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French Open tennis tournament marked by American drought, tough early matches

The most-anticipated match is a possible third-round meeting between second-seeded Novak Djokovic and 25th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro. There is no solid favorite in the women's draw.

May 21, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during an exhibition match against France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Saturday, the eve of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during an exhibition match against France's… (Alexander Klein / AFP / Getty…)

Andy Roddick has already pulled out of the French Open tennis tournament.

He has a sore shoulder and with a fourth-round finish as his best ever on the red clay of Roland Garros, really, what was the point of jeopardizing a late-career run at Wimbledon?

John Isner, famous for his three-day marathon match at Wimbledon last year? He's drawn the top-seeded defending champion Rafael Nadal in the first round.

Melanie Oudin, who burst onto the women's scene when she made it to a quarterfinal of the U.S. Open in 2009? She'll be playing fifth-seeded and defending champion Francesca Schiavone right off the bat.

If you want to see Americans in the season's second major, which begins Sunday and concludes June 5, you'd be well-advised to tune in to ESPN2, Tennis Channel or DirecTV early in the tournament rather than later.

Mardy Fish, 29, who is seeded 10th, is the top-ranked American male. With the continuing absence of Serena and Venus Williams with long-running injuries, there is no American woman seeded in the top 32.

While the American tennis drought certainly will be one story line, there are others that will affect who plays for the titles.

For the first time in a decade the men's biggest rivalry is not Nadal against Roger Federer. Instead, it's Nadal against second-seeded Novak Djokovic, who has been unbeatable this year and has a 39-match winning streak.

Federer, who has a record 16 major titles, is 30 now and hasn't won a Grand Slam event since the 2010 Australian Open.

As soon as the men's draw was revealed Friday, the most anticipated match became a possible third-round meeting between Djokovic and 25th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, the 6-foot-6 Argentine who used his elegant movement and far-reaching ground strokes to win the U.S. Open over Federer in 2009.

Del Potro missed most of last season after having wrist surgery, but he has been slowly moving back up the rankings this year.

As recently as last year Nadal would have been a heavy favorite to beat Djokovic on clay, but the Serbian defeated Nadal twice in the last month on clay, in Madrid and Rome.

On the women's side there is no solid favorite.

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark is the top-seeded player, but she has yet to win a major title. Right off the bat Wozniacki drew 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, who plays a tricky game with a changeup pace.

Kim Clijsters, seeded second, has won four majors but never one on clay. She is playing for the first time since injuring her ankle while dancing at a wedding in April.

Maria Sharapova has won the U.S. Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon but never the French, and she is positioned to meet Clijsters in a quarterfinal.

Sharapova, who hasn't won a major since having shoulder surgery in 2008, won a title on clay in Rome last week, beating both Wozniacki and eighth-seeded Samantha Stosur.

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