We’ve finally arrived at the doorstep of the second major of the year. Lower-ranked players have been toiling away for the last few days in the qualifying tournament, hoping for a chance at potential glory, ranking points, and a fat check. And now that the 128 slots have been filled with for the draw at Roland Garros, it’s time to take a look at which portions of the draw might be tricky for the seeds and which might be a walk in the park. The Bad Man Bureau is here to make predictions, breaking the draw down into eighths, giving you a picture for all the quarterfinal matches as well as who will be walking away with the trophy.
Section 1—Rafael Nadal’s section
Seeds: (1) Rafael Nadal, (16) Tommy Haas, (21) Nicolas Almagro, (30) Vasek Pospisil
Rafael Nadal comes into this year’s French Open with the least amount of clay court success he’s ever had: one title and one final in four events. He’s publicly stated that his confidence has been shaken, so if he took a glance at the early part of his draw, he should feel good about his chances of reaching the second week. There simply isn’t anyone here that could push him. Tommy Haas might be able to give him a bit of a scare in the Round of 16, but Rafa should be able to safe his energy for the later rounds.
Upset Alert: Teymuraz Gabashvili over (30) Vasek Pospisil—As mentioned in our ATP preview of players to watch for this year’s French Open, Pospisil has failed to win a match since the Australian Open. Compounded with Gabashvili’s solid spring (five clay court wins, including one over David Ferrer), Pospisil might be finding himself suffering an eighth straight loss.
The Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal
Nadal’s path to the second week is fairly easy for him. His section of the draw lacks many claycourters in his path, and any claycourt specialists that Nadal might face aren’t nearly as solid on the red dirt as Rafa is. Yes, Nicolas Almagro did collect a victory over Nadal in Barcelona this year, but he’d need to beat Tommy Haas to get there, and I don’t see that happening.
Section 2—David Ferrer’s section
Seeds: (5) David Ferrer, (11) Grigor Dimitrov, (19) Kevin Anderson, (32) Andreas Seppi
Last year’s French Open finalist finds himself in a draw with some sneaky good players. To Ferrer’s benefit though, most of these players will find themselves playing each other early on: Seppi takes on Santiago Giraldo, and the winner of that match gets the solid Argentinian Juan Monaco. Kevin Anderson finds himself here, and while he has to be relieved that he’s not near Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych (seriously, he seems to be near one of them in every draw), it’s unfortunately on his worst surface.
First Round Match to Watch: (11) Grigor Dimitrov vs Ivo Karlovic—Dimitrov has been on a hot streak this spring, reaching the semifinals of the event in Rome. He’s now sitting on the edge of the top ten and has a real chance to aim for a second week run here. However, he won’t be finding much rhythm against big-serving Karlovic, who keeps the points short.
The Quarterfinalist: David Ferrer
Ferrer’s 2014 hasn’t been as great as his 2013, when he finally broke through and got to his first major final. He’s going to likely be pitted against Dimitrov in the fourth round, which could go either way. Still, Ferrer has been in difficult matches before, and more often than not, he’s found ways to gut them out.
Section 3—Stanislas Wawrinka’s section
Seeds: (3) Stanislas Wawrinka, (14) Fabio Fognini, (23) Gael Monfils, (26) Feliciano Lopez
It’s still a little jarring to see someone not in the Big 4 at a major with a Top 4 seeding, but the Australian Open champion has earned it. He’s found himself in a part of the draw that’s hard to make heads-or-tails of. It is chock-full of hot-or-cold players: Gael Monfils withdrew from the singles in Nice this week but could go on a deep run, Fabio Fognini looked unbeatable on clay last summer but can’t win to save his life, and Thomaz Bellucci is capable of stringing together wins on clay.
The Potential for Fines: Fabio Fognini in recent weeks has broken rackets and gotten into extended and inappropriate arguments with chair umpires to coincide with his recent run of poor play. If he crashes out early—which is entirely possible given his bad form—you might see him blatantly tank during points. Or he could start taking out his frustrations on others, like the chair umpire or linespeople. It might provide cringeworthy drama as well as some money out of Fognini’s pocket.
The Quarterfinalist: Stanislas Wawrinka
Wawrinka starts off his campaign against a dangerous floater in Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but other than that, he’s surrounded by so many question marks that there’s no exact way to tell how potentially difficult his later matches may be. Expect to see Stan the Man in the second week.
Section 4—Andy Murray’s section
Seeds: (7) Andy Murray, (12) Richard Gasquet, (24) Fernando Verdasco, (28) Philipp Kohlschreiber
Here’s a section of the draw that’s weird: there are floaters here that one could argue are playing better than the seeds. Carlos Berlocq won a title in Portugal. Denis Istomin reached a semifinal and two quarterfinals during the European spring. Meanwhile, Richard Gasquet hasn’t played since March, Andy Murray has been to only one clay quarterfinal, and Fernando Verdasco has failed to win back-to-back matches during the European clay swing.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: In this section alone sit four Australian players: Bernard Tomic takes on Richard Gasquet, Lleyton Hewitt faces Carlos Berlocq, Matthew Ebden is against Pablo Cuevas, and Marinko Matosevic plays Dustin Brown. Chances are none of them win their first round match, but if they can pull out a few victories, there could be some Australian-only matches in later rounds.
The Quarterfinalist: Philipp Kohlschreiber
While most people are touting Andy Murray’s run to the quarterfinals and subsequent loss to Rafael Nadal in Rome as a potential launching point for Murray’s deep run in Paris, I’m not sold. Instead, I’ll go with Philipp Kohlschreiber, the one seeded player in this section who’s appeared to play solid clay tennis in Europe this year, culminating with a title in Dusseldorf this week.
