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Three To See, French Open: May 27

Sunday, May 26, 2013 /by

Laura Robson vs. (10) Caroline Wozniacki
Head-to-head: First meeting

The first round has been the final stop for Wozniacki recently. Since reaching the Charleston quarterfinals last month, the former No. 1 has hit the skids, suffering four straight opening-round losses, and is now in danger of losing her Top 10 spot with an ignominious 0-for-the-European clay-court-season.

At her best, Wozniacki is a scrapper willing to grind for every point, but she's not nearly at her best now. Playing on her worst surface and mired in one of her worst slumps, she could be completely deflated, or fired up to throw everything she's got at Robson in an effort to prevent her third opening-round loss in her last four Grand Slam tournaments.

If you're dazzled by the easy power Robson generates from her fluid lefty forehand, I'm with you. But she's 8-12 this season for a reason: The talented Brit can lose her range on serve and that forehand, and struggle to put complete matches together. Still, put Robson on a show court against a seed and she can put on a show—she beat Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters and Li Na in succession at the 2012 U.S. Open, and upset Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open in January. I think Robson will rise to the occasion on Court Suzanne Lenglen as well.

The Pick: Robson in two sets

Gael Monfils vs. (5) Tomas Berdych
Head-to-head: Berdych leads 3-0

Former French Open semifinalists meet in a match that pits Berdych's baseline aggression against Monfils' elastic defense. Both are in good form: Berdych beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic en route to his second straight Masters semifinal in Rome, while former world No. 7 Monfils has won nine of his last 10 clay-court matches, capturing the Bordeaux Challenger title and reaching the Nice final on Saturday.

Pained by knee and back injuries, Monfils remains a tremendous mover who will have plenty of room to run on Court Chatrier, which is the largest Grand Slam center court (in terms of space outside the lines) in the sport. The 6'4" Frenchman combines sprinter's speed with the sculpted physique of a superhero, but often retreats too far behind the baseline, relying on his retrieval skills to play counter-punching tennis.

Playing his 39th consecutive Grand Slam, Berdych has reached the semifinals of every major except the Australian Open, but he's not immune to the opening-round upset. Big Berd was grounded by Ernests Gulbis right off the bat at Wimbledon last year, and fell to 140th-ranked Stephane Robert in his 2011 opener here—his second opening-round exit in Paris in the past four years.

Monfils is a showman who thrives on the big stage and can dazzle with his court coverage, but Berdych can deconstruct his defense with flat blasts, and that force should thwart the entertainer.

The Pick: Berdych in four sets

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. (22) Ekaterina Makarova
Head-to-head: Kuznetsova leads 2-1

Russian Fed Cup teammates are opponents in a compelling first-rounder. The left-handed Makarova contested her second straight Australian Open quarterfinal in January, beat three Top 25 players—including Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka—to reach the Madrid quarterfinals earlier this month, and has had some success in Paris, too: She reached the fourth round in singles in 2011 and was a doubles quarterfinalist last year.

Makarova's serve and lefty cross-court forehand are both weapons, and she can be aggressive on the return. Kuznetsova has all the shots; it's her head that concerns me. The 2009 French Open champion sometimes bails out on points, throwing in a drop shot or indulging herself with a low-percentage drive down the line. When things go wrong she beats herself up mentally and her game can become collateral damage.

Kuznetsova's temperament reminds me a little bit of Marat Safin in that she sometimes plays her best when expectations are at their least. She's not seeded here, so theoretically she shouldn't feel as much pressure. Kuznetsova can drop back and play heavy topspin or use her net skills to attack, and I believe she's the better mover on clay. She's also won her last five matches against Russian opponents, including a 6-4, 6-4 win over Makarova in Miami in March, and I see her advancing to the second round for the 10th consecutive year.

The Pick: Kuznetsova in three sets


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