Think back a year, to the 2012 French Open, when everything changed by a hair.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga missed four match points and lost in the quarterfinals to Novak Djokovic, who reached the final for the chance to be the first man since Rod Laver (though not in a calendar year as Laver did) since 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams. In the final, Rafael Nadal was aided by an opportunistic rainout that doused a furious Djokovic comeback from two sets down. Nadal regrouped, returned the next day and won his record seventh French Open title.
Nadal-Djokovic is the headliner for this Roland Garros 2013, and the two could meet in a blockbuster semifinal. Djokovic is still chasing his first French Open title, and with his Australian Open championship, he can still potentially win all four majors this year. Nadal is back, playing virtually unbeatable tennis, but it was Djokovic who destroyed him at Monte Carlo so convincingly that he looks to be the only player capable of beating Nadal in a five-set match.
A collision course of the two would make for high drama, but even without Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, who both withdrew with injuries, the men's draw is full of wonder and intrigue, the draw extremely competitive from the start. A look:
Djokovic begins his quest with Belgium's David Goffin, the boyish whirlwind who did an unlikely star turn here last year when he dazzled the crowd and even took a set off Roger Federer. But the real fun is a potential third-round match between Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov, the rising Bulgarian who beat Djokovic at the Masters 1000 in Madrid.
More early fun features two unpredictable, inconsistent talents in a potential second-round encounter between shot-makers Alexandr Dolgopolov and Bernard Tomic, whose father is banned from the tournament for allegedly assaulting Tomic's hitting partner.
Prediction: Djokovic, after beating Tommy Haas in a spirited rematch of their Miami contest, won by Haas
Nadal's season ended at Wimbledon last year with a shocking second-round loss to 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol. He would miss the next seven months with a left knee injury. Since then, Rosol has played well and improved to 36th in the world. Since returning, Nadal has played eight tournaments, made all eight finals and won six tournaments, including Masters 1000 titles at Indian Wells, Madrid and Rome.
So the matchup to watch is a potential third-round Rosol-Nadal encounter, this time on clay.
The draw is relatively easy for Nadal until some intriguing fourth-round matchups that could take place.
Richard Gasquet, the world No. 9, lost to Janowicz in Rome and would relish a potential fourth-round matchup, but the prediction here is a Nadal-Janowicz quarterfinal, which will be the best early chance for an upset of Nadal.
Prediction: Nadal def. Janowicz
This is the land of the big hitters, the province of big man tennis with 6-foot-5 Tomas Berdych and the talented and cocky Latvian Ernests Gulbis. (Those two could meet in a tantalizing second-round matchup.) Four of the top 10 leaders in aces -- Milos Raonic (1,002), Nicolas Almagro (654), Berdych (649) and Kevin Anderson (638) -- are in this bracket. So naturally, the top seed must be 5-foot-9 David Ferrer, the giant killer.
In addition to the big men, it is a bracket filled with unspectacular but competent and dangerous clay-court players, such as Andreas Seppi, Michael Llodra and Tommy Robredo, plus crowd favorite Frenchman Gael Monfils, the former world No. 7 trying to recover from a serious knee injury. Monfils plays Berdych in the first round.
If the bracket holds true, look for fourth-round battles between Raonic and Ferrer and a continuing of the bad blood between Almagro and Berdych. But in the end, Ferrer should emerge. After being destroyed by Nadal in the Acapulco final, he has been close to beating Nadal in Rome and Madrid.
Prediction: Ferrer def. Berdych, denying Ferrer the chance to humiliate his countryman Almagro for a 10th straight time
Roger Federer is more vulnerable than ever, having been crushed in the Rome final by Nadal 6-1, 6-3. But just making the final was a triumph for Federer because it was his first of the year. It is the first time since his third year on tour, in 2000, that Federer has reached Roland Garros having not yet won a title. Aside from Nadal and Djokovic, Federer is the best clay-court player in the draw (ahead of Ferrer because Ferrer has never beaten him on any surface, a clean 0-14). But if ever there was a chance to take the great Federer out at a major, it is now, before the speedy grass at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
That said, Federer has a relatively easy draw to reach the quarterfinals, a third-round match with Julien Benneteau, who beat him earlier this year in Rotterdam, and the professional, underpowered Gilles Simon the only potential pitfalls.
On the other side, there is the intriguing, maddening Tsonga, whose slow starts and curious shot selections have gotten him in trouble against the better players but whose classic with Djokovic last year has made him believe. Marin Cilic, a potential fourth-round opponent, is one of them. There is plenty of evidence that if he gets there, Tsonga is ready to finally eliminate Federer. The two played a terrific five-setter in the Melbourne quarters, but whether the mercurial Tsonga can play disciplined and tough enough has always been the question.
Prediction: Federer def. Tsonga, but don't bet too much of the bank account on this one
Semifinals: Ferrer def. Federer; Djokovic def. Nadal
Final: Djokovic def. Ferrer