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Saturday, May 21, 2011
Five things to watch from French Open men's draw

By Sandra Harwitt

Right now, it appears to be Novak Djokovic's world, even if past French Open champions such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal hope to crash his party. Djokovic has yet to lose in 2011, and it's clear he is the player to beat on clay's Grand Slam.

Pure perfection

Novak Djokovic must be walking around pinching himself, wondering if it's a dream that he's won all seven tournaments he's played this year. He's cruising on a 37-0 winning streak this season, just five matches short of John McEnroe's 42-0 record start in 1984. If you count Djokovic's two Davis Cup singles victories last December, he's working on an overall 39-0 record. Djokovic has beaten world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in all four matches they've played in 2011: the finals of Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome. Djoker is no joke. He's the favorite going into Paris, and within range of the No. 1 ranking.

Holding court

The thought that Nadal isn't the man to beat at the French Open seems unthinkable. But that statement has validity. Nadal's four recent losses to the apparently untouchable Djokovic resonate loudly, even though he still leads their series 16-11. Nadal did pick up recent clay court trophies at Barcelona and Monte Carlo, but those were tournaments Djokovic didn't enter. Nadal's owned the deed to Roland Garros in five of the last six French Opens. The question on everyone's mind: Will Nadal remember why he's called the King of Clay, and hold onto his French Open crown?

Calculating Federer

There's no doubt that Roger Federer is still a top player. Nevertheless, the record 16-time Grand Slam champ is no longer the larger than life presence he once was. The 2009 French Open champion has lost to Djokovic three times, and to Nadal twice this year. He also lost matches on clay to Jurgen Melzer and Richard Gasquet this season. These days it's more a watch to see how far Federer can go than if he's going to win again in Paris. The good news is, his favorite grass court season is just around the corner.

Second week woes

The American guys like to have firm ground underfoot, so sliding around at the French Open is a slippery slope for the Yanks. Andre Agassi (1999) was the last American man to sip the winner's champagne at Roland Garros. In today's game, the conversation is all about whether any American man can survive long enough to see the second week in Paris. Of the top four Americans, only Andy Roddick has reached the French Open fourth round (2009). Mardy Fish's best showing was two second-round appearances (2008, '10), John Isner reached the third round last year, and Sam Querrey's yet to win a French Open match in four attempts.

Top 10 threats

As usual in the men's competition, the field is strong with contenders and three top 10 players -- David Ferrer, Robin Soderling, and Andy Murray -- can be expected to make some noise. Ferrer can run down balls all day long and just reached back-to-back finals at Barcelona and Monte Carlo, losing to Nadal. Soderling reached the French Open final the last two years, and comes in with three consecutive clay court quarterfinal showings. And Murray was impressive against Djokovic in the Rome semifinal last week -- he was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third. Murray also reached the Monte Carlos semifinals, losing to Nadal.