Friday May 25th, 2012


The draws are out. Who got the short stick and who looks to be in cruise control? Let's break it down.

Rafa, Vika enjoy easy road trips: If you're Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer this morning, you're looking at the men's draw, slapping your forehead, and letting loose a Gob Bluth-patented "COME ON!" at the sight of Rafael Nadal's draw. In pursuit of his seventh Roland Garros title, Nadal hardly has anyone that can bother him. He owns the other two men anchoring his side of the draw, in the form of Andy Murray and David Ferrer, and the only player who has the weapons to at least make Nadal uncomfortable is Milos Raonic, who he could face in the fourth round. That could be an interesting showdown if the conditions favor Raonic (i.e., pray for a scorching hot day if you're rooting for the upset), but otherwise I'd be surprised if Nadal drops a single set en route to the final.

Similarly, Victoria Azarenka has a smooth road to the finals if she maintains her current form and the women floating in her half of the bracket maintain theirs. The biggest threats to Azarenka's second straight Slam semifinal are Sam Stosur, Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams, all of whom have question marks of their own. Stosur, who could face Azarenka in the quarterfinals, is 0-6 against the Belorussian, and Ivanovic, Venus and Kerber will all have to battle each other to get a shot at Azarenka in the semifinals. So long as Azarenka's healthy, I just don't see her going out early.

Groups of death: While Azarenka and Nadal enjoy their crepes and Nutella, the remaining contenders will be stuck doing the heavy lifting as they try to survive their sections. Federer has been drawn into Djokovic's half, along with a bevy of big hitters such as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The draw makes Djokovic's quest for the "Djoker Slam" that much more difficult, as he will likely have to go through both Federer and Nadal do it.

As for the ladies, the one thing that Maria Sharapova didn't want to happen, happened: Serena Williams was drawn into her quarter and the two hottest players on clay could face each other in the quarterfinals. Serena's presence is the single biggest stumbling block for Sharapova as she goes for her career Slam in Paris. She hasn't beaten Serena since 2004, losing seven straight matches in that span.

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Whoever gets out of that bottom quarter anchored by Maria and Serena will still have some work to do in the semifinals. Defending champion Li Na showed in Rome that she's still capable of playing great tennis (and capable of going off the rails, too) and though Petra Kvitova's injured, she's been blessed with a draw that shouldn't give her too much early trouble. If Kvitova can get on and off the court quickly and use the extra day between matches to heal, she could be dangerous in the second week.

Help for the slumpers: The draw has offered some hope and comfort for a number of players who have arrived to Paris in a funk. Most notably, Andy Murray, John Isner, Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki have all been gifted fairly easy early draws that should allow them to get their legs underneath them and build confidence as the tournament progresses. If they can get on a roll, the complexion of the tournament will completely change as they morph from "Silent Slumpers" to "Dangerous Floaters".

Early round matches to watch:

Men: Gilles Simon vs. Ryan Harrison (first round), Brian Baker vs. Xavier Malisse (first round), Viktor Troicki vs. Thomaz Bellucci (first round), Andy Roddick vs. Nicolas Mahut (first round),  Donald Young vs. Grigor Dimitrov (first round), Janko Tipsarevic vs. Sam Querrey (first round), David Nalbandian vs. Roger Federer (second round), Dimitrov vs. Richard Gasquet (second round), Nicolas Almagro vs. Marcos Baghdatis (second round), Andy Murray vs. Bernard Tomic (third round), Raonic vs. Juan Monaco (third round), Gasquet vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov (third round), Juan Martin del Potro vs. Marin Cilic (third round). Women: Li Na vs. Sorana Cirstea (first round), Julia Goerges vs. Lucie Hradecka (first round), Sabine Lisicki vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (first round), Sloane Stephens vs. Ekaterina Makarova (first round), Jamie Hampton vs. Arantxa Rus (first round), Simona Halep vs. Petra Cetkovska (first round), Melanie Oudin vs. Johanna Larsson (first round), Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Venus Williams (second round), Lucie Safarova vs. Dominika Cibulkova (third round), Samantha Stosur vs. Nadia Petrova (third round).

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