The ones to watch
To acquire the Roland Garros crown takes guts, sweat and grit. The Paris terre battue is unforgiving. Any tactical naivety can be exposed by even the journeymen and women of the circuit. So who are the contenders for the second grand slam of the year? Barney and Paul select their favourites...
BARNEY: The Spanish like Roland Garros – in the last 20 years Sergi Bruguera (twice), Carlos Moya, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Rafael Nadal (four) have triumphed – and my considerable gut reckons David Ferrer may be next in line should the mighty Rafa slip on a wayward Parisian banana skin. The 28-year-old, who is ranked 11 but has been as high as 4 in the world, has won one clay tournament this year in Mexico and reached the final in two others. He lost to Nadal in the final in Rome and Federer in the semis in Madrid, where he beat Andy McMurraymint on the way. Ferrer is in good nick; this could be his moment.
PAUL: More like so near so Ferrer. He’s a couple of well-played key moments off being a champion. He’s never beaten Federer in 10 matches and four have been on clay. Nadal "owns" him as the pundits say in this testosterone-fuelled environment.
BARNEY: I like the cut of this lad's jib, he lives up to his Tabasco monicker with some spicy play on and off court - the fellow numbers Ana Ivanovic and Gisela Dulko among his conquests. He also goes into the tournament in decent nick having reached the final of the Nice Open. His big problem, though, is that he is Spain's number 2 - and he is due to meet Spain's number 1 in the last eight.
PAUL: He failed to turn up in the Monte Carlo Masters final against Nadal. And my concern is that if he’s up against one of the big boys, his mental strength will be his failing. Verdasco has the repertoire to go deep in the tournament. He’s a left hander, serves powerfully and has a forehand topspin just as vicious as Nadal’s.
BARNEY: You have got to love Gulbis. He is one of the scruffiest players to hit the court since JP McEnroe but he has a wonderful harum-scarum approach which is thrilling to watch. As a teenager two years ago he made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros but in 12 grand slams he has only passed the second round on one other occasion. He has had a good clay court season so far, beating Federer in three sets, to reach the semi-finals in Rome where he lost to Nadal in three. In Madrid he was also going well until Fed had his revenge in the semis. A dangerous floater who could meet Fed in the quarters.
PAUL: Is Gulbis the new Marat Safin? He is talented but his silver-spooned background begs the question: which Gulbis will turn up? The big server with the crunching forehands or the effete loafer? At least Safin had the US open at the age of 20 and later the Australian Open before going on his twinkle-eyed playboy walkabout.
BARNEY: It would be churlish not to include Venus. She is pushing on a bit now and would dearly love to add the French Open to the five Wimbledon titles and two US crowns that she has won. She sometimes struggles on clay, her game better suited to the faster and less feral surfaces where she doesn’t need to scurry and scamper to such an extent. Losing 6-0 6-1 to Jelena Jankovic in Rome and then to Aravane Rezai in the final of the Madrid Open were certainly set-backs to her preparations but with time running out, Venus knows this could be her last chance to go one better that in 2002 when she lost to her sister Serena in the final. And Venus is perhaps the grittiest fighter on the tour. Never rule her out.
PAUL: Venus looks the part on grass but for me she’s never appeared at ease on clay. Have to admit there’ve been times when Serena hasn’t sported the traditional physique of a tennis player. Serena, for me, is the likelier of the duo to lift the title. But even if they both fail – two girls at number one and two in the world is a wondrous result. Go sister.
BARNEY: A breakthrough season for Rezai who surprised everybody - not least her opponent in the final, Venus Williams – with an impressive victory on clay at the Madrid Open. Rezai, who represented Iran as a junior, is a real crowd-pleaser, a risk-taker whose black and gold outfits give her a touch of glamour. In Paris , she will be a real home favourite. She has now won three tournaments in the last 12 months – in Strasbourg , Indonesia and Madrid – and appears to be growing in confidence. If all goes according to plan she may get another crack at Venus in the last 16 but, after Madrid, she won’t be losing sleep over that just yet.
PAUL: Never underestimate the ogre that is expectation. Rezai’s result in Madrid was brilliant but does she have the mind and the ability to give a packed Centre Court their home-grown success? Amelie Mauresmo, the former French number one, had the shots to win Roland Garros but she was fragility incarnate once the corporate crowds had waddled back to their seats from their Chablis drenched hospitality tents. I expect nothing from Rezai.
BARNEY: The three-time winner is back in town. Two years after quitting the game, Henin is out of retirement and looking for a Grand Slam. Only a fool (or Paul) would write her off in Paris where she was undisputed champ from 2005-2007. This year she has already reached the final of the Australian Open where she lost in three to Serena Williams. She has followed that with victory in Stuttgart although her most recent outing in Madrid ended in defeat at the hands of Rezai. Henin is in line to face Maria Sharapova in the last 16 and Serena in the quarter-finals. Watch this space.
PAUL: Have to admit Henin is not my favourite player. I went off her when she played fast and loose with the fair play rules a few years back against Serena Williams in a quarter final. But her track record in Paris puts her up with the greats. She has the lust for victory and the best backhand in the business. Slight of frame she may be, but she is no pushover. My tip for the title.