Personally, I really hate the Sunday start that the French Open uses. It feels cheap. But we're stuck with it. Federer and Serena are in action ,but really, they're not worth paying attention to until the thrid round or they're down a lot. Then it gets really good. Barring miracle upsets, here are four matches to watch on Day 1 of the French Open!
It's finaly here. The second major of the year starts tomorrow, with the now customary Sunday start at the French Open. The men's side of the draw comes down to the two usual suspects, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Because of Nadal's almost year long hiatus, he was seeded number three and placed in the same half as Djokovic. It was a 50/50 shot they'd end up on the same half of the draw, and now this arguably makes the draw much more interesting. If they were drawn on opposite sides of the draw, it'd be relatively straightforward. We'd all be waiting for those two to meet in the final. Now, the top half of the draw seems a foregone conclusion, but it's a golden opportunity for those in the bottom half of the draw. Roger Federer, David Ferrer, and Tomas Berdych are the biggest beneficiaries of the draw, and it makes that half very fascinating. After the jump we'll look at each quarter and give a prediction.
Entering the first Major of the year, the Australian Open, many people assumed Serena Williams would run through the draw en route to yet another Major Championship. However, much to the surprise of everyone, fellow American Sloane Stephens took out Williams. Since that match, Serena has gone undefeated and has put together a few impressive performances on clay, perhaps her worst surface. This is just one of the many storylines as the eyes of tennis fans all over the world are on Roland Garros, the site of the French Open. The following is a quarter-by-quarter preview of the 2013 French Open for the women.
Favorite: Serena Williams 
Contender: Angelique Kerber 
Darkhorses: Caroline Wozniacki , Varvara Lepchenko , Laura Robson
The only significance of this quarter of the draw is that it is the first group of players that Serena Williams has to get through in order to win just her second French Open Championship. After a stunning first-round loss to Virginie Razzano of France in last year's French Open, Williams is determined to make some more happy memories in Paris, one of her favorite cities in the world. Her first round opponent this year, Anna Tatishvili, should not give her a lot of trouble. Her first seeded opponent would be Sorana Cirstea, who she could face in the third round. In general, Williams should not really be tested until the quarterfinals, when a possible match with Angelique Kerber looms. As tough as Kerber can be on some surfaces, she struggles on clay and has not had a great year. Meanwhile, Wozniacki, the former World No. 1, has lost four consecutive first-round matches on clay and plays the rising British star Laura Robson in the opening round. Watch out for Robson to take care of business against Caroline and make a deep run in this quarter. Besides Williams, there are two other Americans in this quarter, Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale. Both have winnable first-round matches but could have a hard time making deep runs in this year's tournament. Overall, this draw will not be the most competitive but could feature some interesting match-ups.
Favorite: Sara Errani 
Contenders: Agnieszka Radwanska , Ana Ivanovic 
Darkhorse: Venus Williams 
This quarter of the draw is perhaps the most intriguing of the four. Sara Errani, the surprise French Open Finalist last year, has maintained a high level of play over the course of the past year and has a great chance of making another run this year. Meanwhile, Radwanska, who almost shocked the world by taking Serena Williams to the brink in last year's Wimbledon Final, is more than capable of winning several matches in Paris. The two other seeded players to watch for in this quarter are Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams. Ivanovic is a former French Open Champion and has played some good tennis over the course of the past month on clay, by far her best surface. Williams, meanwhile, has not been playing a lot recently but is always someone to look out for at Majors because of her experience and competitive nature. Besides Williams, three Americans are in this quarter: Mallory Burdette, Madison Keys, and Shelby Rogers. Out of these three, the 18 year-old Keys is the one to watch. She can really hit the ball and could face the No. 11 seed Nadia Petrova in the second round. When all the play is done in this quarter of the draw, expect Errani to be the last one standing because of her experience and how comfortable she is on the red dirt.
