Sunday, May 24, 2015

Players to watch in the French Open

Novak Djokovic, playing at Indian Wells in March, will try
to complete a career Grand Slam. Photo by Paul Bauman
    The French Open began today in Paris and continues through June 7. Seedings are in parentheses. 
 Novak Djokovic (1)
   Why he'll win -- Djokovic has won 22 straight matches and is in his prime. The Serb turned 28 on Friday.
   Why he won't -- He's 0-6 against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
   NorCal connection -- None.
Roger Federer (2)
   Why he'll win -- Federer has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, including the 2009 French Open, and he has a favorable draw.
   Why he won't -- At almost 34 years old, the Swiss star no longer has the stamina to win seven best-of-five-set matches.
   NorCal connection -- None.
Andy Murray (3)
   Why he'll win -- The two-time Grand Slam champion is 10-0 since marrying longtime girlfriend Kim Sears, including his first two ATP titles on clay (Munich and Madrid). He beat three top-six players -- No. 6 Milos Raonic, No. 5 Kei Nishikori and No. 4 Nadal in straight sets -- in the last three rounds in Madrid.
   Why he won't -- The 28-year-old Scot has never reached the final at Roland Garros.
   NorCal connection -- Murray won the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose in 2006 at 18 years old and repeated in 2007. He also won the Aptos Challenger in 2005.
Tomas Berdych (4)
   Why he'll win -- The 29-year-old Czech took Djokovic to 6-3 in the third set of the Monte Carlo final on clay in April.
   Why he won't -- Clay is Berdych's worst surface; his best showing at Roland Garros is the semifinals in 2010.
   NorCal connection -- Berdych made the quarterfinals of the 2009 SAP Open as the fifth seed in his only appearance in San Jose.
Kei Nishikori (5)
   Why he'll win -- The 25-year-old Japanese reached his first Grand Slam final last September in the U.S. Open on hardcourts and won Barcelona on clay in April. His coach, Michael Chang, became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam singles title when he captured the 1989 French Open at 17. Like Nishikori, Chang was undersized.
   Why he won't -- Nishikori hasn't advanced past the fourth round in four appearances at Roland Garros.
   NorCal connection -- Nishikori played in the SAP Open three times, losing in the second round in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coached Nishikori in 2011.
  Rafael Nadal (6)
   Why he'll win -- Nadal has won nine French Open titles, including the last five.
   Why he won't -- The 28-year-old Spaniard has struggled -- by his lofty standards -- after having health problems in the last six months of 2014. Also, he has a brutal draw. 
   NorCal connection -- None.
Stan Wawrinka (8)
   Why he'll win -- Wawrinka won last year's Australian Open for his first Grand Slam title, he beat Nadal in the quarterfinals of the recent Italian Open, and he reached the French Open quarters in 2013.
   Why he won't -- He lost in the first round at Roland Garros last year. 
   NorCal connection -- None.
   Djokovic will become the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam and continue his bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver accomplished the feat for the second time in 1969.
Serena Williams, shown in last summer's Bank of the West
Classic at Stanford, seeks her 20th Grand Slam singles crown.
Photo by Tri Nguyen/
Serena Williams (1)
   Why she'll win -- Williams' has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, including two in the French Open  (2002 and 2013), and she has plenty of motivation. Time is short as she tries to move up from third on the Grand Slam career list behind Margaret Court (24) and Steffi Graf (22), and she lost to Spanish upstart Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 6-2 in the second round at Roland Garros last year.
   Why she won't -- Clay reduces Williams' power, she'll be 34 in September, and the right-hander withdrew from her second-round match in the Italian Open two weeks ago with a right elbow injury (although she says it feels much better). 
   NorCal connection -- Williams won her third Bank of the West title at Stanford last year.
Maria Sharapova (2)
   Why she'll win -- The 28-year-old Russian has reached the last three finals at Roland Garros, winning last year and in 2012, and she's coming off her third Italian Open crown.
   Why she won't -- Sharapova has a tough draw, and she's 2-17 lifetime against Williams (0-4 on clay).
   NorCal connection -- Sharapova was the runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in the 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
  Simona Halep (3)
   Why she'll win -- The 23-year-old Romanian reached her first Grand Slam final in last year's French Open, losing 6-4 in the third set to Sharapova, and is ready to take the next step. 
   Why she won't -- Halep will fold under the pressure of defending her ranking points from last year's runner-up finish.
   NorCal connection -- Halep lost to Sabine Lisicki in the first round of the 2011 Bank of the West Classic in her only appearance.
Petra Kvitova (4)
   Why she'll win -- If the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sharapova can do it (twice), why not the 6-foot (1.82-meter) left-hander and two-time Wimbledon champion? The 25-year-old Czech won Madrid on clay this month, routing Williams 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals.
   Why she won't -- Kvitova has lost in the third round of the French Open the past two years. 
   NorCal connection -- None. 
Caroline Wozniacki (5) 
   Why she'll win -- The 24-year-old Dane reached her first Grand Slam final in five years at the U.S. Open last September, losing to close friend Williams, and her consistency is well-suited to clay. 
   Why she won't -- Wozniacki has advanced to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros only once, in 2010, in eight appearances. She lost to Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium in the first round last year. 
   NorCal connection -- None. 
Carla Suarez Navarro (8) 
   Why she'll win -- The 26-year-old Spaniard beat top-five players Kvitova and Halep to reach the Italian Open final, in which she extended Sharapova to three sets. 
   Why she won't -- Suarez Navarro is 0-3 in finals this year and has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal. 
   NorCal connection -- She won the doubles title in last year's Bank of the West Classic with Muguruza.
   Provided her elbow holds up, Williams will win her third straight Grand Slam singles title and 20th overall.

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