With Roland Garros approaching, our experts take a look at the storylines that could unfold in Paris.
Our panel: doubles legend Todd Woodbridge, Australian Open mixed doubles champion Scott Draper and former top 40 star Nicole Pratt
If the men's final came down to a dream final between Novak and Rafa, who would you see as the victor?
Woodbridge: I’m going to choose Novak. I think his form over the last few years has been outstanding. It’s a matter of believing you can beat somebody on the big stage at that court, and by beating Rafa in Monte Carlo on clay in a big tournament final, I think that’s set up his season. I don’t think he’d be too worried at all about not having too many matches in the last few weeks … He’d feel fresh and his focus is on winning the French. That would have been his absolute plan – I don’t think he wanted to play too much tennis after winning Monte Carlo.
Draper: Court Philippe Chatrier is Rafa's second home but Novak was dominant in Monte Carlo over Rafa which would surely give him a psychological edge. I'd back Novak in for the final.
Pratt: No question at this given moment that Rafa would best Novak. Novak's form has been a little inconsistent on the clay whereas Rafa has been impeccable. Rafa is potentially in the best clay court form of his life and that's scary to think after already having won seven French Open titles.
How do you think the great Roger Federer will fare?
Woodbridge: It’s a big ask for him to win the French. I don’t think his form this year has been as good as he would really like it. He got crunched by Rafa in the final in Rome; of course he got to the final, which is a great result for most people. But not for him. I’d love to see him win more majors – I’m a fan – but it’s getting tougher for him.
Draper: Federer is always good for a semi. I'm not sure if I believe that Roger can beat Novak or Rafa (especially) at the French and the main reason for me thinking this way is because I don't think he believes it deep down either.
Pratt: Based on Roger's form in Rome, which has very similar playing conditions to Paris, Roger is a lock in for a semifinal berth in Paris. He rises for the Grand Slams but even after winning the French it is not his best surface to win his next Grand Slam.
If Maria comes up against Serena (most likely in the final), what chance does she have of defending her title?
Woodbridge: I think if they get to the final, Serena is just dominant. It was extraordinary for Sam Stosur to beat (Serena) in that US Open final, and I don’t think we’ll see Serena lose too many more finals for the rest of her career, because I think that one really hurt. If she gets in form and goes deep, she’s impossible to stop. Between the two of them on clay, it’s neither of their best surface, but I think Serena is better on it than Maria.
Draper: Zero – unless Serena rolls her ankle.
Pratt: Serena is in devastating form, and definitely is the favourite going into Paris. Maria has shown time and time again she is a fierce competitor and will back herself to make another final. Serena's toughest matches will be in the earlier rounds and if she does get through then an occasion like a final she will not let slip even if Maria is her final opponent.
Which other female player could break the stranglehold that Serena and Maria currently hold over the clay court events?
Woodbridge: The one woman who seriously could, if it goes right, is Sam (Stosur). She’s the outsider who could break that stranglehold. I don’t think you can ever take Azarenka out of the equation either given (her form) the past two years. Azarenka would be the favourite to do it, and I think Sam is the only other one who can. There are a couple of other players who are going to have a good tournament, like Sara Errani, but they don’t have the weapons to actually finish it off.
Draper: Honestly though, no-one over Serena right now. Based on Maria's movement on clay, she is really beatable on the dirt, especially by players such as Azarenka, Stosur, etc.
Pratt: The clay and conditions at Roland Garros test everyone, on any given day. Even though she has not had the wins in the last month, Sam Stosur is a player Maria and Serena would fear on their side of the draw. Sam has the weapons to beat both Maria and Serena, and her belief in her abilities in Paris are high with semifinal and final showings in three of the past four years.
How are the Australians likely to fare on a surface that's not traditionally their strongest?
Woodbridge: I think in the next 12 months at one of the slams, Ash Barty’s going to reach the third or fourth round. I just see her skill level being able to take her there, with the right draw. I say that without wanting to put pressure on her because I don't think she’s going to hit her straps for another three or four years … in terms of our men, it’s going to be tough to see them going super well. I think for all of our men it’s about playing really good tennis, potentially winning a couple of matches and taking that over to the grass where they all play better.
Draper: Sam is always a chance of doing well. If any other players were to reach the fourth round (male or female), I think they've done really well.
Pratt: On the men's side our best chance of a result is Lleyton as he is such a fierce competitor. Bernard had a strong start to the year but his clay form has not been to a level that reflects his current ranking. On the women's side I will watch with excitement when Ash Barty takes to the court. She has another valuable year under her belt since last year losing to Kvitova, and is positioned to win through a few rounds with a favourable draw. As I have mentioned, Sam Stosur is capable of beating every player in the draw, and that will take a player a long way in the tournament.