It’s springtime in Paris. Strolls along the Seine. Cafe and baguettes. Roland Garros and terre battue. And the most physically demanding tournament of the four tennis majors. Welcome to the French Open, which starts today. Defending champion and seven-time title holder Rafael Nadal, winner of six tournaments and 36 of 38 matches this year, is primed and ready. The only really significant obstacles standing in the Clay Master’s way are nemesis Novak Djokovic and damp weather conditions. Djokovic ended Nadal’s eight-year reign at the Monte Carlo Masters in April proving that Rafa is beatable on the slow red clay after all. But Nadal’s 52-1 record at Roland Garros bespeaks of a Herculean task for any challenger. Cold and wet weather though temper Nadal’s devastating topspin which works best on dry courts. Temperatures are predicted to barely reach 60 degrees during the first week in Paris, with rain showers forecast every day from Tuesday on. These are the kind of conditions which prevailed in 2009 when Robin Soderling knocked Nadal out in the fourth round. And very similar to last year’s final when Djokovic, down 6-4, 6-3 and 2-0, rallied and ran off eight straight games in soggy conditions and led 2-1 up a break in the fourth. Rain suspended the comeback and Nadal prevailed the next day. “The only negative thing is this cold,” said Nadal in a news conference on Friday. If the draw proceeds according to form, top-seeded Djokovic and No. 3 seed Nadal meet in the top-half semifinal. Looming in Djokovic’s quarter are possible matchups with Grigor Dimitrov, seeded No. 26, in the third round and No. 12 seed Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals. Both Dimitrov and Haas have beaten Nole earlier this year. Nadal could meet Lukas Rosol, who upset him at Wimbledon last year, in the third round and possibly No. 9 seed Stanislas Wawrinka or No. 7 Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals. Dangerous Jerzy Janowicz, seeded No. 21, also is a potential opponent in the quarterfinals of this section. No. 2 Roger Federer is seeded to meet No. 4 David Ferrer in the bottom-half semifinal. Ferrer’s projected quarterfinal opponent is No. 5-seeded Tomas Berdych, who could face flashy Ernests Gulbis — my darkhorse pick — in a second-round encounter. The likelihood of a Ferrer-Berdych quarterfinal is a pretty solid bet in the third quarter. In the bottom quarter, Federer is slated to meet No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinal. Tsonga has a relatively easy path to get there, but Federer could be tested by Frenchmen Julien Benneteau, seeded No. 30, and No. 15 Gilles Simon in the third and fourth rounds respectively. Lots of things can happen during the fortnight, but it seems the final is the semifinal between Djokovic and Nadal. Whoever advances from the bottom half, probably Federer, will more than likely find a battle weary opponent. Nole and Rafa don’t know how to compete any other way.