PARIS - Everything about tennis is topsy-turvy heading into the French Open.
Roger Federer, seemingly invincible against anyone but Rafael Nadal, is off to his worst start to a season since 2001. Nadal, meanwhile, recently lost a match on clay - for only the second time in three years.
Justine Henin, like Nadal the three-time reigning champion in Paris, suddenly retired this month at the age of 25, the first woman to walk away from the sport while ranked No. 1.
There's more: Andy Roddick, the highest-ranked American man, is sidelined by a bum shoulder; new No. 1 Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams also pulled out of recent matches because of injuries; high-profile players are openly complaining about tour calendars and commitments; and the subject of gambling won't go away.
It's enough to make one wonder which way is up as the tennis world gathers at Roland Garros for the season's second Grand Slam tournament, which begins today.
Start with Federer, whose 12 major singles championships put him two shy of Pete Sampras' career record. Each of the last six years, Federer arrived at the French Open with at least two - and as many as six - tournament titles to his credit. The past three seasons, he was a combined 103-9 with 13 trophies entering the French Open.
And in 2008? He is 26-7 with only one title. He was upset by eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals in January, ending Federer's streak of reaching 10 consecutive Slam finals.
"For the first time, I get on a plane to leave Australia, and I have some doubt about who's going to be No. 1 in the world at the end of the year," U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said.
Ask Federer where he thinks he stands, though, and there's nothing but optimism.
"I'm feeling where I want to be shortly before a really important stretch of tournaments," he said Friday. "And it starts here in Paris, so I feel good about my chances again."
This, despite coming off a loss to Nadal on clay in the Hamburg Masters final. That dropped Federer's career marks against the Spaniard to 6-10 overall and 1-8 on clay, including losses to Nadal in the past two French Open finals. The clay-court major remains the only Grand Slam title missing from Federer's resume.
"Two years ago, I was more pessimistic, because I saw that Rafa was completely dominating the game on clay," Federer said. "But now I think I'm really close."
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