French Open draw: good news for Serena, Federer; bad for Djokovic
The French Open draws were released on Friday, and the big news came on the men's side. No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Rafael Nadal were put into the same half, meaning they will not meet in a second straight Paris final. You can view the men's draw here and the women's draw here. Looking at the brackets, here are five winners and five losers as we head into the first round, which begins Sunday.
Serena Williams (No. 1 seed): As Serena told me in Rome last week, her most difficult opponent in Paris is the lady in the mirror. Besides that lady, no one who could possibly pose a threat is in Williams' half of the draw. Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, Sam Stosur, Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova landed in Sharapova's half. No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska is the other top seed in Williams' half, and she's struggled mightily through the clay season, as has 10th-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, who hasn't won a match on red clay all year. Last year's finalist, No 5 Sara Errani, is a crafty clay-courter, but Williams had no problems with her in Madrid, beating the Italian 7-5, 6-2.
Roger Federer (No. 2 seed): No man or woman was blessed with a better draw than Federer, who already received a seed bump with Andy Murray's withdrawal. He won't have to play Djokovic or Nadal until the final, and he gets qualifiers in the first two rounds. His projected third-round opponent, No. 30 Julien Benneteau, who beat Federer in Rotterdam in February, hasn't won back-to-back matches since, compiling a 3-8 record. The highest seed he could face in the fourth round is No. 15 Gilles Simon, whom he beat 6-1, 6-2 last week in Rome, and then No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who's no threat to him on clay. His potential semifinal opponent? David Ferrer. Ferrer's career record against Federer? 0-14.
David Ferrer (No. 4 seed): Drawn into Federer's weak half, the highest seed Ferrer could face before the quarterfinals is No. 14 Milos Raonic, against whom he's undefeated. His toughest potential quarterfinal opponent is No. 5 Tomas Berdych, but that assumes Berdych can come through his nightmare draw, which sees him open against Gael Monfils and possibly play Ernests Gulbis in the second round. The Spaniard is in good shape to defend last year's semifinal appearance.
Ana Ivanovic (No. 14 seed): Ivanovic has a clean shot to the quarterfinals and a very good chance for her first semifinal appearance at a Grand Slam since she won the French Open in 2008. Her projected third-round opponent, No. 24 Julia Goerges, has been struggling. I would also be surprised if Radwanska or Venus Williams, either of whom she could face in the fourth round, are still in the tournament by then. Barring a big upset, she'll face Errani in the quarterfinals, a very winnable match. The two have gone the full three sets in their last two meetings, Errani winning both.
Everyone in the Tommy Haas-Janko Tipsarevic section: The other half of Djokovic's quarter is full of question marks. It's a huge opportunity for the 16 men who lucked out and got placed here. The four seeds in the section, Tipsarevic, Haas, John Isner and Mikhail Youzhny are all capable of making the quarterfinals or losing in the first round. Along with those names are Madrid Open semifinalist Pablo Andujar and an improved Fernando Verdasco. One to keep an eye on here is Ryan Harrison. Often cursed by brutal draws that see him facing the top 10 in the early rounds, this is is a huge opportunity for him to finally make the third round of a major. He opens against Andrey Kuznetsov and could play a slumping Isner in the second round.
Novak Djokovic (No. 1 seed): It doesn't really matter that Nadal was drawn into Djokovic's section. The two were going to have to play each other at some point to get to the trophy. But it's still a shame when the "real final" between the two best clay-courters in the game isn't the actual final, and a Djokovic loss would mean he fails to defend his 2012 final appearance through sheer luck of the draw. Aside from having to possibly beat both Nadal and Federer to win his first French Open title, he could also get a rematch with No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov in the third round and No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber, the man who beat him here in 2009, in the fourth round. Those should be straightforward wins for Djokovic, but it could have been a lot easier.
Tomas Berdych (No. 5 seed): They say the key to doing well at the Slams is to expend as little energy as possible in the early rounds. That's unlikely for Berdych, who would have been a darkhorse pick if not for his draw. The Czech No. 1 has to be cursing the tennis gods after drawing two of the most dangerous floaters in the first two rounds. Berdych, coming off a strong showing in Rome where he beat Djokovic, will have to get past Monfils in the first round and potentially Gulbis in the second. That said, if he can get through these early rounds easily (Gulbis and Monfils are the opposite of reliable), he has the ability to beat Ferrer and Federer on clay. So who knows? Maybe he really is the darkhorse.
Li Na (No. 6 seed): A little help. A little help is all Li needed to get herself going at Roland Garros, but she'll have to be sharp from her first match, where she's drawn Anabel Medina Garrigues, a crafty clay-courter who infamous for trying to gain an advantage against Serena in Madrid by brazenly fluffing balls during the changeover. Li could also face the streaking Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is in the form of her life right now and primed for a big upset. Then, it's No. 27 Yaroslava Shvedova and No. 12 Maria Kirilenko just to get to the quarterfinals, where she's projected to face No. 3 Victoria Azarenka. In fact, to win her second French Open title, Li would likely have to beat Azarenka, Sharapova and then Serena. Not even Carlos Rodriguez could be zen about that draw.
Stanislas Wawrinka (No. 9 seed): He's having a stellar year and finally won his first title in two years in Portugal this month, beating Ferrer in the final, and then scored two top-10 wins to make his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Madrid, losing to Nadal. He's primed for a run in Paris, but he's in Djokovic's half and more specifically Nadal's quarter with a potential third round against No. 21 Jerzy Janowicz and a fourth round with No. 7 Richard Gasquet.
Jelena Jankovic (No. 18 seed): There are few times that I think a player has a better shot at Serena than Sharapova. This is one of those times. I've been tapping Jankovic as a French Open darkhorse, but the draw doesn't offer much help. In Sharapova's quarter, Jankovic opens against Daniela Hantuchova, who despite being now ranked No. 60, is still capable of top-15 tennis, and then either Karolina Pliskova or Garbine Muguruza, both talented youngsters who can play on clay. A third-round match against Sam Stosur looms, as does a fourth-rounder against Petra Kvitova, and then a potential quarterfinal against Sharapova, who has owned her for years. Stephens: Serena plays mind games with opponents