All signs thus far pointing to a Nadal four-peat

Updated: June 1, 2008

Star Watch

PARIS -- One week down at the French Open and it's time for the five-star ratings to come out for each of the top five seeds in the respective men's and women's fields. Roland Garros tends to deliver some bumps and lumps as well as some surprises. Here's how it all breaks down:

Five stars

Rafael Nadal The clay is Nadal's candy and he is again playing as if he could be unstoppable for a fourth consecutive year. The closest rivals to upend him are Novak Djokovic in the semis and Roger Federer in the finals, but they'll have to mount quite the challenge. The deed to Roland Garros seems safely in Nadal's hands, just as long as he can handle the nagging blisters that bothered him at Rome (losing to Juan Carlos Ferrero) and reoccurred in the past two rounds at the French Open. Up to this point, no one has mounted any kind of a challenge versus the Spaniard.

Svetlana Kuznetsova Nobody has really paid much attention to the 2004 U.S. Open champion during the first week of play at Roland Garros, but that could be a big mistake. The Russian is showing great form and should be considered a major threat for the title if her somewhat shaky mind can stay focused. Kuznetsova has never won a title on clay and it would be just like her to do so at the grandest of clay-court events.

AP Photo/Laurent Baheux

Few are talking about Svetlana Kuznetsova, but she has yet to be tested in a single set through three rounds at the French Open.

Four stars

Ana Ivanovic Ivanovic is looking mighty solid and comfortable through the first week of the French Open and there's every reason to anticipate a journey to a second consecutive final at Roland Garros. The worry with Ivanovic is despite an impressive double-bagel in the fourth round, she didn't show much muscle in her two opportunities to contend for a Grand Slam title. She was way out of her league against Justine Henin in the 2007 final and surrendered to Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final this year. Ivanovic needs to be mindful of the three-strikes-and-you're-out theory if she goes to the final again this year.

Roger Federer Federer is looking as if he's moved past the bout with mononucleosis he suffered early this year, which is the good news. But the not-so-good news is the artful Federer just cannot create a masterpiece on clay like he can on grass and hard courts, probably not even with the help of famed clay-court guru Jose Higueras on the sidelines. If he can't capitalize this season, it seems more likely Federer will end up like many before him: one Grand Slam trophy short of a perfect set of four. To this point, though, the Swiss has looked resolute in his quest for the elusive title, having just a single hiccup versus Albert Montanes in the first set of Round 2.

Novak Djokovic Djokovic could've written the manual on building a career from the bottom up. His steady progression to the top three has been picture-perfect, capped earlier in the year by his first major title at the Australian Open. He's gritty and quite the showman all in one package. Djokovic, despite a stellar season, has fallen under the radar at Roland Garros as most anticipate another Federer-Nadal final. But the Serb has a game rife with confidence and to this point has been stellar, including an impressive win Sunday versus No. 18-seeded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.

David Ferrer Can't argue with the fifth-seeded Ferrer's mettle after a gutsy performance in the third round versus Lleyton Hewitt, coming back to win after being down two sets to one. Ferrer is unassailably one of the schooled clay-court players few look forward to facing. However, next up is blazing Radek Stepanek -- aka the chap who stunned Federer in Rome. One must wonder if the diminutive Spaniard is fully recovered from his previous bout.

Three stars

Maria Sharapova Sharapova actually came close to a four-star rating because of the effort she has displayed. However, clay is not her preferred playground, but she is seriously working her way into the draw. Her second set against Karin Knapp in the last round was a four-star performance and she needs to ride that momentum. Sharapova is unlikely to pick up the one Grand Slam title she's missing, but not for lack of trying. With winds howling in her first-round encounter, Sharapova had a preposterous number of unforced errors -- 68 to be exact -- but pulled it together, winning 8-6 in the third.

