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Big Three of men's tennis once again heavy favorites at French Open

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and third-seeded Roger Federer remain the players to beat. Although Serena Williams is motivated to win, the women's draw is less clear.

May 26, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • The top three men's tennis players -- from left, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer -- have won all the majors since the 2005 Australian Open except one, the 2009 U.S. Open won by Marat Safin.
The top three men's tennis players -- from left, Rafael Nadal, Novak… (Getty Images and McClatchy-Tribune )

Don't stop if you've heard this before because it's worth seeing in repeats.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and third-seeded Roger Federer, who beat Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open and kept the almost-unbeatable Serb from sweeping all four major tournaments, are once again the heavy favorites to win one of tennis' Grand Slam events.

The season's second major, the French Open, begins Sunday in Paris and only ninth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro's 2009 U.S. Open win has stopped one of the big three of Nadal, Djokovic or Federer from winning all of the majors since Russian Marat Safin won the 2005 Australian Open.

While other names are thrown out — perennial No. 4 Andy Murray, Del Potro or talented Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as potential winners — there will be no bigger upset than not seeing one of the big three holding the winner's trophy.

The women's draw is a little less clear.

Although fifth-seeded Serena Williams has a 17-0 record on clay this spring (though she did pull out of her last red-clay match in Rome with a tweaked back), Williams claims only one French Open title among her 13 majors.

But she told the Associated Press on Friday in Paris that she's motivated to win this one. "It would be really intense and really crazy," Williams said. "Obviously there are several people here that want to win. I think I'm one of those people."

Another of those is top-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who won her first major title at the Australian Open last winter.

And another is second-seeded Maria Sharapova, who won a clay-court warmup event in Stuttgart and beat Azarenka, defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur on the way.

But Sharapova is in the same quarter of the French Open draw as Williams. At the clay-court warmup in Madrid two weeks ago, Williams beat Sharapova, 6-1, 6-3, in the quarterfinals and took out Azarenka decisively in the final by the same score.

Williams is 27-2 this year and seems eager to win her first major title since Wimbledon in 2010. The 30-year-old missed almost a year after that with a foot injury and ensuing complications that included a pulmonary embolism.

Chris Evert, who will be working the French Open for ESPN, could not pick against Williams.

As far as her current form, Evert said, "She has beaten the top two women in the world with the same score, 6-1, 6-3, and even back in the States, as far as her win in Charleston [S.C.], she just blew everybody off the court in that tournament. Serena's looking pretty good right now.

"I just have never seen Serena play this well on clay before, and she has never really come back with as much aggressiveness, and I think her fitness level is higher than we have seen it. She's moving better and she wants the French Open really badly. She's talked about it all year because it is the one surface that eludes her at times, the clay. She's brilliant on the hard court and the grass, but has not had as much success on the clay."

Nadal is aiming for his seventh French Open title in the last eight years; his career record on the red clay at Roland Garros is 45-1, the loss coming in 2009 to Sweden'sRobin Soderling, who has missed most of the last year with a viral illness.

The top American hopeful in the men's draw would seem to be 10th-seeded John Isner, who upset Federer, Tsonga and another talented Frenchman, Gilles Simon, in Davis Cup away matches on red clay earlier this year. Isner took Nadal deep into the fifth set at the French Open last year in the first round before losing.

But lately Isner has struggled on the slow surface with losses to Juan Monaco, Marin Cilic, Andreas Seppi and Nikolay Davydenko.

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