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Don't discount Monaco, Cornet from floating deep in the French draw

Let's face it: Only a minor miracle would prevent Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic from walking away with the French Open title. Perhaps it would be a minor miracle if Nadal himself fails to claim a fourth straight crown.

The women's draw is wide-open after the Queen of Clay, Justine Henin, abruptly called it quits, so Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova probably all fancy their chances.

Dangerous floaters, though, are never too far away on clay, and here are a few who just might pull off a big upset or provide a scare in Paris:

Men
Fernando Verdasco: Call Verdasco the left-handed equivalent of Fernando Gonzalez. He has a huge forehand and a weaker backhand, and he spins his serve in more than normal and can go AWOL for long bouts in matches.

Get him on a good day, though, and the Spaniard is lethal.

Verdasco enters Roland Garros with momentum, having knocked off Davis Cup teammate and world No. 5 David Ferrer at last week's Hamburg (Germany) Masters and rising to a career-high No. 23 in the rankings. He was competitive against Federer in the Hamburg quarterfinals until a foot injury surfaced.

Igor Andreev: No need to tell Andy Roddick about Andreev's prowess.

The Russian rallied from a set and a break down to knock off Roddick in last year's opening round, using his monstrous, heavy forehand to good effect. He upended Roddick, absent from Paris next week, on hard courts in 2006.

Andreev handed Djokovic arguably his toughest test at the Rome Masters this month, taking him to three sets, and had two-time French Open semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko on the ropes in the Monte Carlo (Monaco) Masters quarterfinals, but he failed to serve out the encounter.

Nicolas Almagro: Last year Federer termed Almagro a "very dangerous'' player on any surface, but the 22-year-old from Spain prefers clay.

Almagro, whose arsenal includes a flowing one-handed backhand, claimed two titles on the Latin American swing, taking out David Nalbandian in Acapulco, Mexico. He reached the Valencia (Spain) Open final, the quarterfinals in Barcelona and the quarterfinals in Rome, where he eventually retired against Djokovic because of a wrist injury.

Somewhat strangely, Almagro has never got past the second round at the French. His 2007 performance was particularly disappointing: Serve-and-volleyer Michael Llodra beat him in five sets.

Juan Monaco: The workmanlike Monaco had a breakthrough 2007, winning three clay-court titles and rising almost 50 spots in the rankings. (Unlike Almagro, he doesn't seem to go through the motions on non-clay surfaces.)

On track for another solid dirt season, the Argentine sustained an ankle injury and forfeited the final in Vina del Mar, Chile, against good friend Gonzalez in February. Since then, he's struggled and hurt his hand in Monte Carlo.

Still, Monaco appears to have the potential to beat almost anyone on clay. He took Federer to three sets last year in Hamburg, blowing chances early in the third.

Andreas Seppi: Seppi knows a thing or two about upsets. The unassuming Italian topped Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a week before the Frenchman embarked on his Australian Open adventure, and Seppi beat Nadal indoors in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in February.

A mediocre clay-court season suddenly ignited when Seppi made the semis in Hamburg, obliterating Monaco in the third round and then ousting local favorite Nicolas Kiefer in an epic three-set match. There was also a victory over ninth-ranked Richard Gasquet, though Gasquet's losing to almost anyone lately.

Seppi's showing in Hamburg catapulted him to a career-high No. 32 in the rankings.

Women
Alize Cornet: With Amelie Mauresmo on the slide, Marion Bartoli proving last year's Wimbledon performance was an anomaly and Tatiana Golovin sidelined, the 18-year-old Cornet figures to be France's top female hope.

Her lack of power is not as much of a detriment on clay, and the crafty Cornet did well in Acapulco and at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Fla., reaching the final and semifinals, respectively. She subsequently shone on the bigger stages, too: She made the semifinals in Charleston, S.C., and the final in Rome to crack the top 20. Her victims in the Italian capital included crowd favorite Francesca Schiavone, fourth-ranked Kuznetsova and sixth-ranked Anna Chakvetadze.

Dominika Cibulkova: In Cibulkova's case, size doesn't matter.

The 5-foot-3 Slovak, who says tenacity and combativeness are her biggest strengths, eliminated Victoria Azarenka, Chakvetadze and Cornet on her way to the Amelia Island final, where she gave Sharapova a tough time.

The 19-year-old's 1-3 record in her next three tournaments is misleading. Cibulkova retired due to injury in Charleston, fell to the improving Alona Bondarenko 11-9 in a third-set tiebreak at the German Open, and stretched Sharapova to three sets in Rome.

She loves playing in Paris -- her favorite city.

Victoria Azarenka: Injuries to both knees hampered the former junior world champion on hard courts, her preferred surface, in February and March. She's come alive on clay in the past month.

Azarenka advanced to the Tier IV Prague (Czech Republic) Open final, losing to surging Russian Vera Zvonareva, and carried over the momentum to the German Open, where she downed Chakvetadze (who's lost a lot this year), the in-form Gisela Dulko and Bondarenko. A defeat to eventual champion Dinara Safina in the semis followed, but the 18-year-old from Belarus is up to a career-best 17th in the rankings.

Flavia Pennetta: You can only beat the players in front of you, or so the saying goes. That applies to Pennetta.

The veteran Italian has won five clay-court titles -- including Acapulco and Vina del Mar in 2008 -- without defeating anyone in the top 50 along the way. In five previous visits to the French Open, Pennetta hasn't made it past the third round. Bizarrely, she's made the fourth round at Wimbledon twice.

Yet Pennetta is a steady baseliner who might benefit if a higher seed has an off day. She swiped a set off Serena Williams at the hard court Sony Ericsson Open in Miami in March.

Iveta Benesova: "Unpredictable'' and "lefty'' are words usually reserved for Patty Schnyder. Although she's far less prolific, Benesova nevertheless falls into that category.

The gangly Czech, after a horrible start to the 2008 campaign, has triumphed in 19 of her past 23 matches. She won an ITF title, reached her first top-tier final in more than two years in Estoril, Portugal, beat Shahar Peer on Fed Cup duty in Israel, battled to the quarterfinals in Prague and got to the second round in Rome as a qualifier, extending Zvonareva to 7-5 in the third set. Outside the top 100 in January, Benesova has climbed to No. 68.

Benesova's poor start cost her a direct spot in the main draw, so she's playing qualifying as the top seed.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.