We’ve previewed the ATP and WTA cast of characters at Roland Garros rather thoroughly in the previous two posts, so there’s not much to add after the draw was released today.  Nevertheless, a few more specific pensées struck us as we perused it.  Ten of them, in fact.

1)  Nadal has time to find his rhythm:  Rafa’s initial cannon fodder, French wildcard Gianni Mina won’t enjoy what surely will be a brief visit to Court Philippe Chatrier.  The next two rounds probably feature Zeballos and Hewitt, neither of whom possesses the flat, relentlessly scorching groundstrokes required to trouble Nadal.  In the round of 16, the Spaniard could avenge a defeat to Indian Wells nemesis Ljubicic, not a formidable threat on clay; on the other hand, the flamboyant but raw and undisciplined Bellucci might await.  Likely to economically dispatch all of these adversaries, Nadal should be able to retain ample energy for the second week–bad news for his opponents.

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2)  Henin has virtually no time to find her rhythm:  As the defending ATP champion, Federer drew the WTA seeds and botched the business as badly as the last shot that he (didn’t) hit in Madrid.  Not only are four of the top five contenders are in the top half of the draw, but three of the top five are in the top quarter.  “Merci beaucoup,” says Justine, who confronts the grim prospect of defeating Sharapova, Stosur, Serena, and Jankovic back-to-back-to-back-to-back just in order to reach the final.  Barring some unexpected test, a supreme test of the petite Belgian’s durability looms.  Give her an extra round of applause if she surmounts all of these obstacles to capture her fifth French Open.

3)  The tennis gods are smiling on Venus:  It’s good to have a first-round opponent against whom one is 10-0 (Schnyder).  It’s better to have two potential quarterfinal opponents who combined to win three total matches in Rome and Madrid (Azarenka, Dementieva).  It’s best of all to be the only serious contender in one’s entire half with an open path towards one’s first non-Wimbledon Slam final since Nadal won his first French Open.  To be sure, it’s not so good to have the player who defeated you a week ago in the fourth round, but lightning probably won’t strike twice for Rezai.  In short, Venus got about as much aid as she could reasonably imagine from the deities of the draw.

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4)  The tennis gods are frowning on Verdasco:  After dazzling audiences in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome, the streaky Spaniard might have expected to translate that impetus into his second Slam semifinal appearance or even his first Slam final.  He must have been demoralized when Rafa was revealed as his quarterfinal opponent.  If he’s tired from Nice, moreover, he might struggle a round earlier to subdue Almagro, fresh from an exhilarating surge to the Madrid semifinals.

5)  Sharapova was wise to enter Strasbourg:  Recovering from an elbow injury, Maria will need the injection of momentum from that tournament in order to threaten Henin at all during their likely third-round encounter.  In the probable event that such an assignment proves too strenuous for the Russian, the points accumulated in Strasbourg will help to cushion her ranking against those that she would lose from an early exit, since Sharapova thundered to the quarterfinals last year with a dramatic sequence of four consecutive three-set triumphs.

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6)  Gasquet was wise to enter Nice:  The French-kissing Frenchman informed everyone who would listen that he had devoted considerable effort to preparing for the clay season…and then preceded to make no impact there whatsoever.  This week, though, he has strung together a few wins over rather pedestrian opposition in Nice.  Considering Murray’s less than convincing form on clay, Gasquet has a reasonable chance to record his third win in four meetings over the Scot.  Should he progress past that initial challenge, his draw could open up immensely; a deep run in Paris would elevate both his ranking and his confidence.

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7)  Ivanovic has a chance…:  …to reach the second week or even the quarters.  Despite her 2009 Australian Open loss to Kleybanova, one would give the Serb a substantial clay edge over the ponderous Russian, who has struggled since winning her maiden title in Kuala Lumpur this February.  A third-round clash with Radwanska beckons for Ana, who tested the Pole in Stuttgart despite playing far from her best; again, although by no means an easy assignment, it’s a winnable match if Ivanovic can maintain the level that she attained in Rome.  Beset by major physical and mental issues, Safina and Zvonareva represent the leading candidates for the fourth round, and we definitely would feel optimistic regarding her chances against either of those Russians.

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8)  Soderling doesn’t have a chance…:  …to repeat his 2009 performance.  Toting a three-match losing streak into the scene of his historic triumph last year, Soderling not only has no positive impetus upon which to build but also has drawn Federer in the quarterfinals.  He might not risk a 13th consecutive loss to the Swiss legend, however, since Gulbis should intersect his path in the fourth round.  Even the mind-numbingly steady Montanes might  be a bridge too far for the staggering Swede.

9)  There will be at least one surprise WTA semifinalist:  Bookended by defending champion Kuznetsova and the injured Wozniacki, the third quarter offers fertile terrain for a breakthrough similar to Stosur’s career-changing charge here last year.  Judging from recent results, Li Na and Safarova seem the most reasonable candidates; judging by clay expertise, the Italians Schiavone and Pennetta might have a chance, although their 2010 clay campaigns have been inconsistent at best.

10)  There will be at least one surprise ATP semifinalist:  Scanning the second quarter of the draw, we couldn’t locate a single remotely plausible contender in its ranks.  Garcia-Lopez and the aging Robredo are the only real clay experts in this district, for Murray, Tsonga, and Berdych enjoy their best results on faster surfaces.  So does Isner, but the American has acquitted himself competently thus far in the gritty grind.  No matter who does the dirty work, though, Federer (or perhaps Gulbis) will be waiting to feast in the semifinals.

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Stay tuned for our first daily preview of the action at Roland Garros; “Feet and Feat of Clay” debuts tomorrow with highlight matches, potential upsets, and anything else that might catch our attention!

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