Favorite: Victoria Azarenka 
Contenders: Li Na , Maria Kirilenko , Marion Bartoli 
Darkhorse: Yaroslava Shvedova 
This particular of the draw is very top heavy, with each of the top four seeded players (Azarenka, Li, Kirilenko, and Bartoli) possessing a legitimate chance of making it to the semifinals. Azarenka is the obvious choice, having won a few Majors and being one of the best players in the world. Li Na, a former champion at Roland Garros, has a game that is very effective on clay and could give Azarenka trouble if they meet in the quarterfinal round. Kirilenko and Bartoli are both very skilled players who are capable of hanging with the best in the world. Shvedova is definitely the woman to keep an eye on in this quarter because of her knack for pulling off upsets. While her game is more suitable for grass, not clay, she can still make some noise. The Americans in this quarter are: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Coco Vandeweghe. Do not expect either to get very far in this quarter. One other young player to watch in this quarter who I am a big fan of is the "other" young British star, Heather Watson. While she receives a lot less press than Robson, the 21 year-old could be a star in the making and has a very reasonable draw. While every seeded player in this quarter has reason to believe they can make it to the semfinals, I expect Azarenka to be the last one standing, advancing to yet another Major Semifinal.
Favorite: Maria Sharapova 
Contenders: Petra Kvitova , Samantha Stosur , Sloane Stephens 
Darkhorses: Tamira Paszek . Jelena Jankovic 
While a few years ago most people would consider this quarter of the draw wide-open, it has now become pretty clear that it is Maria Sharapova and then everyone else. She has really established herself as the second-best player in the world and her victory in Paris last year proved to everyone that she is a woman for all surfaces. While Kvitova's power game is more suited for grass and hard courts, she is always a force to be reckoned with at Majors. Stosur, meanwhile, has played in two French Open Finals and is very comfortable on clay. Look for her to make quite a run this year at Roland Garros. Sloane Stephens, in my opinion, is the real one to watch in this quarter. She had her Major breakthrough in Australia earlier this year and could be the next big star of women's tennis in America. Paszek and Jankovic are both experienced veterans and are capable of delivering an upset or two. Other than Stephens, a handful of Americans are in this quarter including Jamie Hampton, Lauren Davis, Vania King, and Melanie Oudin. They are definitely worth watching but could have a lot of trouble making a deep runs. Another young player to watch is the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. She just played in her first ever WTA Semifinal and has a very bright future. When all is said and done in this quarter, Sharapova will be the one to advance.
Semifinals: Serena Williams d. Sara Errani, Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka
Final: Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
This year's French Open should be a great one. Be sure to tune in starting tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on ESPN2.
Today it was announced that Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Mardy Fish, and Brian Baker had officially withdrawn from the 2013 French Open. Fish and Baker were not suprises, and their withdraws, while unfortunate for US Men's tennis, don't change the draw at all. Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray not playing, however, do have a big impact on the draw. Del Potro has not been the player he was in 2009, when he won the US Open. However, he can still play a big spoiler role in any tournament he plays. Last year he was up two sets to none on Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, but wasn't able to finish the match off after he suffered an injury. He's comfortable on clay, and without him the draw looks a bit easier for the top players.
Andy Murray also announced that he would not be playing in the French Open, and this one obviously has the most impact on the draw. David Ferrer moves to the number four seed, and Rafael Nadal is bumped up to the third seed. The big four is reduced to a big three, and now the attention is focused on the draw. There's a straight 50/50 chance that Novak Djokovic and Nadal will be in the same half of the draw. If Nadal is on Federer's half, it should be a straightforward walk to the final for both of them, but if they're in the same half, that would be the most anticipated semifinal in a long time. The other half of the draw would open up considerably for Federer, and Ferrer would have a great shot to make a deep run. The draw comes out on Friday, and all eyes will be on the placement of the third and fourth seeds.
