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The Most Open Tournament Since Roland Garros 2009

May 21, 2010

The 2009 French Open brought to the plate a returning Maria Sharapova, a falling defending champion, Ana Ivanovic, and a young and eager Dinara Safina, desperate to win her first Slam. Sharapova was digging deep to prove she was back from injury in a big way. Ivanovic despite being seeded eighth, was struggling and not expected to defend her title.  Safina was predicted to claim a much coveted slam and when she reached the final it all looked very likely. What a difference a year makes. Sharapova’s progress has since been slow and although she has climbed back into the top twenty, a recent elbow injury meant another lay off and more set-backs. Ivanovic’s slide has continued with her slipping out of the top 50 and struggling to win matches let alone Slams. It is Safina however whose fortune has changed the most. After falling in the final to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Safina found her form and mentality slipping away from her before a back injury brought an end to her 2009 season. She returned for the 2010 Australian Open but retired in the fourth round. Her injury turned out to be two stress fractures and a ruptured muscle in her lower back. Thankfully Safina has since returned to the tour but her form is understandably poor. Considering her injury we can only be thankful she has returned to tennis at all.

The French Open 2010 is shaping up again to be an open race. Unlike in 2009 however, there is a clear favourite in the form of Justine Henin. Since her return to tour she has been enjoying excellent results that include a runner’s up plate at the Australian Open. This isn’t to say one of the greatest women to play tennis hasn’t been without upsets. The most recent upset put a small dent in her claim to favourite at the French when she lost in the first round of Madrid to unheralded Aravane Rezai. It may have sent a few shock waves through the WTA but Henin still holds onto her claim to favourite. Whether she can capitalise on it or not remains to be seen. If she does, she may need to get through both Sharapova and Serena Williams before even reaching the semi-finals.

Unfortunately tennis’s other comeback queen will not be playing Roland Garros. Kim Clijsters, who already has one post-revival Slam to her name, has been battling an ankle injury and has had to withdraw. This is a huge disappointment for the two-time finalist and her fans. Clijsters is one of the few female players who can claim to be consistently good and is also well-liked on tour.

Consistency is exactly the reason this French Open is practically wide open. In fact, it is hard to count almost anyone out. Kuznetsova was the shock winner in 2009 but her form has been extremely poor of late with first round losses in both Madrid and Rome. Still, nobody expected her to lift the trophy last year either. Ivanovic, who won the trophy in 2008, would be a massive surprise if she were to repeat her 2008 performance. Although she seems to be slightly better of late, her wins against Elena Dementieva, Victoria Azarenka, and Nadia Petrova in Rome were followed up by a loss to Martinez Sanchez in the semi-finals, making it hard to read much into her modest success. Similarly, it seems almost hopeless to invest any more time discussing Dementieva’s prospects to win her first Slam. We all know she can play and we all know she can choke. Still, there is no time like the present despite her current poor form. Also struggling is world number three Caroline Wozniacki, one of the more steady and promising youngsters on tour. A recent ankle injury caused her to retire in Warsaw. With her injury and a surface that exploits her movement, Wozniacki doesn’t look like a good choice to lift the title. She does, however, have the advantage of a favourable draw.

Speaking of draws, one who definitely won’t be feeling comfortable with hers is Serena Williams, although she will be loath to admit it. Feared on every other surface, Serena is certainly less imposing on clay. She does however have a French Open trophy to her name and the motivation to beat Sharapova and/or Henin could see Serena lift her game in 2010. Serena is looking like one of the better picks this year with some good clay-court wins that got her to the semi-finals in Rome, where she lost a close match to in-form Jelena Jankovic. She exited early in Madrid, but there is little doubt Serena will be ready to give it her all at the French.

Serena’s semi-final loss to Jankovic certainly cannot be mulled over too much as Jankovic is one of the players of the moment. Jankovic has managed to rediscover her form that deserted her for well over a year. Of course, in typical WTA fashion, she has been far from dominating. After fantastic wins over Venus and Serena Williams in Rome she lost to Sanchez in the final, disappointing to say the very least. She followed it up with fantastic play in Madrid, finally beating long-time rival Ivanovic over three sets, but lost again to an unheralded opponent in the quarter-final, this time in the form of Rezai. Her losses to relatively weaker opponents is worrying and despite her excellent form otherwise Jankovic must be sure not to get ahead of herself at the French. Her desire to win a Slam is well-known and this is the best chance she has had in a long time.

Jankovic isn’t the only one showing her best form in years. Venus Williams has been enjoying success on clay despite her poor showings at Slams. Venus found her way to the quarter finals in Rome and then improved on that with a final in Madrid. She may have come runner-up to Rezai but Venus really hasn’t had much clay court success at all over her latter years. In fact, she hasn’t made it to the quarter finals of Roland Garros since 2006. This must be her best chance to claim the French Open crown and perhaps she will put in one last-ditch effort to win the only Slam to have evaded her.

None of the above are certain to take home the French Open 2010 trophy. The winner could be one of the unmentioned top ten, such as Azarenka, Samantha Stosur, or a surprise player who has enjoyed some success of late such as Rezai. However, it will be Henin who will feel the pressure as the clear favourite and she will find many hungry players snapping at her heels, eager to claim the upset. It’s hard to know what to expect. Two things are guaranteed: the French Open 2010 will be unpredictable and it will be entertaining. Don’t forget the WTA when scheduling times to watch Roland Garros, it will always be more suprising than the men’s.

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