PARIS -- The weather was disturbingly unsettled at Roland Garros on Monday. Rain pushed back the start about an hour, and from leaden skies it continued to sprinkle across the grounds as the early matches were being played.
For the first time in years, the men's draw appears to be similarly unpredictable. No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal has won 59 of his 60 matches here -- and an unprecedented eight titles in nine years -- but he's been something less than the celebrated King of Clay in the weeks leading to this French Open.
In some minds, including those of the people who make a living by understanding these things (the bookmakers), No. 2 Novak Djokovic technically is the favorite. The biggest piece of evidence they cite is the recent final in Rome, when Djokovic hammered Nadal right off the court.
Djokovic stayed hot in his first-round match here, dusting Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. And Nadal, for his part, responded with a powerful 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 win against Robby Ginepri after the dusk and storm clouds disappeared from Roland Garros.
As the fortnight unfurls, this is the most compelling storyline: Can Djokovic win his first title here and complete his career Grand Slam? Or will Nadal heroically revert to the clay champion he was and put a dreamy ninth title on the board? ESPN.com's two attendees in Paris, tennis editor Matt Wilansky and senior writer Greg Garber, humbly offered their observations on the subject that is sure to dominate as the tournament progresses for the inaugural installation of Baseline Buzz.
Garber: Full disclosure out of the box. I picked Djokovic to beat Nadal in the US Open final last year and was, as it turned out, sadly mistaken. I chose him again for our Experts' Picks feature to win here after watching the Rome final, and after seeing the same result with my own eyes in the final at Miami. Neither match was close; Djokovic was dominant, and Rafa looked, well, baffled. I felt good about the pick ... until I actually got to Paris. Watching Rafa practice Saturday on Court 5 (he was out there for more than two hours), I began to wonder whether I had been hasty in disrespecting The King. He was lashing heavy, heavy forehands and pounding serves and looking extremely comfortable, like an otter splashing around in a stream. After Rafa was banished to Suzanne Lenglen for his first match against Robby Ginepri, I'm thinking he'll roll through the draw with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. The one unbreakable, cardinal rule of tennis: Never bet against Nadal at the French Open -- and that's just what I did. Genius.