After being away for four plus months, we are back and excited about the French Open! It's only one week away, and we have a lot of catching up to do, so click Read More to get your expanded Weekly Wild Card.
3:05: Dustin and I are up, and we're ready to go. Check here for updates.
3:27: We're almost there, as players are about to walk out onto the court. We've been through Darren Cahill in a kilt on a very uncomfortable and hilariously awkward ESPN set, a slightly racist Tom Rinaldi piece on how Li Na is different than most Chinese people because she's funny, and the frightening sight of Pam Shirver and Chris Evert in the booth. Really, it only can get better
3:31: This a fantastic promo. Best one I've ever seen for a women's match on ESPN.
3:44: First ball
3:47: An awful start for Li Na, with some mishits and poor second serves. Azarenka breaks at 30. Not the start Li wanted
3:50: The crowd is overwhelmingly in favor of Li Na. We'll see if Vika is rattled by it at all. Li break back. 1-1
3:55: Finally, a hold! Li Na is up for 2-1.
3:59: Some great shots from Li, putting pressure on Vika, and she breaks for 3-1. She's come out firing, the better player so far
4:05: A couple unforced errors on game points, and Azarenka breaks back for 3-2. Li should have held there, but Azarenka is pumping herself up, and I think we'll have a match here
4:09: What a backhand from Li Na and she breaks again! 4-2 to Li. Let's see if she can hold here
4:12: A hold! Finally! Li Na hits some great shots and she's up 5-2 in the first
4:19: After Azarenka holds to 3-5, Li is broken to 4-5. Let her foot off the gas pedal the last two games, and Azarenka is playing much better now.
4:29: After a long and greuling game, where Li Na had four set points and Azarenka had a couple game points, Azarenka double faulted on set point to give it to Li. It was a very interesting game. There were points where there was some fantastic ball striking, but also some points where they really struggled. Li Na is moving really well, and while she's been a bit more erratic towards the end of the set, she's been the better player
4:35: We thought we had a hold, but actually we didn't. Azarenka breaks to start the second set. Li a bittle wobbly right now, bot playing as well as she had.
4:47: Azarenka has fully worked her way into this match. Breaking twice, and holding in between, and she's fully upped her game. She's starting to push Azarenka around quite a bit, and this match is getting really interesting
4:51: Li snatches some momentum back from Vika, and breaks back to 1-3. This is a huge service game for Li
4:55: Li Na takes a terrible fall and Li Na looks to be in a ton of pain. Very gingerly walking back to her chair. Looked really painful. They're evaluating her now.
4:57: It looks to be her ankle. Worrying sight.
5:02: And Li Na will continue. Ankle is heavily taped. Big point in the match as well
5:03: She showed zero negative effects of the ankle injury, as Li holds for 2-3 with a couple blistering wnners.
5:09: Azarenka pulls out of a 0-40 hole to hold. Some great shotmaking from Vika, and Azarenka is holding on. Li Na needs to forget about the crowd and play tennis
5:15: Clutch hold for Li Na after facing a couple break points of her own. Azarenka will serve at 4-3. There have been a lot of breaks so far, so we'll see if Azarenka can break that trend here and hold for 5-3
5:20: A bad error from Azarenka and we are all even in the second set! 4-4. Great comeback from Li
5:24: A really bad game from Li and Azarenka will serve for the second set!
5:27: We're going three! Azarenka pulls out the second set 6-4. Li will serve to start the second set
5:29: Keep in mind, there will be fireworks. No, actual fireworks. It's Australia Day
5:32: Azarenka is slowly but surely grinding down Li. She breaks for 1-0. Li is missng more, her shots are landing shorter, and now Azarenka is hitting balls by her. Real trouble for Li
5:37: Another double from Vika and the crowd goes wild as Li breaks. This will take awhile, get comfortable
5:39: Li Na actually holds very easily, at 15. She finishes it off with an ace. Here come the fireworks though...
5:55: Li had gone down again wth an apprent knee injury, but is continuing.
