Commentary

Watch out for a healthy Del Potro

Updated: May 19, 2011, 8:36 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

The days of relative unknowns winning the French Open are long gone. Well, at least on the men's side.

Thank Rafael Nadal for that.

But Rafa now has some serious competition on clay from the man of the moment, Novak Djokovic.

Francesca Schiavone stunned almost everyone by winning last year's women's crown, and this year's titlist could be another surprise given the flux inside the top 10 and no Serena Williams.

We look at some players outside that elite group who've made noise on dirt heading into the French Open and assess their chances at Roland Garros.

Should they be considered dark horses?

Men

Richard Gasquet
Ranking: 14th
Clay highlight: Rome semifinal

It's clear that in the past, Gasquet never really liked competing at the French Open. The pressure overwhelmed him. When given half a chance to bail, as in 2008, he took the opportunity. He downright capitulated against Kristof Vliegen a year earlier.

But Gasquet appears to be maturing at the age of nearly 25. He's going his own way, boldly turning to use a non-French coach, Riccardo Piatti. The backward cap, perhaps signifying a shield, is gone.

Gasquet's body language is changing for the better. He pumps his fist on occasion and gets annoyed when missing a shot -- it looks like he cares.

Beating Roger Federer in Rome surely raised expectations of the home faithful, but this time you get the feeling Gasquet can handle it and finally eclipse the third round.

Forecast: Will reach second week.

Thomaz Bellucci
Ranking: 25th
Clay highlight: Madrid semifinals

Wouldn't it be something if Bellucci, a Brazilian, did something big at the French Open on the 10th anniversary of Guga's third and final title? He has the same coach in Larri Passos.

Bellucci, one of the hardest hitters in the men's game, came mighty close to ending Djokovic's streak in Madrid, leading by a set and break. He pinned the Serb well behind the baseline and moved him from side to side, completely dictating.

Once Djokovic won the second set, his chance was gone.

Bellucci's year-end ranking has improved every year since turning pro, and the lefty reached the fourth round in 2010. But his decision-making and temperament are still suspect.

Forecast: Won't reach second week.

Juan Martin del Potro
Ranking: 27th
Clay highlight: Estoril winner

Tennis fans, courtesy of Twitter, got the good news Tuesday: Del Potro was fit enough to compete in Paris, overcoming his hip injury. Returning in full from his more serious wrist injury in January, the lanky Argentine picked up steam after the Australian Open, going 27-4 and winning in Estoril before the hip issue forced a withdrawal in Madrid.

Del Potro wondered how he'd fare over five sets on clay, though, and that appears to be a valid concern. If he gets into a long match early, even with a day off, how will he recover? His wrist, too, is still prone to flaring up in humid conditions.

Forecast: Won't reach second week.

Women

Julia Goerges
Ranking: 18th
Clay highlights: Stuttgart winner, Madrid semifinals

German women's tennis is on a high.

[+] EnlargeJulia Goerges
Icon SMICan Julia Goerges parlay her two wins over Caroline Wozniacki into a deep run in Paris?

The hard-hitting Sabine Lisicki is finally injury-free, and Andrea Petkovic reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne. Petkovic sits at a career-high 15th, and who knows what she'll do on court with an extended run in Paris?

Maybe just more of the moonwalk.

An on-form Goerges is leading the way. She not only beat world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, like Petkovic, but she did it twice, backing up her performance in Stuttgart with another in Madrid.

Goerges' serve is impressive. The pace is there, and the 22-year-old can mix it up. Her forehand is a huge weapon.

Goerges' lone worry is a back injury that forced her withdrawal from Rome and Brussels. Goerges, as of Tuesday, said the back was "almost" pain-free.

Forecast: Will reach second week.

Dominika Cibulkova
Ranking: 23rd
Clay highlight: Madrid quarterfinals

Cibulkova loves Paris and has a bunch of friends in the city. Landing in the semifinals in 2009 adds to her fond memories.

Few would be surprised if the Slovak goes deep again.

Cibulkova says an abdominal injury that caused her not to compete in Rome and Brussels is much better, aided by intensive treatment. At less than 100 percent, the diminutive, yet powerful, baseliner pushed eventual champion Petra Kvitova to 7-5 in the third set in the Madrid Open quarterfinals. In Miami, she had eventual winner Victoria Azarenka on the ropes in the third round.

And those two are among the favorites at the French.

Forecast: Will reach second week.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Ranking: 36th
Clay highlight: Madrid quarterfinals

Mattek-Sands is a daunting presence when returning serve.

She's also the U.S.' most in-form player in either draw, having upset French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in Madrid. Had nerves not intervened, she also would have toppled Australian Open finalist Li Na in the quarterfinals. Mattek-Sands wasn't quite as good in Rome, although knocking off Flavia Pennetta on dirt counts as a solid victory.

Mattek-Sands, who'll most likely just miss out on a seeding, shoulders the American load in the absence of the Williams sisters. That perhaps means a little more pressure.

However, if her high-risk game is on, look out.

Forecast: Will reach second week.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.