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Ubha: French Open Expert Predictions

Ravi Ubha breaks down the draw, quarter by quarter. Who's going to come out of the quarter of death? Who's going to be this year's dark horse? Our resident draw expert chimes in...

Published May 24, 2014 12:13

A leg injury suffered by Serena Williams in Madrid seemed to alter the complexion of the European clay court swing. Williams had to withdraw, understandably leading to whispers about whether the 17-time Grand Slam winner would be ready not only for Rome but the French Open.

Williams was indeed ready for Rome, conceding one set en route to defending her title.

Can anyone stop the World No.1 at the French Open, where she's also the title holder?

Here's a detailed look at the draw.

First Quarter: Serena Vs Maria
It's a shame that Williams and Maria Sharapova - the top two performers on European clay in recent years and the tour's biggest names - landed in the same quarter. Chalk that down to luck and Sharapova's dip in the rankings earlier in the year when the Russian struggled to recover from that shoulder injury.

But before their potential quarterfinal blockbuster, Serena could meet big sister Venus in the third round in what would be a noteworthy occasion - it's been a very long time since the siblings faced off earlier than the fourth round at a tournament.

Venus isn't guaranteed to get that far, however, as 17-year-old Belinda Bencic awaits in the first round. By now Bencic must be accustomed to encountering Grand Slam champions or players of only slightly lesser ilk - though still plenty good: She has faced Serena Williams, Li Na, Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta in 2014.

Three players with fond memories of Roland Garros loom in Sharapova's mini-section, in Samantha Stosur (2010 finalist), Dominika Cibulkova (2009 semifinalist) and Kaia Kanepi (two quarterfinals).

Yet Stosur and Kanepi are in the midst of indifferent campaigns and Cibulkova has suddenly lost three in a row.

Serena, say hello again to Maria.

Prediction: Serena Williams

Second Quarter: Opportunity Knocks
Agnieszka Radwanska will tell you clay isn't her preferred or most productive surface. Angelique Kerber likely shares Radwanska's view.

In Kerber's case, she's not playing particularly well, either, blowing leads against Karolina Pliskova in Nürnberg and Petra Cetkovska in Rome.

Kerber will be relieved to know she doesn't begin with another Czech at Roland Garros - but guess who but Cetkovska could surface in the second round. Not many have suffered as many injuries as Cetkovska, so her resurgence makes for a pleasing tale.

With Radwanska and Kerber the highest two seeds in the quarter, then, opportunity perhaps knocks for lower seeds or even the unseeded.

Alizé Cornet, making her 10th appearance at her home Slam at the tender age of 24, is stringing together her most consistent season; Pennetta won in Indian Wells and has reached the semifinals and quarterfinals in her two previous majors; Carla Suárez Navarro went 12-3 in four build-up tournaments on clay, highlighted by a maiden title; and Eugenie Bouchard got a jolt of clay-court confidence in Nürnberg.

Pliskova, Bouchard's foe in the Nürnberg finale, possesses a serve that can win her matches on any surface.

World No.3 Radwanska - potentially Pliskova's second round opponent - is still the most seasoned performer and the Pole doesn't have to contend with a punishing power player, the type that can give her trouble.

Prediction: Suárez Navarro

Third Quarter: Has Simona Recovered?
By about this time next week we'll know the extent of Simona Halep's abdominal injury - did she pull out of Rome mid-tournament as a precaution with the French Open on the horizon or was the injury a little more serious? An early exit and it was probably the latter.

If fit, Halep should be considered a heavy, heavy favorite to reach the fourth round. Sloane Stephens would present danger to the fourth seed in the round of 16, and don't write off the American even with her mediocre results of late.

Stephens perennially comes out to play at the Grand Slams, evidenced by the fact that she's advanced to at least the fourth round in her past five majors.

Arguably the top first round encounter in the tournament sees Ana Ivanovic tangle with France's Caroline Garcia. Ivanovic has posted a stunning 16-3 record in her last 19 matches, while Garcia bagged a first title in Bogotá and followed it up with a quarterfinal result in Madrid.

Halep, by the way, handed Ivanovic one of those defeats.

Prediction: Halep

Fourth Quarter: Lucky For Li?
Tough losses, more than the wins, defined Li Na's clay court season entering the French Open. Li, the 2011 champion at the French, led Sharapova by a set and break in Madrid before her forehand ceased cooperating. The nerves in trying to close out victory, no doubt, contributed to the swoon.

Then in Rome, Li fell in three sets to Errani. Errani's clay court pedigree and the home crowd worked in the Italian's favor, but Li's power and variety from the back of the court meant the World No.2 should have been able to down Errani.

Li had never lost to Errani in six previous head-to-heads, surrendering one set. (Oh, the irony. Li carried an 0-6 record against Stosur into Rome, with one set won, before overcoming the Aussie a round earlier at the Foro Italico.)

Li's confidence thus figures to be well below those days during the Australian summer.

Alas, Li benefitted from a smooth looking draw all the way to the quarterfinals.

Jelena Jankovic, three times a semifinalist at the French and revived in the past year, looks certain to show up in the fourth round. If Errani has rebounded from her health issues, count on a Jankovic-Errani rematch - the latter prevailed in the Rome semis - in the last 16.

Prediction: Jankovic

Winner: Williams

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