Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are the best tennis players in the world at the moment. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. The two won the Australian Open and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Djokovic is not only physically close to the top level he can bring to the court, but mentally, there is nobody who can come close to touching him. Serena, on the other hand, may be the most dominant women’s tennis player in the history of the sport. She wields the one shot that can control not only a match, but a tournament, with her massive serve. If both players are at the top of their game on the terre battue in Paris, look out, because regardless of who is put in front of them, it will be a war. That includes Rafael Nadal, who heads into the French Open this year with a 66-1 record at the Grand Slam. If he should run into the Serbian star, that smaller number may very possibly rise.
►Click here to view the 2015 French Open Men's Singles Draw.
►Click here to view the 2015 French Open Women's Singles Draw.
The men’s field
It is hard to question how well Novak Djokovic has played since he fell in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last fall. In the Australian Open and the four ATP Masters 1000 events that he has played in, the Serbian has dropped just one match, in the semifinals of Shanghai against some 17-time Grand Slam Champion named Roger Federer. His mastery reigned supreme at the World Tour Finals as well, showing that not only is Djokovic the best, but he is the best on a consistent basis. The only concerns heading into Paris are that Andy Murray has recently shown that his peak level can challenge him, Nadal has won the French Open nine times and Federer is still the best to ever pick up a racket.
There is not a player in the history of the sport, or arguably any sport, who has dominated one event as much as Rafael Nadal has stomped his foot on the red clay of Roland Garros. A performance for the ages by Robin Soderling is all that stands between the Spaniard and perfection at the French Open. Every year, it seems as if somebody gets closer to being able to take Nadal down at his own castle, but each time, he proves everybody who doubts him wrong. He has recently admitted that he is not where he needs to be. But, at his lowest ranking in years, it is still hard to ignore that it is nearly impossible to beat him on the clay.
For anybody to win 17 Grand Slams, they have to be pretty good at the sport. Roger Federer is arguably the best to ever lace them up and pick up a racket. It does not hurt that when he is playing aggressive tennis, he can still control the pace and tempo of a match against virtually anybody in the world. As he has naturally lost pace off his serve, the Switzerland native has added more spin and better location. It is fair to point out that Federer has not won a major title since Wimbledon in 2012. He has shown his vintage form on some big stages, but not at the Grand Slams, and that is hard to ignore. There is no doubting the fact that he will be around come the second week with his four kids and wife Mirka in tow, but it is a matter of how well he can piece his game together on the biggest stage.
Going through the ATP World Tour rankings may tell the story of who is playing the best tennis, but pound-for-pound, Kei Nishikori would be even further up the list. There are very few players out there who can match his overall groundstroke game, with what is arguably a stronger set of strokes than even David Ferrer. But, with that comes his size disadvantage. There are players who on a good day have the ability to grip it and rip it against Nishikori, and on the red clay where the bigger, stronger players get an extra step to set up to use weapons of their own on a slower surface, the Japanese star may have some trouble. It will not help that he has never made it past the fourth round in Paris.
On his best day, Tomas Berdych can beat anybody in the world. Very few, if anybody, out there can match the Czech’s firepower from any and every wing. But, he still has yet to win a Grand Slam, and has failed to live up to what seemed to be limitless potential. Rewind 15 years, and Berdych more than likely would have won a major by this point in his career, but he has to contend with some of the strongest defensive players in the history of the sport. It takes them making one tiny hole in his armor to blow apart his game and break away in a match. Look for that to be the case once again in May.
If somebody wins a Grand Slam title, they did not do so by luck. Winning seven matches against the very best tennis players in the world is one of the toughest mountains to climb in sports, yet Marin Cilic did it at the 2014 U.S. Open. His pure size, quickly-hit serve, and what can be dominating groundstrokes, are all dangerous at any moment. Consistency is key, however, and hampering injuries have not and more than likely will not allow the Croat to be ready to go in top form on one of his worst surfaces in Paris.
When “Stan the Man,” or “Stanimal” as he is called beat Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, the score line told the story of a defending champion beating one of the sport’s new stars. What the play showed, however, is that there are few if any people who can stop Stan Wawrinka when he is on top of his game. He may not be the tallest, most physically imposing player on tour, but he makes up for it with ball striking that has to be seen to be believed. His one handed backhand is not just the best shot of that variety in the world, but it is one of the best weapons in the world, period, and despite a ranking drop, look for him to make some noise in Paris.
There is no professional tennis player, male or female, who has gotten more out of their natural potential than David Ferrer. There is no question that when playing the Spaniard, it is not about trying to win, but survive. The fittest player on the ATP Tour, Ferrer can run down pretty much any ball thrown his way, but that is not all. In the last few years, he has added a more aggressive, offensive dimension to his game. So, on clay where every match is a grind, it will be up to those ranked ahead of him: Will they play their best tennis or have an off day, because if it is the latter, they can pack their bags.
Nick Kyrgios, the young Australian sensation, has burst onto the scene in the tennis world, showing that not only is he a good tennis player, but he has loads of potential. The key word is “Entertainer,” that is Gael Monfils’ department, isn’t it? When people start talking about somebody who challenges “La Monf” in that department, one could only think that he will be motivated to put on even more of a show, much like Bernard Tomic has surged back into relevance after Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis started to emerge. On his best day, Monfils has a serve that can get him into advantageous positions, a forehand that when loose can be dangerous, and athleticism that may be unlike anything the sport has ever seen. Playing in front of his home crowd, it is impossible to count him out from using the crowd to push him through to the second week or later.
