Friday, May 25, 2007

The French Open!

Svetlana Kuznetsova--can she finally win the French Open?

Jelena Jankovic may have burned herself out of a chance to beat Henin and win at Roland Garros


Qualifying for the French Open is currently in progress, and, as always, my favorite Grand Slam is the most puzzling to figure out. That's because it is played on red clay, and red clay tends to diffuse power. Or, as I like to put it, people play real tennis on clay.

Sadly, both Tatiana Golovin and Peng Shuai have withdrawn from the event because of injuries. Golovin, who injured one of her very vulnerable ankles yet again in Charleston, could even have been considered a dark horse to win the event. Saddest of all, Martina Hingis had to withdraw because of her hip injury. Hingis is a wonderful clay player--clay is the perfect surface for her game--yet the French Open remains the only Grand Slam she has never won.

Defending champion Justine Henin is still probably the top favorite to win; it is very hard to beat Henin on clay, and she performs well at big moments. The other contenders:

Svetlana Kuznetsova--an outstanding clay player and last year's finalist, but a bit short on the mental side. Kuznetsova has been in four finals this year, and has won none of them.

Serena Williams--She has won the French Open before, she is playing very well, and she has to be seen as a threat to take the whole thing.

Nicole Vaidisova--She made it to the semifinals last year, but Vaidisova had to pull out of the tournament in Strasbourg this week, where she was the defending champion, because of a wrist injury. She had already withdrawn from the German Open and the Italian Open because of the injury. There is no word yet as to whether Vaidisova will even be able to participate in the French Open, and if she does, she will do so without playing any of the warmup events.

(Note on Vaidisova: After making a fool of herself a little over a week ago by saying that women players looking "cute" contributes to professional tennis, now Vaidisova has outdone herself and officially come out against equal prize money.)

Jelena Jankovic--The Grand Slam victory is coming; I don't have any doubt. But there are a couple of problems about this French Open. One is Justine Henin, whom Jankovic has never beaten (including recently, when she was up 4-0, 30-0 in the third set). Jankovic just won the Italian Open, and said candidly that she won it "because Henin didn't come." She will have to beat Henin at some point if she is to win at Roland Garros. The other problem is that Jankovic has foolishly over-played this season, getting little rest and making herself vulnerable to injury. She just gave her semifinal opponent a walkover in Strasbourg because of an intestinal illness; something had to give.

Ana Ivanovic--I really wasn't expecting to put Ivanovic on a list of contenders for the French Open; I don't really consider her a clay player. But she just won the German Open, and that changes my opinion. I now make her a contender.

The dark horses:

Amelie Mauresmo--France's number one player has never gotten past the quarterfinals at the French Open, despite the fact that she is a really good clay player. The pressure has always just been too much for her. On top of that, Mauresmo has been out most of the clay season because of appendicitis and a long recovery. She has struggled since her return, though she has made it to the final this week at Strasbourg. I put her here as a dark horse precisely because, right now, no one is expecting anything from her at all, and that may ease some of the mental pressure.

Patty Schnyder--I know some people may laugh, but, despite a poor start, Schnyder is playing some of her very best tennis this season. She is vulnerable in damp weather, but if the courts stay dry, she can go far. Now the bad news: After taking out Serena Wiliams, Schnyder got to the semifinals in Rome (she was a finalist in 2005) and had to retire because of breathing problems. She had been playing all week with a cold, but it got much worse, and the trainer did not have any nasal spray (how crazy is that?). On top of that, she withdrew from the tournament in Istambul this week because of a right quadriceps injury. Schnyder rarely gets injured, but she has had really bad luck the past couple of weeks, just when she was playing extremely well. As of this writing, she has not withdrawn from Roland Garros, and is indicating that she will play.

Nadia Petrova--This is as dark as a horse gets. Last year, many of us thought Petrova would win the French Open; she had made an impressive sweep of the clay court season. Then her luck turned very bad--she sustained an injury during pre-tournament practice in Paris, and was taken out in the first round. Since then she has struggled to return to form, and she is not likely to find that form at Roland Garros. But you never know.

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