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Friday, May 21, 2010
Breaking down the French Open draw

The draw for the 2010 French Open was conducted in the Tenniseum (tennis museum) on the grounds at Roland Garros at midday on Friday.

Present for the ceremony were last year's champions, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Roger Federer, with multiple screens around the room instantly entering each name as it came out on the draw.

The unseeded players were unveiled first randomly by computer, each name appearing at a nicely measured pace on the screens while a mellow musical beat provided a pleasant background.

Federer first pulled out tokens from the trophy with the seeded women's players numbers on them, followed by Kuznetsova doing likewise for the men's seeds.

So the grand design for the 2010 event is set, and here is a look at five draw storylines.

Les Favoris Masculins (Men's favories):

Although the consensus men's favorite Rafael Nadal was not present, No. 2 pick Federer sat in the room and watched closely as each name was posted on the draws on two large screens at the front of the room. He admitted he usually says no when asked to be present for the draw and said about sitting following Friday's procedure.

The Swiss has a favorable draw for the first four rounds and then could face either No. 5 seed and 2009 finalist Robin Soderling, or the emerging but still enigmatic Ernests Gulbis in the quarterfinals. That round could be potentially very significant because a win would give him 24 Grand Slam semifinals in a row and also guarantee that he remains No. 1 (enabling him to tie Pete Sampras record of 286 total weeks at No. 1).

In the semifinals he is supposed to play No. 4 seed Andy Murray, but the Brit faces a huge first hurdle in the person of Richard Gasquet, who seems to have found a fine vein of form lately.

Second seed and overwhelming favorite Nadal starts off with last year's French Open junior finalist, the 18-year-old Gianni Mina of France and could face the winner of a potential Fernando Verdasco-Nicolas Almagro in a round-of-16 match. In the semifinals, it is far more likely he will play gritty clay-courter David Ferrer, seeded No. 9.

Les Favorites Feminines (Women's favorites)

Although Nadal and Federer are the standout favorites in the men's event, the women's is much less clear and further clouded by medical issues.

A look at the winners of the two big premier mandatory WTA Tour events in Rome and Madrid leading into Roland Garros -- Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Aravane Rezai -- suggests that recent form may not be the best guide to what awaits over the next two weeks in Paris.

Based on past history, four-time champion Justine Henin and current world No. 1 Serena Williams, winner in 2002, are the two players with the best pedigree.

Henin, who has battled a bad case of sinusitis dating back to her victory in Stuttgart three weeks ago, claimed on Friday that she is feeling better. She also said that, after an absence of two years, she has installed herself in her favorite locker ('casier fetiche' in French). She may need all the luck she can get because she could face two big names, Maria Sharapova (third round) and Williams (quarterfinals) just to get to the final four.

With Henin's sinusitis, Williams basically admitting on Friday that she had something affecting her that prevented her from seriously challenging Nadia Petrova in the third set of a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to the Russian in Madrid last week.

It's like a casualty ward with a bunch of other physical ailments: Caroline Wozniacki, back; Victoria Azarenka, thigh; Dinara Safina.

Les Americains et Americaines (American men and women):

Andy Roddick will carry the stars and stripes at Wimbledon, but it is unlikely he even has a chance to equal his career best French Open result of a fourth round last year.

It is a good bet that the No. 17-seeded John Isner and the No. 18-seeded Sam Querrey, who starts off against fellow-countryman Robby Ginepri, will go deeper into the draw than Roddick.

The Williams sisters, who played in the 2002 final with Serena winning, are now Nos. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings. But this is not Wimbledon and only Serena (in 2003) has made it as far as the semifinals since 2002.

Melanie Oudin, the No. 3 American, takes on Annabel Medina Garrigues in round one before a possible meeting with Dementieva in the second.

Les Francais et Francaises (French men and women)

Roger Federer claims the French players are always a threat at Roland Garros because "there's so many of them and when the spectators get behind them they always have a chance." But he didn't name any of them and only confirmed that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had a shot when his name was mentioned.

Tsonga, Gael Monfils with his wonky knee, and maybe even a resurgent Richard Gasquet, who faces Murray in the first round, are other prospects for the host nation.

Aravane Rezai, after her win in Madrid, is the standout among the French women and she could play Venus Williams in what would be a highly awaited round-of-16 match.

Les Autres (the others)

When asked who could be a threat aside from himself and Nadal, Federer mentioned Novak Djokovic and added that the absences of Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko (both with wrist problems) affected the depth. He said nothing about Andy Murray and made just a passing reference to non-Nadal Spaniards and to Ernests Gulbis, but nonetheless questioned whether the Latvian was ready for best-of-five set matches.

Just because she plays such an unconventional and entertaining game, Maria Jose Martinez Martinez would be a great player to win the women's event at Roland Garros. But it is unlikely her left-handed serve, effective volleying, drop shots, choppy backhand and loopy forehand can carry her through seven matches to the title.

For many fans, Ana Ivanovic, champion in 2008 but now ranked No.41, would be a popular winner -- but she would probably have to beat both Alisa Kleybanova and Agnieszka Radwanska in rounds two and three just to make it to the round of 16.

Of interest in round one is Dinara Safina, returning from back trouble, against Kimiko Date Krumm, the ageless wonder from Japan who is just four months from her 40th birthday.