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Breaking down the French Open draw

Posted: Saturday May 24, 2003 12:46 PM


Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim peers into his crystal ball to reveal the fate of the top 16 men's and women's seeds for the French Open. Scroll down to see the first-round matches you shouldn't miss, some darkhorse candidates to advance to Week 2, and his championship predictions.



MEN'S REPORT

(The good thing about sporting events -- tennis tournaments included -- is that someone has to win. We bring this up because we can't remember the last time a big event was this wide open. Literally any of 30 men, most from Argentina or Spain, could win this thing. We just want to acknowledge this up front.)


1. Lleyton Hewitt: As always, his outsized heart and foot speed make him a threat. But the world No. 1 hasn't played a lot of clay matches this spring, which means his third-rounder against Tommy Robredo could be a redux of his match last year with Guillermo Cañas. Hewitt ought to be tremendous on clay (he has consistent strokes, superb stamina, blinding speed and is generally patient), but his record at Roland Garros is pretty mediocre.

2. Andre Agassi: On one side of the ledger -- Agassi has won here before, he rolled through the field in the last major, he won't be distracted by the mixed-doubles tomfoolery, he has a new source of motivation, and stamina is never an issue. On the other side -- he's played even fewer clay-court matches this year than Hewitt, he has not been particularly successful in Paris since 1999, and he looked his age in his most recent outing.

3. Juan Carlos Ferrero: Assuming his arm is healthy, he has an excellent chance to win his first major. Our choice, if only by process of elimination.

4. Carlos Moya: Since an impressive run to win Barcelona, he has turned in mediocre results, dropping four matches on clay in May. Granted, the last two were in World Team Cup competition, but still.

5. Roger Federer: After several solid wins in recent weeks, berths on the Federer Express are filling up again. The Fed was a first-round loser here last year and still hasn't had a good showing at a major, but his game has been sharp of late and his draw is softer than Dirk Nowitzki's defense.

6. Andy Roddick: Has made improvements but is still finding his way on clay. A lot of tricky players in his portion of the draw (including veteran Sargis Sargsian right off the bat), but he is capable of beating all comers until he meets Ferrero.

7. Guillermo Coria: Has quietly played exceptional tennis since his suspension ended. Even if he didn't have a mockery of a draw he would be a strong contender.

8. David Nalbandian: The fear that Nalbandian the Andean was this decade's answer to Chris Lewis has abated. Too bad he is in the nastiest quarter of the draw.

9. Albert Costa: Defending champ is, de facto, a contender. But he hasn't been particularly effective this year and his draw is brutal.

10. Paradorn Srichaphan: Don't be surprised if his wildly uneven results continue in Paris. Thai stick hits a big ball but is still too impatient, a sin that is amplified on clay.

11. Rainer Schuettler: Has kept a low profile since his run to the Australian final, but his "poor man's Hewitt" game would appear well-suited to clay.

12. Sjeng Schalken: Hard, flat game is ill-suited for clay, and his unremarkable history at Roland Garros confirms as much.

13. Jiri Novak: Tends to live up to his seeding -- nothing more, nothing less.

14. Sebastien Grosjean: Fleet-footed Frenchman has a good shot at fourth round, but we have a hard time seeing him beating Ferrero.

15. Gustavo Kuerten: Recent clay results have been exceedingly disappointing, but his history here speaks for itself.

16. Alex Corretja: Best days are behind him, even if he is on his favorite surface.



LOWER SEEDS WORTH WATCHING
(i.e., all of them -- this being men's tennis, which, for better or worse, is to parity what boxing is to corruption)

17. Yevgeny Kafelnikov: Resurgent Y-Man isn't a threat to repeat his feat of 1996. But he's a guy no higher seed wants to face (provided he feels like trying that day).

18. Agustin Calleri: Serious sleeper potential. Circle and asterisk this Argentine pony on your daily racing form.

19. Fernando Gonzalez: Fun to watch, which is code for: He's as likely to make a deep run as he is to implode in his first match against Jan-Michael Gambill. Like Srichaphan, he could stand to develop some offspeed pitches to leaven all that heat.

20. Felix Mantilla: Hadn't done much for a while, but suddenly he has to be considered a real sleeper after running the table in Rome.

21. Gaston Gaudio: We'd label him a sleeper, except that his quadrant includes Hewitt, Tommy Robredo, Kuerten, Costa, Calleri and Nalbandian.

22. Wayne Ferreira: His role as tennis' Norma Rae hasn't adversely impacted his tennis. Still, it's hard to see him playing past his seeding.

23. Younes El Aynaoui: You wonder if the loss to Roddick in Australia and the gag against Hewitt in the desert hasn't sapped his confidence a bit. Might be due for a nice showing.

24. James Blake: Big Game James is easy to root for, but he experiences major surface tension on clay.

25. Tim Henman: Their Tim hasn't played much this year and is no one's clay-court impresario. But he sure can't complain about his draw.

26. Xavier Malisse: First-team all-headcase has the talent and ability to give Agassi fits in Round 3. So, too, does he have the ability to flame out to the qualifier he faces in his opener.

27. Mikhail Youzhny: So we lied. Here's one guy who has struggled mightily the last two months and could drop his opener to Spaniard David Sanchez.

28. Tommy Robredo: Former junior champ can rally with the best of them, and his deficit of power doesn't hurt him as much on clay.

29. Vince Spadea: One of the few Americans who knows his way around a clay court. Plus, let's acknowledge Vince for reclaiming his game. That he is seeded at a Grand Slam event after a stay outside the top 100 is commendable.

