Three To See, French Open: May 26
Opposing strengths are at play here: Blake's flat forehand can be an imposing weapon when he's landing it, while Troicki's two-handed backhand is his best groundstroke. Blake will try to control the center of the court, run around his backhand, and hammer his forehand into the corners. Troicki would be wise to engage Blake in cross-court backhand exchanges—patience is typically not part of the former world No. 4's game plan, and he will unload when cornered.
Troicki has been vulnerable in the opening round of majors, failing to survive the first round in three of his last six Grand Slam starts. If the 33-year-old Blake, who can heat up in a hurry, can burst out of the blocks quickly, it could get interesting. Troicki is prone to getting tight and overly emotional. Still, the Serbian owns a stinging serve and reached the fourth round of the French in 2011, while Blake, whose least favorite surface is clay, has never been beyond the third round in Paris.
The Pick: Troicki in four sets
The Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska 2012 Wimbledon final went the distance, and now their sisters square off in a first-round clash that is a danger match for Venus.
Urszula, 22, is ranked just seven spots behind the 30th-ranked Venus, is 10 years younger than the veteran American, and has played almost twice as many matches this season. She also beat 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in the opening round of Rome, her second clay-court win over a Top 15-ranked opponent in the past month.
Venus is 54-4 in the opening round of Grand Slams, with her lone French Open first-round loss coming to Barbara Schett in 2001. I don't discount Radwanska's shot of scoring the upset given Venus' relative inactivity, and the latter's ongoing battle with Sjögren's syndrome means she can't predict her energy level on match day. If Radwanska can extend Venus in rallies and prolong matters, she should feel confident: The Pole is 5-1 in her last six three-setters.
But ultimately, Venus is the more explosive player—her serve and return are the biggest shots on the court—she has a lot more experience (her 56 matches at the French Open is most among active players; Radwanska has one career win in Paris), and I believe she'll prevail.
The Pick: V. Williams in two sets
Kiki Bertens vs. (26) Sorana Cirstea
Head-to-head: First meeting
Aggressive baseliners with almost identical records this season—Bertens is 15-13, Cirstea is 14-13—face off for the first time. Expect these two to forgo any extended feeling-out period. Both women will take big swings when the ball is in their strike zone and sometimes indulge the urge for riskier down-the-line drives, even when stretched out wide. Cirstea may be a bit more mobile around the court than the 6'0" Bertens, but the Romanian does not like to defend and will sometimes over-hit when pushed on the run.
The 56th-ranked Bertens swept 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in Rome last week, then pushed 16th-ranked Sloane Stephens to three sets. Both have surged in the City of Light; sometimes, when players return to cities where they've enjoyed past success, they play with more confidence and vigor. Bertens played through qualifying and won six straight matches to reach the Paris Indoor semifinals in February; Cirstea reached the French Open quarterfinals in 2009, but has lost in the opening round in two of the past three years. Cirstea's tendency to force shots is a concern, but she's a clean ball striker who can crack her serve and should advance.
The Pick: Cirstea in three sets