Roddick faces Martin in first round
The French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season, begins Monday, and this one is often unpredictable. Last year, unseeded Martin Verkerk came out of nowhere to make the men's final. On the women's side, three unseeded players made the round of 16 in 2003.
Though top-seed Roger Federer drew a qualifier for his first-round opponent, plenty of big names will be sweating early on the clay courts.
Here's a look at a dozen men's matches and a dozen women's matches to keep an eye on at Roland Garros.
Andy Roddick (2), United States, vs. Todd Martin, United States
A showdown of Americans has intrigue for a number of reasons. Martin always seems to get revved up for the Grand Slams, and he has won in the first round at the French the past two years. Roddick lost in the first round at Roland Garros the past two years (to Sargis Sargsian last year, Wayne Arthurs in 2002). Roddick also lost in the Italian Open first round to Guillermo Canas, but he had a good excuse after helping to save several lives during a deadly hotel fire. Will the young American break through with a good showing at the French? The winner could face another American, Robby Ginepri, in round two.
Juan Carlos Ferrero (4), Spain, vs. Tommy Haas, Germany
The injury-plagued Haas has come back and posted interesting results this year. He beat Roddick in the finals on clay in Houston, yet he lost in the first round at Rome to Ivo Karlovic. Ferrero is the defending champion and comfortable on clay, though he probably would have preferred an easier first-round opponent.
Guillermo Canas, Argentina, vs. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina
This showdown of Argentines is interesting, and the winner will likely meet 14th-seed Jan Novak. Canas stunned Roddick in the Italian Open and is returning to form after injury woes. Gaudio made the round of 16 in 2002 and has dropped just one first-round match at Roland Garros in five prior trips.
David Nalbandian (8), Argentina, vs. Richard Gasquet, France
The 17-year old Frenchman (he turns 18 in June) is the next great French hope. You know the fans at Roland Garros will be rooting him on. Nalbandian was stunned by a young Frenchman in the second round last year, Nicolas Coutelot. Earlier this year, Nalbandian lost to Federer in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Nalbandian also lost in the first round on clay in Hamburg to David Ferrer. Experience should still be enough to move on against the French opponent.
Tommy Robredo (17), Spain, vs. Alberto Martin, Spain
This is the first meeting of these two Spaniards. Interesting to note that Robredo blew a two-set lead in a loss to Spain's Albert Costa in the quarterfinals last year.
Marat Safin (20), Russia, vs. Agustin Calleri, Argentina
Safin did not play at last year's French Open, but he made the semifinals in his last appearance in 2002. Calleri is a tough first-round opponent, ranked 46th in the world and sporting a 19-12 record this year. The good news for Safin is that Calleri has lost in the first round of the French the past two years (straight sets as the No. 18 seed last year).
Feliciano Lopez (23), Spain, vs. Nicolas Lapentti, Ecuador
The young Spaniard is 1-3 lifetime at the French, including a first-round setback to Mariano Zabaleta last year. Lapentti, once ranked as high as No. 6 in the world, lost in five sets to Albert Costa in the third round last year.
Jonas Bjorkman (24), Sweden, vs. Taylor Dent, United States
Something has to give here. Dent lost in the first round last year, while Bjorkman has won only one match in his past six trips to Roland Garros.
Rainer Schuettler (7), Germany, vs. Xavier Malisse, Belgium
Schuettler made the round of 16 last year before falling to Verkerk. Which Malisse will show up -- the one who was a seed at last year's French and lost to Agassi in the third round (Malisse made the round of 16 in 2002)? Or the one who has a losing record this year? The Belgian had to qualify for the St. Poelten event last week; the good news is, he made it to the semifinals.
Martina Navratilova, United States, vs. Gisela Dulko, Argentina
This is not a misprint: Martina is playing singles. Dulko, a 19-year-old right-hander from Buenos Aires, is not an easy foe. You know who has the edge in experience; Navratilova won 11 Grand Slam singles titles before Dulko was born, including two French Opens (1982 and '84).
Serena Williams (2), United States, vs. Iveta Benesova, Czech Republic
Before you ask about the Czech player, understand that she is ranked 50th in the world, sports a 35-11 match record this year and has won a tournament already. OK, she's also 21 years old and has never faced this type of pressure. Serena's knee held up to take her to the semifinals at Rome, where she lost to Jennifer Capriati.
(3) Amelie Mauresmo, France, vs. Ludmila Cervanova, Slovakia
Cervanova is ranked 75th in the world and made the third round of the French in 2002. She could make this competitive -- at least for a while. For her part, Mauresmo comes into the French Open as a favorite -- and not only because she's French; she won both clay tuneups, in Berlin and Rome, coming into this Grand Slam.
Venus Williams (4), United States, vs. Tamarine Tanasugarn, Thailand
The former top 20 player from Thailand is now down to 55 in the rankings and has a 5-10 record this year. Venus is warming up after an injury-plagued stretch.
Lindsay Davenport (5), United States, vs. Virginie Pichet, France
Pichet, a 21-year old Frenchwoman, will have fans rooting for her, but she is overmatched as Davenport played well in a warm-up.
Anastasia Myskina (6), Russia, vs. Alicia Molik, Australia
The Australian is ranked 40th in the world and made the finals of the Wien Energie Grand Prix in Austria. She's due after losing her past four first-round matches at Roland Garros. Myskina is 1-4 lifetime at the French Open, so again, something has to give.
Ai Sugiyama (12), Japan, vs. Marion Bartoli, France
Sugiyama was upset in the quarterfinals at Strasbourg by an unsung opponent from Luxembourg, Claudine Schaul, who advanced to the final. Bartoli also will enjoy the crowd support.
Cara Black, Zimbabwe, vs. Katerina Srebotnik, Slovakia
Both have made the round of 16 before (Black in 2001, Srebotnik in 2002). They are separated by only three spots in the rankings (Black 59th, Srebotnik 62th). Srebotnik made the quarterfinals of the warm-up event in Strasbourg before being wiped out by Davenport.
Rita Grande, Italy, vs. Henrieta Nagyova, Slovakia
Both made the round of 16 in 2001. The winner will likely meet 18th-seed Maria Sharapova in the second round.
Howie Schwab is a coordinating producer for ESPN.
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