Although the rankings measure a player's year-round performance, recent results and playing conditions are also important in assessing the field going into a Grand Slam. Wimbledon has its grass-court seedings formula, which moves up those who have done well on that surface in the past. The US Open has the US Open Series, and gives bonuses to those who do the best coming into the tournament. But the French Open confers no privilege for succeeding on clay, although some players enjoy a distinct advantage on it -- even in these days of reduced specialization.
Still, seeing how players have done in similar conditions can identify the favorites and indicate who might be dangerous. So here's a look at which players have collected the most clay-court points in the tournaments leading into the year's second major and what it might mean for the French Open.
Novak Djokovic stands No. 2 with just two events played and showed little sign of his wrist injury while winning Rome last week. He and Nadal are the front-runners, in clay points and for the French Open, by some margin. The top four or five players are also well ahead of the rest, and the most surprising name in this group is Kei Nishikori. He has had two strong performances, winning an upset-filled tournament in Barcelona and reaching the final of Madrid -- and might have been higher if he had managed to finish what he started against Nadal in the final. The question now is whether he can maintain his recent level at the French Open.
Stanislas Wawrinka had one standout result, winning Monte Carlo, but did little at the other Masters events. His season of extremes continues. And David Ferrer, despite looking a little vulnerable coming in, has been his consistent self.
Behind them are two emerging talents who both made the semifinals of Rome: Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic. Dimitrov has had two strong events, continuing his improving results this year. Raonic has been surprisingly consistent on the clay, which is especially impressive given that it's not suited to his big-serving game. They could make their sections of the draw very interesting. Then there's Roger Federer, who reached the final in Monte Carlo before becoming father to twin boys and going out in the first round of Rome. That means it's anyone's guess what he might do in Paris.
Also notable are players who are used to clay and are having good runs, making them upset threats. That includes Santiago Giraldo, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Nicolas Almagro. The latter looked as if he was turning things around, reaching the final of Houston and defeating Nadal at Barcelona, but Almagro drew Andy Murray in the first round of Madrid and has been dealing with injury. But he could still have a good run at the French Open. Houston champ Fernando Verdasco, however, hasn't followed that victory with anything significant.
There are also a few top names who aren't there. This includes Murray, who has played only two events but did take Nadal to three sets at Rome, and Fabio Fognini, who had won 23 of 25 clay-court matches until he wobbled physically and mentally in the European clay events. Either Fognini could show up at the French Open next week. And John Isner, the top-ranked American, is having problems playing outside the United States, as usual.
But the breakout name is Ana Ivanovic, who is at No. 3 after going three sets with Sharapova in the final of Stuttgart and then beating the Russian at Rome on her way to the semifinals. The 2008 French Open champion is once again looking like a top player after improving her results this season. Behind her are Rome finalist Sara Errani, Madrid finalist Simona Halep and Carla Suarez Navarro, who won Oeiras. Both Errani and Suarez Navarro are at their most effective on clay, and Halep has continued her strong results over the past year.
Agnieszka Radwanska is at No. 7 largely through being consistent, and No. 8 Jelena Jankovic and No. 11 Petra Kvitova both managed to make the semifinals of one of the big tournaments but also had opportunities to do more -- enough to give all three a good buildup ahead of the French Open. But they leave room for improvement.
Rounding things out are some young players such as Caroline Garcia and Belinda Bencic, who had good runs as qualifiers, and veterans such as former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has played well at times but has been inconsistent. Another former titlist, Li Na, is at No. 11, with her two clay quarterfinals not as strong as her start to the season.
Notable top-10 absences include Victoria Azarenka, who has not played the clay tournaments because of a foot injury and will miss the French, as well as Dominika Cibulkova and Angelique Kerber, neither of whom has gone deep at any of her recent events.