Monday May 21st, 2012

John Isner John Isner took a disappointing second-round loss to Andreas Seppi at the Italian Open. (AP)

With a week to go before the French Open, there are a number of smaller tournaments this week offering a handful of big players an opportunity to tune up their games and make one final statement before Paris. Here's what we'll be keeping tabs on as some key men and women get one final knock-up in Europe before the second Slam of the year.

Nice, France: John Isner, Sam Querrey and surprise qualifier Brian Baker, who earned a French Open wildcard during the USTA's playoff earlier this month, are all in the field at the Open de Nice this week. More rain in Europe washed out Day 1, but Isner, who needs some confidence-building matches after winning only one match in Madrid and Rome, leads the field along with Gilles Simon, Nicolas Almagro and Gael Monfils. It's a bit surprising to see Simon in Nice, but good on him for supporting the French tournament. The Frenchman, who's rediscovered his form as of late, has played four clay tournaments in the last four weeks in Monte Carlo, Bucharest, Madrid and Rome and will go into Roland Garros without a break.

Notable early matches: Brian Baker vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky (first round), Tomaz Bellucci vs. Donald Young (first round), Matthew Ebden vs. Nikolai Davydenko (first round), Sam Querrey vs. Bernard Tomic (second round), Juan Carlos Ferrero vs. Thomaz Bellucci (second round), Grigor Dimitrov vs. Gilles Simon (second round).

Brussels, Belgium: Why World No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska is playing a tiny tournament right before the French Open is beyond me. Good on her for keeping her commitment to the tournament but Radwanska is already complaining about a bothersome back. I'm not sure anyone can expect much from her on clay this year -- it's her worst surface by far -- so putting her body through the rigors of clay seems unnecessary given her best surface, grass, is right around the corner. But she's not the only top player who's looking for some match play. Last year's French Open semifinalist Marion Bartoli and a host of slumping players (Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova the most notable) are joining her. Brussels didn't provide Jelena Jankovic and Christina McHale the slump-breakers they were looking for, both took first-round exits on Monday.

Düsseldorf, Germany: In the oddly named Power Horse World Team Cup -- Seriously? That's a tennis tournament? -- eight nations will participate in a team-competition to see which one comes out on top. This year, Germany, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Japan, Russia, Croatia, Argentina and the U.S. have chosen to participate. Andy Roddick, Ryan Harrison and James Blake are together representing the Americans, with Tomas Berdych, Janko Tipsarevic, Ivo Karlovic and Philipp Kohlschreiber all a part of their respective teams. But the big question here is how Roddick's body is feeling. He played his first match since Miami over the weekend against Argentina's Carlos Berlocq and lost 6-2, 6-2.

Strasbourg, France: Two players to keep an eye on in the beautiful Alsace region this week: Maria Kirilenko and Mona Barthel. Kirilenko, who's made the Round of 16 at Roland Garros the last two years, has been disappointing on clay this year, compiling a 2-3 record. She gets Sloane Stephens in the first round. Mona Barthel looks to continue to make her case as the bracket-buster to watch in Paris. The French Open draw: The draw ceremony for men's and ladies' singles will be held on Friday. Personally, given the number of matchup issues that exist, particularly on the women's side, I find it impossible to designate favorites until the bracket hits the web. If No. 2 Sharapova draws No. 5 Serena Williams into her quarter, the Tennis Gods are going to have some 'splainin' to do.

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