With the exception of one Federation Cup match last year, Kim Clijsters has not competed on clay since the French Open in 2006. Nevertheless, with Clijsters triumphant at the last two majors and considering the state of the women’s game, the Belgian can play herself into form and is consequently a serious contender for the French Open trophy.
Strangely enough, Maria Sharapova is also a favorite on clay. The Russian’s victory in Rome two weeks ago demonstrates that she can power her way to a title on this surface. As such, Sharapova deserves to be in the column of players to beware of.
More so than previous years, there has been no standout on the red clay this season. Julia Goerges surprised world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the final in Stuttgart. Petra Kvitova made her debut into the top ten with her victory in Madrid, stunning world number four Victoria Azarenka.
Therefore, any one residing in the vicinity of the ten best from world number three Vera Zvonareva to Azarenka to defending champion Francesca Schiavone to Kvitova has a fair shot at hoisting the title. The French Open draw is revealed. Here’s an analysis of the key match-ups.
Wozniacki’s first round opponent is Kimiko Date-Krumm. The Japanese is know for pulling upsets at majors. Last year, she shocked Dinara Safina in the same round. As a result, Wozniacki will have no time to relax early on.
Another challenging encounter for the world number one could come in the third round where she may face 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. Wozniacki’s progression to the final could be further complicated by 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur or Goerges in the quarterfinals and either Jelena Jankovic, Zvonareva, or Schiavone in the semifinals.
A sole semifinal showing in Brussels is Zvonareva’s best performance on clay this year. The Russian could stumble in the third round if she clashes with compatriot Nadia Petrova or in the fourth round where countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova could offer tremendous resistance.
Also in the top half of the draw, Schiavone and Jankovic could collide in the round of 16. Either player could battle Zvonareva in the quarterfinals.
Azarenka and Sharapova are in the bottom section of the draw. Despite being in a winning position in Rome, Azarenka had to retire in the quarterfinals against Sharapova due to a right elbow injury. Whether Azarenka has fully recovered from that problem will determine how well she performs in Paris. Azarenka and Sharapova could meet in the semifinals.
Prior to that, Azarenka may need to bypass someone also with injury issues in the fourth round, 2008 French Open champion, Ana Ivanovic.
Yet, Azarenka’s tallest hurdle may be Kvitova in the quarterfinals which would be a rematch of the Madrid Open final. As a newcomer to the top ten, Kvitova is playing with the least pressure which makes her even more dangerous.
But, if the draw holds, Kvitova and Na Li will duel in the round of 16. With two semifinals placements, Li is a force on this surface.
Before a possible semifinal with Kvitova or Azarenka, Sharapova could have her hands full in the fourth round against Yanina Wickmayer or Agnieszka Radwanska. In addition, ahead in the quarterfinals for Sharapova could be Andrea Petkovic or Clijsters.
Speaking of Clijsters, if the Belgian is able to find her clay feet in the initial two rounds, Maria Kirilenko would be a huge test in the third round or Petkovic in the fourth round.
In conclusion, it’s truly a tossup as to which player will emerge as the conqueror at Roland Garros. If Wozniacki wants to live up to her ranking and end her drought at the majors, she will have to stray from her comfort zone and rely more on offense rather than defense.
Sharapova and Kvitova with their titles on clay have shown that big hitters who are not necessarily graceful on this surface can overpower their rivals come away with the big prize.
With the unpredictability in the ladies’ game, it would not be surprising to see Clijsters carry the French Open despite no real play on clay for five years. The drama unfolds in a less than a day.