5:59:: Azarenka holds for 2-2. It's been weird. That's all I can say
6:04: It seems as if Azarenka is finally pulling away in this match, breaking Li for 3-2.
6:12: Azarenka holds at love, followed by a Li Na hold. Azarenka to serve at 4-3. Is there one more twist in the plot? We'll see.
6:18: Huge hold for Vika after being down 0-30 and facing a break point. Li Na is in real trouble now.
6:23: Victoria Azarenka is your 2013 Australian Open Champion! Now, time for sleep.
The Final of the 2013 Australian Open was supposed to be a grand showdown between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. After Williams was stunned by 19 year-old American Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals, most people assumed the Final would be a re-match between Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Those two women met in the Australian Open Final last year, with Azarenka winning in two sets. As a shock to almost everyone, Sharapova was dismantled by Chinese veteran Na Li in the semifinals, who will now face the aforementioned Azarenka in the Women's Singles Final. Both women are playing in their second Australian Open Final . Li Na lost in heartbreaking fashion to Kim Clijsters two years ago, while Azarenka is the defending Champion. This promises to be a great Final, as both women are in great form. Let's take a quick look at the Women's Singles Final of the 2013 Australian Open.
Na Li  vs. Victoria Azarenka 
Just from taking a look at these two women, it is obvious that this match will be decided on the baseline, as Li and Azarenka are two of the hardest-hitting women in the world. Both favor their backhands, so expect there to be plenty of entertaining backhand-to-backhand to rallies. It will be crucial for both players to take some chances on the forehand side in an attempt to take control of points early. The serve will also be extremely important, especially for Li. Azarenka is one of the best returners in the women's game, and the serve has never been a great strength of the Chinese veteran, although it has definitely improved as of late. Azarenka has been very up and down with her serve throughout most of this tournament, so look for Li to take plenty of chances on the return in order to try to put pressure on the No. 1 player in the world. Aside from on-court tactics, this match seems to be very even. Both have won Major Championships, so nerves should not play a large part in this particular Final. One factor that is worth keeping an eye on, however, is the crowd. Azarenka has never been a popular player, and this will especially be the case after the controvery she caused in her previous match, when she left the court for an apparent injury timeout in order to steady her nerves. Na Li, on the other hand, is a fan favorite in Australia. The crowds always seem willing to embrace her. Look for her to really feed off of the crowd energy, especially early. When all is said and done on Rod Laver Arena, Na Li will be the 2013 Australian Open Champion after winning a dramatic three-set Final. Enjoy the match!
When the draw was made, the first thing everyone looked for was what half of the draw Andy Murray would be in. With the announcement that Murray was in Roger Federer's half, everyone looked towards this semifinal match as the one to see. Coming into the match Murray has been barely been tested, running through all of his inferior opponents very easily. Federer, on the other hand, has had a much tougher draw, facing Tomic, Raonic, and in his last match, had to overcome a very tough Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 5 tight sets. This should be a great match, with the winner getting to play Novak Djokovic in the final. Below we'll look at the match stroke by stroke and see who has the advantage.
While some people are still trying to comprehend the fact thst 19 year-old Sloane Stephens of Plantation, Florida upset the seemingly invincible Serena Williams in three sets to advance to her first ever Grand Slam semifinal, it is time to look forward to the two semifinal matches, which take place several hours from now. Of the four semifinalists, three of them, Maria Sharapova, Na Li, and Victoria Azarenka, have Major Championships. The other semifinalist, the aforementioned Stephens, is playing in only her seventh Major. Do not think that this will serve as a point of intimidation for the American. She is not one to back down to a challenge. Let's take a quick look at the two Women's Semifinals of the 2013 Australian Open.
