|Victory Column, Place du Chatelet|
It used to be Andrea Petkovic, aka Petko, aka Petkorazzi, who was the leader of the most recent wave of German tennis on the WTA tour. But her injuries were serious and chronic, and so it fell (pun perhaps unconsciously intended) to Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki to take on the role of Germany's major hope. Kerber has had to deal with a chronic back problem, which seems to have put her upward climb on hold. Kerber has also had an issue with being too defensive a player (though her defensive play has gotten her pretty far). And for all her talent, Lisicki is both mentally and physically fragile, and hasn't been able to make good on the expectations held of her.
Petko, who won Charleston this year, said in April that having to endure so many injuries and so much rehab taught her to stop relying so much on her physical prowess and to be a smarter tennis player. The banging up of one's body is never a "blessing" in disguise, but Petkovic has used her misfortune to learn an important lesson. Just how important that lesson has been is evident by her performance in Paris. And while it's true that the German delight hasn't had to face anyone seeded very high except for 10th seed (and 2012 finalist) Sara Errani, she took out hard-fighting crowd favorite Kiki Mladenovic and a very determined Kiki Bertens. (Among her other varied and amazing talents, Petko is now also the Kiki-Slayer!)
Eugenie Bouchard, who gets to play You-Know-Who in the semifinals, perhaps appears all the more amazing because she still has a child's face (thus making it easy for fans to project qualities onto her-- and to project stuffed animals at her). But regardless of how young she looks and whatever illusion that creates, Bouchard is obviously the Real Thing. The Canadian star also reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and she recently won her first title in Nurnberg. Bouchard appears to be blessed with a champion's mindset, in addition to her athletic skills.
Simona Halep has shown promise for several years. Last year, she broke through in a very big way, winning six titles on three different surfaces, and earning the nickname, "Halepeno." Halep is marvelously athletic, in a flexible, stretchy, speedy way. And she's clever and confident and no-nonsense, which makes her a breath of fresh air. And as good as she is on every surface, clay is where she shines the most. Briefly put, Halep knows how to win. As a junior, in fact, in 2008, she won at Roland Garros.
Sharapova has won the French Open before. Long considered (even by herself) a non-entity on clay, the Russian star took the time to figure out how to win on the tricky surface, and her clay record is now outstanding. She has lost only once on clay this season. She will face Bouchard in the semifinals. Another upstart, Garbine Muguruza, tried to get rid of Sharapova, but she wasn't able to get the job done. The job is very difficult.