30. Jarkko Nieminen: Still looking for a breakthrough at a Slam. But he unquestionably is talented.

31. Juan Ignacio Chela: Yet another South American worth watching.

32. Arnaud Clément: Speedy Frenchman is always dangerous, though we wish he were better at closing big matches.



DARKHORSE NATION

David Sanchez
David Ferrer
Olivier Rochus
Fabrice Santoro
Feliciano Lopez



FIRST-ROUND MATCHES TO WATCH

Richard Gasquet vs. Nicolas Lapentti: Next grand thing against dirtballing veteran.

Michael Chang vs. Fabrice Santoro: See the 1989 champ for the last time in Paris.

Nieminen vs. Nicolas Escudé: Pretty evenly matched players. Two shotmakers with a nice contrast in styles.

Dominik Hrbaty vs. Srichaphan: The Dominator's best days are behind him, but he is a former semifinalist here.

Taylor Dent vs. Blake: Oh, wait. The match is on clay. Never mind.



PREDICTIONS

Semifinals: Calleri vs. Ferrero, Federer vs. Coria
Final: Ferrero vs. Coria
Champion: Ferrero
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I know how much everybody likes to rag on Wertheim, but I always find his seed reports quite entertaining! Even though I don't always agree with him....well, I often don't agree with him... he does break the field down and say something about each seed, which is better than some do :D

I'll cut it up in a few minutes :D
 

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I agree with most of what he said :eek:
 

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but Calleri won't make the semi-final...
 

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And I have a feeling that the winner won't be a spaniard, but a South American!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Well here are some of my many thoughts; I'm sure that I'll have another flood of them to share tomorrow:

I don't think that it's fair to call Hewitt's record at Roland Garros "mediocre", but I suppose that Jon's comparing it to Hewitt's records at Wimbledon and the USO; in which case, yes it is poor. I don't agree with him that Hewitt "ought to be tremendous on clay"; Hewitt doesn't generate enough power off the ground to be "tremendous" on the dirt. I don't see Hewitt coming through his section of the draw and making the semis, but if he does, I will extremely impressed and shower him with endless praise :cool:

Agassi is Agassi. That loss to Ferrer is really all that we have to go on, and that doesn't help us out a whole lot...considering this is Andre we're talking about. If Rios was in good shape, I'd say that Andre goes out in round 2. But I don't see how he can be... In which case Andre could go far. You see, I have no idea with him because he always does the opposite of what I think he wil :devil: (except in Australia, but that was a given ;)).

I agree with him that Ferrero has a pretty good chance at finally winning here. However there are a number of players in his draw that could give him a good match. Mantilla/Grosjean lurks, both of whom can be dangerous. If Gonzales has his head screwed on and reaches the quarterfinals, he has an excellent chance to upset Ferrero. Norman lurks in round two, but I don't see Norman of today mounting a formidable challenge.

Moya hasn't made week two of a slam since Australia 2001. He's lost early in his last two slams to Gambill and Fish; decent players, but players that he should beat. His form lately has been reportedly terrible, though I have not had a chance to watch him play since his semifinal in Monte Carlo against Coria. However, he's won here before. He has to be hungry after his recent run of bad form. I sincerely hope that he sets up a quarterfinal with Federer.

Federer is due for a good slam run, and this is going to be it; unless he finds a way to muck it up. Last year his first round was always going to be a potentially tough match. Arazi is a very talented upset artist. He doesn't even have an Arazi-type lurking in his draw. I think that he'll coast right in to the quarterfinals.

If Roddick is playing well, he could post his best Roland Garros result ever. I agree with Jon that Sargsian in the first round isn't necessarily going to be a cake walk, but Roddick should pull through. His draw gives him a very realistic shot at making the second week, and he has to be riding a confidence wave after winning St Polen.

The only knock against Coria is that if he comes up against an aggressive power player, he can get smacked off the court. Examine his records against Ferrero and Agassi for evidence. However, his draw is good, and he's rested since winning Hamburg. A Potential matchup in the quarterfinals with Agassi could prove to be their first intriguing match...or not ;)

Nalbandian is my pick to make the quarterfinals in his eighth. Apparently he isn't in the finest shape of his career, but his draw is pretty fair. He finally posted a good result in Hamburg after having a pretty tame clay season. He's also stepped up and performed well at two of the last three slams. Not to mention that Davis Cup looms in Septemember, an event that he surely wants a singles spot in...remember that a lot more is riding on Roland Garros for the Argentines than individual ranking points and bank balances.


Anyhow, that's enough for now. I'll ramble on about the others later.
 

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I would like to see Hewitt v. Nalbandian...mwahahaha.
 

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Even though I hate to admit it, he's right about Carlos :sad:

Becca- I've decided I'm picking Max Mirnyi to win the whole thing. I was going to pick JCF, but my brother convinced me to pick Max because we're his biggest fans (well some of his only fans in Sydney). I gave up on the cat thing because it was just taking too much time.

:worship: :bounce: MAX MIRNYI- FUTURE ROLAND GARROS CHAMP!!!!! :bounce: :worship:
 

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Cassie said:
Even though I hate to admit it, he's right about Carlos :sad:

Becca- I've decided I'm picking Max Mirnyi to win the whole thing. I was going to pick JCF, but my brother convinced me to pick Max because we're his biggest fans (well some of his only fans in Sydney). I gave up on the cat thing because it was just taking too much time.

:worship: :bounce: MAX MIRNYI- FUTURE ROLAND GARROS CHAMP!!!!! :bounce: :worship:

and that's your upset?it's more like a lunatic's pick
 

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Most of the times Wertheims pick for the winner is a kiss of death.....so should we feel sorry for Ferrero?

Who is Bud Collins predicting will win this? For surely he is always a jinx!
 

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You all mock me now, but you'll be laughing on the other side of your faces when he brings the trophy back to Minsk! :bounce:
 
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