Section 5—Tomas Berdych’s section
Seeds: (6) Tomas Berdych, (10) John Isner, (17) Tommy Robredo, (27) Roberto Bautista Agut
The top two seeds in this draw come in with poor major histories, particularly at Roland Garros. Berdych hasn’t advanced past the second round in 7 of his 11 appearances. John Isner is incapable of making deep runs because he wastes so much energy in the early rounds. Also here: the dangerous Benoit Paire. He was mentioned in our Players to Know article as an entertaining outsider, but if he’s healthy, he could go on a run.
It could happen again: If both players win their first match, John Isner could play Nicolas Mahut in the second round. It would be another rematch of their epic encounter from Wimbledon, which Isner won 70-68 in the fifth. Most of their encounters since then have (thankfully) been one-sided, but if it’s happened once, there’s no telling if it’ll happen again.
The Quarterfinalist: Tommy Robredo
Robredo has good memories from last year’s Roland Garros, where he came back from two sets down to win three consecutive matches. The draw is relatively soft in the early rounds for him, with the threatening floaters near the other seeds. Robredo could meet Isner in the third round, but he’s a better clay courter than the American. His biggest test could come in the fourth round if he faces fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.
Section 6—Roger Federer’s section
Seeds: (4) Roger Federer, (15) Mikhail Youzhny, (18) Ernests Gulbis, (31) Dimitry Turusnov
Roger Federer, father of yet a second set of twins recently, headlines a section of the draw that would give him trouble—if the troublemakers were in his early rounds. Instead, he gets to tussle with Lucas Lacko in the first round (whom he beat easily) then a qualifier. The other part of this section features Mikhail Youzhny, an underrated performer on clay, and the ascending Latvian Ernests Gulbis.
Already Out—Pablo Carreno Busta: If you read my “Players to Know” article, I listed Carreno Busta as a player you might want to check out, because he’s broken into the Top 100 on the back of his Challenger results and little tape of how he plays. Well, if you didn’t wake up in time to watch his match with Mikhail Youzhny, you’ll have to wait for another tournament, as he lost in five sets after winning the first two.
The Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer
The one-time French Open champion did suffer a shock loss in the second round of Rome earlier this spring, but it should be dismissed as he just returned from a short paternity leave. Instead, let’s remember that Federer is still one of the best clay court performers on the tour. He should fairly easily make it to the second week.
Section 7—Milos Raonic’s section
Seeds: (8) Milos Raonic, (9) Kei Nishikori, (20) Alexandr Dolgopolov, (29) Gilles Simon
This section is headlined by the two (relative) youngsters who have done very well for themselves on the crushed brick this spring. Milos Raonic reached the semifinals of Rome and quarterfinals of Monte Carlo, while Kei Nishikori had a 10-match winning streak on clay before an injury derailed his chance to beat Rafael Nadal in the final of Madrid. But keep an eye on Dolgopolov, if not to see him go on a run, then to at least watch his entertaining (and sometimes head-scratching) shotmaking.
Do not watch—Marcel Granollers: Granollers is a nice counterpuncher who can win matches on clay, but if you want to watch his matches, you may need to mute your television. For all the complaining about grunting on the WTA Tour, Granollers’s utterances take it to a new level. When he makes a noise, it’s sounds like some combination of a cow in heat and a zombie’s growl. It’s absolutely disgusting.
The Quarterfinalist: Kei Nishikori
If he’s healthy—and that’s a big if—Kei Nishikori could be a big threat to the hegemony that we’ve seen in recent years at Roland Garros. Nishikori knows how to play as a counterpuncher and as an aggressive striker. He’s likely going to face Raonic in the fourth round, and I think the newest member of the Top 10 gets the victory.
Section 8—Novak Djokovic’s section
Seeds: (2) Novak Djokovic, (13) Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, (22) Jerzy Janowicz, (25) Marin Cilic
The draw gods handed a highly favorable path for both Tsong and Janowicz, two players who have struggled mightily this spring. While both have had their difficulties in winning matches on clay—and that might prove to be a problem for them here—their early opponents shouldn’t be able to beat them; it would be a case of Tsonga or Janowicz beating himself. A potential tasty third round match awaits Djokovic in the form of Marin Cilic as well.
First Round Match to Watch: David Goffin vs Jurgen Melzer—I’ve watched Goffin play in person before, and he’s got all of the shots. He can turn seamlessly from a scrambling counterpuncher to an offensive shotmaker with his backhand or forehand. His results have slipped since his breakout in 2012, but he’s slowly turning it around. On the other side of the net stands Jurgen Melzer, who’s come back from injury but can look fondly on the French Open as a former semifinalist here.
The Quarterfinalist: Novak Djokovic
Novak’s early rounds comprise of decent clay court players, but no one that should trouble him. Cilic could prove to be a test in the third round, but if this were a hardcourt tournament, I might be more worried for the Serb. Djokovic didn’t appear to be playing his best tennis in Rome, but he won the title. He should be pleased to know that he can beat anyone (including Rafael Nadal as he did in the Rome final), and he can use the first week to hone his game.
French Open Final Prediction: Novak Djokovic defeats Rafael Nadal in four sets.
There’s no one on either side of the draw that can stop this collision. Wawrinka might be able to push Nadal some in the semifinals, but it takes a special level of confidence and game to beat Rafa for three sets at Roland Garros, and I don’t know if Stan has it. Federer will prove to be a tougher semifinal test for Djokovic, but Novak should be able to prevail. In the final, I expect there to be several tough, close sets of tennis, but I think Djokovic, who’s won four straight matches over Nadal now, will complete his career grand slam.