Jelena Jankovic Jankovic feels quite at home on the clay, which was evident in 2007, when she reached the semifinals. She hasn't dropped a set in four matches played, but there hasn't been a match in which she hasn't struggled, either. It's time for the talented and feisty Jankovic to step up and put herself in position to win at a major. If Jankovic can circumvent her myriad ailments and stay fit, who knows what will happen? It's just not healthy to be considered a contender and not one day turn up a champion.

Two stars

Nikolay Davydenko After a breakthrough in Miami, winning the prestigious Sony Ericsson Open, Davydenko seemed primed for a deep run at the French. But in what appeared to be another mundane day at the office was anything but, when the fourth-seeded Russian squandered a two-set lead to Ivan Ljubicic, losing in the third round. Prior to the loss, Davydenko had pulled together an impressive run, vanquishing 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson and two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin in the first two rounds. Davydenko had reached at least the quarterfinals in each of the past three years at Roland Garros.

One star

Serena Williams She barely deserves one star, but anyone who shows up gets on the map. There's still a lot of head scratching going on as to how an eight-time Grand Slam champion could have played such a listless match against Katarina Srebotnik in the third round. If you hear people saying, "I could've played better," they're probably right. Williams went from diva to damsel in distress in Paris, an outcome that will likely weigh heavy on her trip to Wimbledon.

More Ratings

There are a few other players outside the top five who have surprised us with their play at the French Open that are worthy of a star rating.

Five stars

Robby Ginepri
Ginepri receives a five-star rating for a number of reasons, least of which is because he's the last American standing in singles action. If he hadn't reached the second week, it would've been the first time since 1925 no American reached the fourth round. Another endorsement for Ginepri is he sought the help of coaching maestro Jose Higueras late in 2007 and has been towing the line and working incredibly hard. Ginepri will have his hands full in his next encounter with the suddenly rejuvenated Fernando Gonzalez.

Four stars

Ernests Gulbis
A shout out to the 19-year-old Gulbis, who has reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinals at Roland Garros -- his best previous result was the fourth round at the 2007 U.S Open. The only teenager remaining in the draw, he is the first Latvian to ever play at a Grand Slam tournament. The talented Gulbis sent a seething seventh-seeded James Blake home in the second round, which was a big boost in confidence considering he is better suited to play on faster surfaces.

Ivan Ljubicic
Roland Garros has been a welcome back for Ljubicic, a former top-five player who just seemed to lose the plot along the line. The mental fatigue of staying focused was the Croat's biggest problem, but his stunning five-set win over No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko on Saturday was evidence that Ljubicic found the joy to play again.

Two stars

Venus Williams
Venus Williams played better than her sister, but that didn't help her stick around any longer. Williams' judgment in not even attempting to have her match against Flavia Pennetta suspended for darkness until the next day showed class, but not to wield her star power was downright silly. For her, it's all about Wimbledon now, where she's the defending champion and will be in form for a shot at a fifth title at the All England Club.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for



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A nervous start for No. 1?


Melanie Oudin, only 16, may be the future of American women's tennis, but on Sunday her coach, Brian de Villers, did not seem impressed.

"She seems a bit nervous," he said, as she failed to run down a drop shot on Court 16. "The rain cost her two days of practice and she's only been on the clay for four days. She's not playing the right tactics."

Imagine if she'd had five days of preparation.

Oudin -- the No. 1 seed in girls' juniors -- took out Russia's Valeria Savinykh 6-0, 6-1 in a first-round match that was over in 49 minutes.

Currently ranked second in the world among juniors, Oudin's age restricts her to playing only 13 professional tournaments. She won a round at the Pacific Life Open earlier this year and will play an event in Marseille next week. She'll try to play in two grass tournaments before the Wimbledon junior tournament. When she turns 17, after the U.S. Open, she and de Villers will map out a schedule that allows for 17 tournaments.

At 5-foot-5, Oudin isn't as big and powerful as the game's top players, but she has an all-court game with plenty of imagination and variety that will win matches in the professional ranks.

De Villers, despite his critique, believes her best surface may ultimately be clay, but not quite yet.

"She likes to put the short balls away," he said. "On clay, that's not always possible. She needs to play more of an angle, develop some patience and work the ball more.

