The 2011 French Open is upon us, a waiting world settles in to watch the dust fly for two weeks as May turns to June in Paris. The tennis courts have been buffed to an orangey sheen. The draw is Friday, mere hours away. Below, five players to watch at Roland Garros 2011:
1. Novak Djokovic. Riding the mother of all hot streaks and within three wins of catching John McEnroe's all-time straight victories record, the World No. 2 will reach a singularity of hype if he makes the finals here. The Serb has never made it past the semis at Roland Garros, but his play over the past 39 matches has proven he can beat anyone, on any surface, including clay, long the sole provenance of Rafael Nadal.
2. Maria Sharapova. The women's field is as uncertain as the men's is categorically hierarchical, but after her surprise win over Sam Stosur at the finals in Rome, Sharapova seems as poised as humanly possible for a run to the tourney finals that could secure a career grand slam. Like Djokovic, she's never made it past the semis in Paris, but she has all the momentum after taking the Italian Open (a path that included mowing down world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki) despite not being known for prowess on clay.
3. Rafael Nadal. That the five-time French Open champ, the defending champ, ranks third on this list speaks volumes to the quality of play on display from Djokovic this season. The Spaniard is 3-0 against Djokovic in Paris, but has lost two clay tourneys to his ranking inferior in a fortnight, and four of the last six finals in which they've faced one another.
4. Kim Clijsters. After six weeks on the shelf following an injury at a wedding party, the world No. 2 is apparently set to play at Roland Garros, despite operating with about half a properly functioning limb at the moment:
"Playing is going wonderful. I am hitting the ball very well and increasingly I am going for it," she said. "I am not totally without pain, but the strong tape round my ankle gives me sufficient security."
The defending U.S. and Australian Open champ could be en route to a calendar Grand Slam and more if she notches her first-ever victory in Paris.
5. Roger Federer. Remember him? The 2009 winner is going to be a media afterthought at the 2011 tournament. Ranked World No. 3 after a relatively disappointing stretch of play, look for any struggles on Fed-Fed's part to be attributed to his selfish devotion to his hot wife and twin daughters.
French Open play begins in Paris on Sunday, May 22. Track your favorite players at Roland Garros with our full 2011 French Open TV schedule.