vekic: A potential future star. (And she's only 17.)

Camila Giorgi: The Italian is an up-and-down player, but she's defeated Sharapova and Cibulkova this year.

Caroline Garcia: The 20-year-old Frenchwoman has a fine all-around game and the support of the crowd. If only she didn't start against Ivanovic.

Christina McHale: Nice clay-court resurgence for the 22-year-old American, who made the third round as a qualifier at the Italian Open and reached the semifinals at this week's Strasbourg International.

NGUYEN: French Open draw winners and losers

First-round matches to watch

Ana Ivanovic vs. Caroline Garcia: Both are potential semifinalists.

Belinda Bencic vs. Venus Williams: Venus, who turns 34 next month, is nearly twice the age of the 17-year-old Bencic, another of the WTA's promising young players.

Sara Errani vs. Madison Keys: Even on a surface more suited to Errani, Keys' power might be unanswerable. This is my first-round upset special.

Sloane Stephens vs. Peng Shuai: The crafty veteran is hardly an ideal first opponent for Stephens.

Doubles winners

Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani: This would give the reigning Australian Open champions the first two legs of the Grand Slam this year.

Singles picks

Semifinals: Serena Williams vs. total surprise (Carla Suarez Navarro?); Li Na vs. Ana Ivanovic

Final: Serena Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic

Winner: Serena Williams

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