"Clay is a great neutralizer. She'll grow to be comfortable on this surface."

-- Greg Garber

All-American doubles


John Isner and Sam Querrey, who average 6-foot-7½, threw a brief scare into the world's top doubles team, Mike and Bob Bryan, on Sunday.

Team Tall forced the Bryan Brothers to a first-set tiebreaker in the bullring of court No. 1, but ultimately, volley-making overcame pure power. The Bryans won 7-6 (5), 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals. They have won only once here, in 2003, although they reached the finals in 2005 and 2006.

The match was played at the way-to-early hour of 11 in the morning, yet was a festival of hyperactivity; balls were flying everywhere. On the winning set point, Bob Bryan jumped on a short ball and ripped a volley into the press area, which nearly hit U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. At one point, Isner bounced an overhead into the upper deck, more than 15 feet above court level.

McEnroe, it should be noted, was conflicted as he watched. The Bryans are his Davis Cup meal ticket, an almost-automatic point each time out, but he made it a point to cheer for all four players.

When Bud Collins of the Boston Globe noted this, McEnroe responded, "You've got to see the whole picture, Bud."

-- Greg Garber

Perfect in Paris


After a double-bagelicious clock cleaning of Petra Cetkovska, Ivanovic said it was no big deal.

"It was much tougher than it probably looked," Ivanovic said after beating the Czech Republic player 6-0, 6-0. "I had to work really hard, and I played almost without mistake today."

Indeed, she did, winning 59 of 89 points in a smoking 54 minutes. Keep in mind this is the first shutout at this stage of the French Open since Serena Williams did it to Barbara Schett in 2003. This is how Ivanovic rolls -- the No. 2 seed lost only 15 games in four matches. Somehow, she has managed to do this very quietly.

You can make the case that with the retirement of Justine Henin, and the sudden departure of Serena Williams in the third round, Ivanovic is the favorite to win here at Roland Garros. No one left has ever won the French Open, but Ivanovic is one of three former finalists, along with No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 7 Elena Dementieva.

It's never fun to lose a Grand Slam final, but Ivanovic was throttled 6-1, 6-2 by Henin in the 2007 final. So far, she has pathologically avoided talking about what it might be like to win her first Grand Slam singles title.

"That's one thing I don't want to think about," she said. "Obviously, I feel great, all these matches I played, and I feel very confident going into the next round. But I don't want to think too much."

With Serena and Venus Williams removed from her bottom half of the draw, Ivanovic has a reasonable path to the final. Next up is the winner of the Patty Schnyder-Katarina Srebotnik match in the quarterfinals. No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, who has looked tired and vulnerable, is the favorite to reach the semifinals opposite her. Maria Sharapova leads the candidates for the finalist from the top half of the draw.

-- Greg Garber

Blame it on the balls


Jelena Jankovic blamed the heavy balls being used at Roland Garros for the injuries she has picked up over the past week.

After receiving medical attention on a sore wrist during her second-round win on Thursday, the Serbian third seed again asked for the trainer on Sunday, this time requesting a rubdown on her stiff neck and shoulder.

"Here in Roland Garros a lot of players have been suffering with the arm because of the balls," grumbled Jankovic following her 6-3 7-6 (3) fourth-round win over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska.

"The balls are a little bit heavier and I think also Agnieszka, I saw on the screen it showed she had her arm taped, as well.

"I don't know what kind of problems she has but a lot of players have been complaining they have some pain and stiffness in their arm, which is not usual.

"I'm not the only one that is suffering from that but I'm working hard to keep my body in shape to stay injury free. But sometimes you don't have a choice."

-- Reuters

Critics' Choice


Maria Sharapova versus Dinara Safina is an intra-Russian tilt with lots of backstory. Safina has the better form of the two and is going for her 10th straight match win; she broke Sharapova's spirit here two years ago. Then again, a little revenge might be just the thing to focus Sharapova's wobbly game.'s prediction: Safina in three.

-- Bonnie D. Ford