French Open men's seed report: Is this Djokovic's year?

Friday May 23rd, 2014

Second-ranked Novak Djokovic needs a French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam.
Julian Finney/Getty Images's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's seeds at the French Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups and predictions. Click here for the women's report. The men's draw is available here.

Top 16 seeds

1. Rafael Nadal: Yes, the man has simply owned Roland Garros for nine years. Yes, he has shredded more records than the Enron accounting department. Yes, you pick against an eight-time winner at your own peril. Yes, it should surprise no one if Nadal -- aided by the best-of-five format that increases sample size -- finds a way to win again. But it's hard to lean solely on the past, and the present is less sanguine. Nadal has seldom looked to be in peak form. He is admittedly lacking peak confidence. And Novak Djokovic appears to have his number yet again, winning four consecutive meetings. With all deference to what Nadal has achieved, I'm thinking it's someone else's turn.

2. Novak Djokovic: It's starting to feel a lot of like his opportunity. He's come close in recent years, particularly in 2013 when he was up a break in the fifth set of the semifinals against Nadal. If he can avoid injury and continue his mastery of Nadal, we're likely to have another career-Slam winner.

NGUYEN: French Open storylines to watch

3. Stan Wawrinka: The 29-year-old Swiss has played well in spurts since winning the Australian Open, highlighted by his Monte Carlo Masters title. The former French Open junior champion knows his way around a clay court, and he was a quarterfinalist last year. The seeding is correct: He's my third choice after Nadal and Djokovic.

4. Roger Federer: Mad props to mad pops. Federer may still have another Grand Slam title left in him but it's unlikely to come on clay, a surface that demanded a lot of him, even in his fattest years. If Federer lives up to his seeding, it will be a successful tournament. And it will set the stage for Wimbledon, a Major he stands a much better chance of winning.

5. David Ferrer: The 2013 finalist is a player to be admired, but he also one who is starting to show the miles on his odometer. "Nearing his career pitch count," is how a colleague puts it.

6. Tomas Berdych: The Czech takes a lot of flak for his various underachieving. For four years, though, he's generally been encamped in the top 10. His shots are flatter than frat-house beer, which doesn't always work well on clay. (He's lost in the first or second round at Roland Garros seven times in 10 appearances.) And over five sets, he can have a hard time sustaining focus. But a semifinal run -- which would match his career best, in 2010 -- is hardly out of the question.

Andy Murray, ranked No. 7, hasn't advanced to a tournament final since winning Wimbledon last July.
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

7. Andy Murray: It's been a rough 11 months for Murray, who had back surgery, split with coach Ivan Lendl and has failed to reach a final since winning Wimbledon last year. He showed some signs of rejuvenation in Rome, where he dominated Nadal early in the quarterfinals and led 4-2 in the third set before losing. Even in the best of times, Paris is not his Slam of choice, though he has advanced to the semifinals once and quarterfinals twice. Like Federer, this would be a successful tournament if he can build some momentum heading to SW19.

8. Milos Raonic: The good news: Raonic continues his steady ascent. The less good news: The Slam breakthrough still awaits. He's been as far as the fourth round four times, all on hard courts. The 23-year-old Canadian made the third round in back-to-back French Opens, and tuned up for this year's event with a semifinal run at the Italian Open.

Complete French Open television schedule

9. Kei Nishikori: One of the year's breakthrough players, his record speaks (screams?) for itself and the set he won against Nadal in Madrid should have been sent to the Prado. That said, the big question is health -- specifically, the back injury he suffered in Madrid, and, more generally, the overall prospect of his playing a slew of best-of-five matches.

10. John Isner: Credit Isner for a return to the top 10, but his lead-up results have been middling and he tends to tire himself out at Slams playing epic matches in the early rounds that -- even when he prevails -- leaves him with little reserves. For the parochial crowd: Look for Francis Tiafoe in the boys' draw, because the American men are unlikely to survive the first week.

11. Grigor Dimitrov: The vectors are pointing in the right direction, but is he ready to contend? This event will be a helpful barometer.

12. Richard Gasquet: The stylish shotmaker hasn't had a great year. The Frenchman's unreliability is magnified at his home Slam. There are times when the local crowd inflates him; there are times when it deflates him. Since 2008, he's lost in the fourth round of 11 of 20 majors he's entered.

13. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: He electrified his home crowd by routing Federer in the quarterfinals last year. But he is so streaky -- and not exactly in form -- that it's hard to take him seriously as a contender. A pity, that.

14. Fabio Fognini: Say this about Fognini: He keeps life interesting. Plays like an artist. Has the temperament of one, too.

15. Mikhail Youzhny: Nobody's idea of a clay-court specialist, but the 31-year-old reached the fourth round last year and the quarterfinals in 2010.

16. Tommy Haas: German authorities confirm that his official name is "36-year-old Tommy Haas." He was a quarterfinalist last year. Will his body allow him to do the same in 2014?

Seeds 17-32 to watch

17. Tommy Robredo: Last year, Robredo became the first player since 1927 to rally from two sets down to win three consecutive Grand Slam matches. Credit the 32-year-old Spaniard for getting his game back to this point at his age.

18. Ernests Gulbis: The ultimate wild card (and an interesting one at that). The game is there. But where is his head? And the best-of-five format gives him plenty of time to vanish.

20. Alexandr Dolgopolov: He needs to become a better player at majors -- Dolgopolov hasn't been past the third round of one since 2011 -- but his strong start to the year included victories over Nadal and Wawrinka.

21. Nicolas Almagro: His run-up included a win against Nadal in Barcelona.

23. Gael Monfils: Say this: It's never boring.

25. Marin Cilic: His results have tailed off a bit on clay, but he's already won 28 matches this year.

27. Roberto Bautista Agut: The best player you've never heard of.

NGUYEN: French Open draw winners and losers

Dark horse stable

Marcel Granollers: He's been to the fourth round before, though he's won only two matches in his last five events.

Juan Monaco: The 30-year-old Argentine's best days are behind him, but he's still capable.

Benoit Paire: Is the Frenchman, 25, healthy enough to make an impact?

Carlos Berlocq: The 31-year-old Argentine beat Berdych to win the Portugal Open three weeks ago.

Dominic Thiem: Up-and-comer can continue building.

First-round matches to watch

Rafael Nadal vs. Robby Ginepri: If only to acknowledge that the 31-year-old American wild card is playing his first French Open main draw since 2010.

Grigor Dimitrov v. Ivo Karlovic: Facing an ace machine who gives you no rhythm is a brutal start for Dimitrov.

Richard Gasquet v. Bernard Tomic: Tomic hasn't been heard from in a while, but there's always the potential for danger.

Kei Nishikori vs. Martin Klizan: Klizan won the clay-court BMW Open as a qualifier three weeks ago.

Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: Garcia-Lopez, ranked 39th, won a clay title in Morocco in April and defeated Berdych in Monte Carlo.

Doubles winner

Bob and Mike Bryan: This would be the twins' 99th title as a team. It's worth noting, though, that Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic have beaten the brothers in back-to-back tournaments.

Singles picks

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal vs. Stan Wawrinka; Novak Djokovic vs. Tomas Berdych

Final: Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic

Winner: Novak Djokovic

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