Na Li  vs. Maria Sharapova 
Maria Sharapova is into yet another Major Semifinal playing arguably the best tennis of her life. She has just dismantled opponent after opponent in this tournament, seemingly recording a 6-0 set in every match she has played. Now that it is the Semifinals, she figures to face more of a challenge from Chinese veteran Na Li, who is coming off of a very impressive upset of No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska. Since Na dropped her husband as her coach and started working with Carlos Rodriguez, she has been awfully hard to beat. She is playing like she did a couple of years ago when she followed up a second-place finish in the Australian Open by winning the French Open, which is still her only Major Championship. While it is obvious that she faces a very tough challenge in Maria Sharapova, expect her to be aggressive and try to play this match on the offensive. Sharapova has been dominant in virtually every aspect of her game so far in Melbourne. She has been blowing opponents off the court from the baseline and continues to keep her opponents off balance with her serve and return. Her serve, which is very often a strength of Sharapova, has also been a weakness in spots. Expect Na Li to really go after the return. However, Na will have to play smart if she is going to advance to her second Australian Open Final. This match should be a great one to watch, and I am looking for Sharapova to advance in two air-tight sets.
Victoria Azarenka  vs. Sloane Stephens 
Victoria Azarenka is supposed to be in the Semifinals of a Major. Sloane Stephens is not. However, do not expect this small fact to faze the young American, who will be walking onto Rod Laver Arena expecting to win and book her spot in what she hopes to be the first of many Grand Slam Finals. Stephens, who is coming off an emotional roller-coaster of a match against Serena Williams, has all of the tools necessary to beat a player like Azarenka. She has tremendous power off both wings and can win some free points with her serve. Azarenka, who has looked very impressive throughout this tournament for the most part, must like her chances against the 19 year-old American but still needs to be on the top of her game. She will need to serve well and push Stephens from side to side from the baseline. If she lets Sloane gain the offensive in long groundstroke rallies, another upset could be in the making. It will also be interesting to see the reaction of the Australian crowd during this match. They have come to adore Stephens, and this could really help the Florida native, especially if she seems a bit fatigued in the beginning of the match. Playing back-to-back days is never easy, especially after such an emotional match like the one she played yesterday. She cannot afford to start slowly, as Vika will sense weakness and run away with the match. In what I think will be the more entertaining of the two Finals, Azarenka will advance in three dramatic sets.
Enjoy the tennis, which begins at 9:30 PM ET on ESPN2 with Na Li vs. Maria Sharapova. Stephens vs. Azarenka will follow.
Tonight brings the end of the quarterfinal stage in the 2012 Australian Open, and it features two matches on the men's side. One's a blockbuster match featuring the greatest of all time and someone who has beaten him before on the biggest stage. The other is admittedly, a bit lackluster, but has the potential to be very entertaining.
Men's Singles Quarterfinal
Andy Murray vs. Jeremy Chardy
This one isn't the del Potro-Murray quarterfinal that many had hoped for. Chardy, from France, has been playing out of his mind this tournament, and so Murray should have a tough opponent on his hands. However, at the end of the day, Murray's Murray, and is the clear favorite to advance. He just has to play up to his normal level, not have too many lows during the match, and not let Chardy believe he can win. It shouldn't be the most difficult match for Murray, but if Chardy wins a set, especially in the first two, he might believe he can win, Still, Murray in straight sets.
Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
This is the main event of the evening, and it pits two crowd favorites against each other. Tsonga is loved by crowds for his great shotmaking and showmanship, and Federer is consistently the most popular athlete in Australia. Federer is the favorite by virtue of his form here in Melbourne as well as his historical record, but Tsonga is an extremely dangerous opponent. Who can forget the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinal where Federer took a two set to love lead and then watched passively as Tsonga stormed back to win in five? Federer fans still have nightmares about that match, and Tsonga's huge serve and forehand can take over any match when he's on. For Federer, the draw on paper has been extremely tough, but he's remained focused the entire tournament and been in form, avoiding any potential pitfalls so far. This has the potential to be an epic match, and I'm going with Federer in four thrilling sets.