The women’s field
There is nobody in the world who can beat Serena Williams when she is at the top of her game. She has the biggest serve in women’s tennis history, penetrating groundstrokes and a competitive mindset that rears its head in the biggest of moments. If she brings everything she has to the table, despite the slower surface, as the players compete on the red clay of Roland Garros, nobody can beat Serena. She has too much firepower and will to win. Once in a while, she has an off day, which although rare is very off, but on the biggest of stages in the most important of moments, Serena never ceases to amaze fans and opponents.
There has been one consistent challenger to Serena’s thrown and it lies in arguably the best pure baseliner in the game, Simona Halep. Her consistency does not hurt her resumé either, as she has only lost three matches all season long, with them coming in the intense environments of a Grand Slam quarterfinal, Fed Cup and a clash with Serena herself. Her success has not come from lack of competition either, with her results as of Miami totaling five wins over top-20 opponents.
When a player makes the quarterfinals of a particular Grand Slam on three occasions, they have to be considered dangerous, as that kind of consistency is rare on the biggest of stages. If that same person has made the semifinals on two other occasions and the final once more, they go to the status of being a contender. That is a ton of experience at the business end of one of the year’s biggest tournaments. Maria Sharapova also has won the tournament twice … it is the French Open. One may not expect an overwhelming power player who controls points from the baseline to succeed on a slower surface, but Roland Garros has been her most successful major, and despite early season woes, there is no doubt that the most mentally resilient player on tour will be ready for Paris.
As she has shown in winning the Wimbledon title twice, Petra Kvitova can win big tennis matches. She has a crafty lefty serve combined with well-struck groundstrokes that can beat almost anybody out there. However, when players have more time to react to and deal with the spin and pace she throws their way, Kvitova is suddenly not as lethal. Her slicing serve will not bite and go through the court as effectively, her opponents will have time to take that extra needed step to the ball in baseline rallies, and so on. One may look at her semifinal run in Paris back in 2012, but despite that successful tournament, she did not win one match out of her five victories against a ranked player.
Ekaterina Makarova brings the lefty finesse to Kvitova's power, which in theory would create the perfect player if combining the players was a possibility. The most under-the-radar player in the top-ten, she has arguably been one of the most consistent players on tour, period, in the last year and a half. Even Serena herself did not make at least the quarterfinals in each of the last three majors as Makarova has. However, she also has never made it past the fourth round at the French Open, where she has historically struggled on the clay. She may win the matches that she should, but do not be surprised if a younger player pulls off the upset.
After her widely-publicized separation from golfer Rory McIlroy, Caroline Wozniacki has re-established her fame in the tennis world, both on and off the court. She has spent a ton of time with Serena, which can only be a good thing, and has played much better tennis, more reminiscent of her time at the top of the WTA Rankings. However, even after reaching the U.S. Open finals, Wozniacki has struggled to find form in the biggest of moments, falling victim to a tough draw with Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne to start what has been an up-and-down season. She has won the matches she should have won for the most part, and lost most of the ones that she would not be favored in, but that does not give reason to believe in a major run. She will not drop her opener like last year, but seeing a young big hitter such as Madison Keys blast her off the court is not out of the question.
Who is Carla Suarez Navarro? She may have one of the more attackable serves on WTA Tour, but the Spaniard can grind out a point like few others, somewhat like her compatriot David Ferrer on the men’s side. Armed with one of the only one-handed backhands in the women’s game, Suarez Navarro uses heavier shots with plenty of topspin, and can throw in a nice slice here and there. It helps that she is not only a world-class singles player, but doubles as well, so at Roland Garros, look for her to be able to grind out points while also carefully constructing rallies to give the best in the sport trouble.
It is extremely hard to call Agnieszka Radwanska a sleeper considering her status as a mainstay in the top 10 for years now. Without a doubt, there is no smarter player on the tour, and “The Ninja,” as she is called, can throw everything but the kitchen sink at her opponents. Every inch of the court is in play for the Polish star, and she does not need the overwhelming power that one may expect from a player that could make a deep run. With a career-best quarterfinal appearance at the French Open thus far, look for Radwanska to truly get her season started with a couple of big wins, making a run if the draws open up in her favor.
On the men’s side, everyone is raving about the Kyrgios’ of the world, from Borna Coric to all the other young stars on the rise that have already been anointed “the next big thing.” It may not be as noticeable, but Karolina Pliskova is past the point of being next. She is now, and on her way to star status quickly. Already on the verge of breaking into the top-10, she has hit ace after ace to lead the WTA Tour, and is only on her way up. It has been difficult to break through at a major earlier in her career, but with the ranking to bolster her seeding, she now will have the opportunity to feel her way into a tournament, and perhaps spring an upset that will shine the light on her stardom.
<p>Andrew Eichenholz is a journalism student at Stony Brook University, where he currently is a staff writer for The Statesman, covering tennis amongst many sports. He grew up playing tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where he learned to love the game, eventually becoming a part time tennis instructor, working for the most part with the QuickStart 10 & Under Program. Andrew has also served as a ballperson at the U.S. Open. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p>