French Open preview (women)
For the women, the draw is wide open and choosing a winner is a lottery. Two of the big favourites -Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – were drawn in the same quarter, so that is the most anticipated match of the tournament!
Victoria Azarenka started off the year with a 26 match winning streak including her maiden Grand Slam title. That win saw her displace Caroline Wozniacki as the new world no.1. She has elevated her game to a new level. ‘Vika’ has fine-tuned her baseline game and found the right balance between defence and attack. Her added mental strength has seen her ‘in the zone’ when she’s on the court. Even in the face of adversity, when she the crowd mercilessly mimicked her grunting at the Australian Open, she found a way to stay composed and win.
Another strong player mentally is Maria Sharapova, who is in great clay-court form following a dramatic three set win over Li Na in the final at Rome and earlier victory in Stuttgart last month. The Russian is a three-time Grand Slam winner, but Rolland Garros is the only one missing from completing a Career Slam. She once described herself on clay like ‘a cow on ice’ but she has raised the bar since then.
Serena Williams seems to go into hiatus for most of the calendar and comes out of hibernation when the lure of a Major comes along. She used to get away with it and win many but I feel those days are catching up to her. Especially at the age of 30, she can’t get away with it for much longer. The other ladies are just much more prepared nowadays and Serena isn’t getting any younger. That said, she’s actually in devastating form, crushing opponents on her way to two clay court titles, in Charleston and Madrid. But at the French Open, she’s only ever made one final and that was exactly a decade ago beating her sister Venus.
Agniezka Radwanksa has had a fantastic season so far for a 36-7 record. Amazingly all seven of her losses have all come to Victoria Azarenka. It’s been a fascinating rivalry, they were once good friends but have since had a personality clash and are now each other’s nemesis. Radwanska, to her credit, has still won three titles this year and her unconventional game style seems to outwit most opponents but has not yet cracked past the quarter-final stage of a Major.
Li Na is the defending champion after creating history to become the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles crown. She has a pretty favourable draw up to the semi-finals where she’s seeded to meet Kvitova, so I would not be surprised at all if she makes the final or even wins it. She certainly has a much better chance than Caroline Wozniacki who I feel has gone off the boil. Her conservative counter-punching game style is being found out by more attacking players. I will be surprised to see her get past the last 16 where Serena should beat her.
Players that are flying under the radar but have very good records at Roland Garros include the likes of Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic. Most pundits would not give a hope in hell for them to succeed, but I would expect at least one of them to surprise and make a real run, maybe to the semis. Who knows, maybe even further!
For the Aussies, Sam Stosur is once again the star attraction. She’s had a poor season to date and is due to meet Azarenka in a quarter-final. Stosur seems to play her best tennis on clay. She was a runner-up in 2010 and semi-finalist the year before but this won’t be her year, she is simply too inconsistent. Teenager Ashleigh Barty plays in her second Grand Slam but won’t win her first main draw match as she is due to play Petra Kvitova in Round 1. The usual suspects of ex-pats are there as well – Jarmila Gajdosova and Anastasia Rodionova. But I will be pleasantly surprised if any Aussie besides Stosur makes it past the third round.
Final tip: Azarenka to defeat Sharapova in a repeat of the Australian Open final
Notable absentees include: Kim Clijsters, Andrea Petkovic, Daniela Hantuchova
Pick of the matches (remember, these are subject to players reaching this stage of the tournament)
Semi-finals: Serena v Li
Quarter-finals: Serena v Sharapova, Azarenka v Stosur
Fourth round: Wozniacki v Serena, Kvitova v Schiavone, Stosur v Lisicki, Ivanovic v Radwanska, Bartoli v Kerber, Kvitova v Schiavone
Third round: Stosur v Petrova, Kuznetsova v Radwanska, Jankovic v Schiavone, Kerber v Pennetta, Goerges v Serena
Second round: Radwanska v Venus, Wozniacki v Gajdosova, Barthel v McHale, Kanepi v Rezai
First round: Lisicki v Mattek-Sands, Barty v Kvitova, Li v Cirstea, Errani v Dellacqua