Can Federer make it two in a row?
Those longing for the big three plus Andy Murray at the Paris Masters will be disappointed. There's no Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic is a question mark after re-injuring his shoulder in Basel. We can only hope the quartet appears at the World Tour Finals later in November.
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Only three spots have yet to be filled at the year-end championships, and unlike years past, No. 6, 7 and 8 in the race -- in this case Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish -- are almost locks to qualify.
But the show indeed does go on, and the passionate French fans will be out in full force, as usual, hoping Tsonga or another of their own goes deep in Bercy.
Here's a breakdown of the draw at the season's final regular-season event.
First quarter: Will he or won't he?
After Djokovic lost to Kei Nishikori in the Basel semis, he didn't say anything about pulling out of Paris, although he admitted he wouldn't hit for a few days. That's a hint.
No one wants to see a world No. 1 bail from a tournament -- well, maybe his opponents -- but the Serb should do just that. He has London to consider, and there's nothing Djokovic would like more than to win in England, perhaps beating Nadal again in the process, to put an exclamation point on 2011.
Djokovic's first opponent would be Fabio Fognini. Yes, the same Fognini who handed Djokovic a walkover at Roland Garros, thus ensuring Djokovic wouldn't tie Johnny Mac's record men's winning streak to start a campaign.
If Djokovic plays, he'd be rusty and less than 100 percent, so either Fognini, or more likely Ivan Dodig, who took a set off Nole in Melbourne, gets him at the right time. And look who looms in the third round: Nishikori.
Tsonga, though, is the man to watch. He always plays well in France, feeding off the crowd, and won the Paris Masters in 2008.
Second quarter: Gael the guy to beat?
All this talk about Juan Martin del Potro making a late push to reach the year-end championships was comical, since it was pretty evident he didn't want to play in London. If he did, he wouldn't have skipped the Asian swing.
Del Potro is, instead, gearing up for the Davis Cup final at Spain, determined to erase painful memories of 2008 when he was upset on home soil by Feliciano Lopez. Fellow Argentine David Nalbandian didn't like the fact Delpo pushed himself hard in the fall back then and played at the Masters Cup in China, which he felt took away from del Potro's Davis Cup prep. And late Sunday, del Potro withdrew from Paris with a right shoulder injury.
The quarter thus becomes easier for Gael Monfils. Monfils needs to win in Paris to stay in the London hunt, and you wouldn't put it past him considering he reached the final last year. But he also needs major help from elsewhere.
David Ferrer is the highest seed, yet the Spaniard has always underachieved in Paris, Bercy included.
Third quarter: Fed looks to parlay Basel title in Paris
Federer, victorious in his hometown of Basel on Sunday, is an adopted Frenchman. You could draw no other conclusion after witnessing the French Open semifinals, when the crowd on center court backed him against Djokovic in a Davis Cup-like frenzy.
He'll continue to get overwhelming support -- unless he meets Richard Gasquet in the third round or Gilles Simon in the quarterfinals. Both have defeated Federer before. (Adrian Mannarino, a third Frenchman, will play Federer in the second round if he overcomes Dmitry Tursunov.)
It's the end of the season and Federer has a title to defend in London, but the 30-year-old won't be lacking in motivation: Paris is the only Masters tournament where Federer has never reached the final.
Fish has a nice cushion in eighth in the London race, and it's a good thing because no one is sure how his body will hold up -- he had to retire against James Blake in Basel with a hamstring injury. Fish will be tested in his first match, facing either an in-form Florian Mayer or Czech veteran Radek Stepanek.
Fourth quarter: The two Andys
Murray is part of the walking wounded, too, having to withdraw from Basel because of an issue with his sciatic nerve. His 15-match winning streak, though, remains intact.
If he downs Valencia champ Marcel Granollers or French wild card Jeremy Chardy, Murray's third-round match figures to be a blockbuster. Odds are he'll tussle with Andy Roddick or Milos Raonic -- and how's that for a third-rounder?
Roddick orchestrated one of the shots of the year when he beat Raonic in February's Memphis final, diving to slap a forehand past the towering Canadian on match point. Those were better times for both: Raonic has since had hip surgery, while Roddick has had a few different injuries, and his close friend and agent, Ken Meyerson, recently died.
Roddick was crushed by Federer in Basel, and the last time he confronted Murray, at Queen's in June, the Scot toyed with the U.S. No. 2, cruising 6-3, 6-1.
Janko Tipsarevic features in this section, and like del Potro, he must reach the final and get help to nail down a berth in London. Progressing to the quarterfinals looks attainable, but then his task becomes harder. Tipsarevic has played a lot of tennis lately and retired in Basel with a hamstring injury.
Semifinal predictions: Tsonga def. Monfils, Murray def. Federer
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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