French Open Day 2 matches to watch
Day 2 at Roland Garros sees the defending champion under siege, the debut of both No. 1s and the fabulous story of Brian Baker.
No. 7 Li Na vs. Sorana Cirstea (second match, Court Philippe Chatrier): With her strong run in Rome last week, Li tentatively placed herself into the discussion as one of the favorites, to defend her title. But she's going to have to be on her game right away after drawing Cirstea. The talented young Romanian ruined Samantha Stosur's homecoming at the Australian Open in January, beating her in straight sets in the first round, and since then she's scored wins over Marion Bartoli, Jelena Jankovic and Vera Zvonareva. Cirstea has struggled with consistency her entire career, which is why her ranking is as low as No. 43, but she's always capable of a one-off match where she plays like a worldbeater. This is a tricky one for Li.
Brian Baker vs. Xavier Malisse (fourth match, Court 6): There is simply no better story in tennis this year. A promising American junior who played alongside (and beat) the likes of Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils, after seven surgeries and at 27 years old, Baker's comeback is the stuff of Disney movies. He came out of nowhere to secure the French Open wildcard, and last week he worked through qualifying in Nice to make the finals, beating Nikolay Davydenko and Monfils along the way. His is the reason we watch sports, and if his body has held up after the month of grueling play, he has a great chance here to make a run in Paris. Malisse hasn't done much through the clay season, winning four matches. The surface doesn't favor his explosive game, so if Baker can frustrate him with his unorthodox game, the feel-good story of 2012 might just continue.
No. 28 Viktor Troicki vs. Thomaz Bellucci (third match, Court 3): They may not be household names, but if they both play well (and that is an if), this should be one of the most competitive matches of the day. Troicki's had a subpar year with some quizzical early-round losses after a number of years of gradual improvement. But he's coming into Paris on a high after helping Serbia win the World Team Championships in Dusseldorf last week, going undefeated. On the whole, Bellucci comes in as the in-form guy, having beaten David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero -- both clay-court studs -- in the last month.
Sloane Stephens vs. Ekaterina Makarova (second match, Court 5): Stephens had a career run in Strasbourg, making the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Francesca Schiavone. A tremendous athlete, Stephens has a lot of potential on clay if she can learn to be consistent. As for Makarova, she hasn't done much to back up her quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, where she beat Serena Williams rather handily. She's only won three matches on clay coming into Paris. This is a great opportunity for Stephens.
No. 11 Gilles Simon vs. Ryan Harrison (fourth match, Chatrier): This is the third meeting for these two this year, with Simon taking the last two at Indian Wells and Davis Cup. Given their history, the surface and their current form, Simon has to be the favorite here, but at what point do we start expecting more from Harrison? He talks the game, walks the game, and breathes the game. But whether it's fair or not, the 20-year-old needs to start delivering soon. Courtney's Pet Picks: No. 1 Djokovic vs. Potito Starace (third match, Chatrier), No. 10 John Isner vs. Rogerio Dutra Silva (third match, Court 2), Tommy Haas vs. Filippo Volandri (fourth match, Court 3), No. 24 Petra Cetkovska vs. Simona Halep (third match, Court 4), No. 29 Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. Laura Robson (first match, Court 6), No. 12 Sabine Lisicki vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (second match, Court 7), Mikhail Kukushkin vs. Ernests Gulbis (first match, Court 14).