Monday, March 3, 2008

Can anyone but Henin win the French Open?

I bring this up because--though the Roland Garros contest is a few months away--people are talking about it. Henin is undoubtedly the one to beat in Paris. Here are the tour's veteran contenders:

Svetlana Kuznetsova: On paper, she is the top contender, and--in fact--she should already have won the French Open. Outstanding on clay, Kuznetsova has everything she needs to win in Paris--except nerve. In 2006, she folded in the second set of the final, made a series of unforced errors, and lost to Henin.

Nadia Petrova: In 2006, she was such a contender that I thought she was probably going to win the French Open. But she injured herself during a warm-up in Paris and consequently went out in the first round. She has not been the same since, and indeed, appears to be on a fast slide to hell, going out in the first round of almost every tournament she has entered this year.

Amelie Mauresmo: She has never done well on her home court, and now she is struggling just to remain on the tour. I list her because--despite her proclaimed preference for grass--she is an all-surface player, and has been a top clay court player in other tournaments. There is a strong argument that, she, too, should have already won in Paris.

Mary Pierce: Pierce has been out a long time with an injury. She says she's back now, and I expect she will get a wild card to Roland Garros, but it won't mean much. Pierce won the French Open in 2000, and she was the finalist in 2005, when she went to pieces--probably from fatigue--and gave a disastrous performance.

Elena Dementieva: Dementieva was the finalist in 2004, but lost to Anastasia Myskina. Her service problems have taken her out of contention for all of the big titles, but with her resurgence in Dubai, she becomes one of only a couple of veterans who have a chance to shine.

Serena Williams: Which Serena will show up at the French Open? We just never know. She has won it before, in 2002, but last year, she could not get past Henin, and the odds are against her getting past Henin now.

The recent contenders:

Ana Ivanovic: Ivanovic was the finalist in 2007, and--like Mary Pierce in 2005--totally wilted when she found herself playing on Suzanne Lenglen court on the last day, creating another of the most boring French Open finals in recent history; the officials should have just given Henin the trophy after the first set. Ivanovic says she has shaken off the nerves now, but whether she can make it to another final is debatable.

Nicole Vaidisova: Vaidisova has a lot of talent, but she, too, is shaky in the head department when it comes to big moments. She made it to the semifinals in 2006, and to the quarterfinals last year.

Jelena Jankovic: It is no secret that Jankovic is one of my favorite players on the tour, and yes, I do believe she has the potential to win the French Open. But of course, Jankovic has some issues that have kept her from winning a big one: Her serve is desperately in need of improvement, and she now has fitness problems because of over-playing in 2007.

Tatiana Golovin: I include Golovin because after she worked with Mats Wilander, the improvement in her game was dramatic. But she has recently taken a slide, and of course, she is chronically injured. As good as she can be at times, I don't give her much chance of emerging the winner at Roland Garros, but I also cannot count her out.


Anonymous said...

Good preview of the contestants, Diane, thanks! I assume you meant to leave out Sharapova, but I don't think I would. Sparkling and unbeaten this year, she made the semis at Roland Garros in an off-year in 2007. I'd think the new and improved Maria has as much chance to beat Justine as anyone. Which is not to say a great chance, but still measurable!

Vaidisova and Kuznetsova have a solid history the past two years, not losing before the quarters or semis. They should go deep again but breaking through is another matter. I like either Serbian star in top form, but they do need to shed their current erraticism. Serena I no longer take seriously on clay. She is under Henin's mental bootprint.

My take is that Justine is most vulnerable to an upset prior to the final three matches. Once she's in the quarters or semis, it's probably too late. So let me go out on a limb and predict that if Henin loses this year -- certainly possible if she does not rediscover her 2007 confidence -- it will be to one of "Generation Paszek" in the first week. Now that would be something to see!

Diane said...

I didn't include Maria because I still don't think she's a threat to Henin on red clay. It wouldn't surprise me if, some day, she is a threat, but I don't think that day has arrived. (On the other hand, the way Maria has improved all aspects of her game, I wouldn't go into shock if she won at Roland Garros.)

I agree with you completely that if Henin is to go, it has to be in the early rounds.

Anonymous said...

Justine hasn't played that well so far this season (as have quite a few top players) there seems to be alot more up and coming "youngester" remaining in the second week and i won't be suprised to see two in the final.

but of cause my dream final would be Amelie def Justine in 3! (I can dream, can't I?)

Diane said...

Hey, Dani, that would be my dream, too, and I'd settle for two sets!

Lou said...

Nice preview. I'd love Kuznetsova to go all the way, she's an absolute legend and my tennis hero. Anyways yeah um i thought i'd point out that in the 06' final, Kuznetsova lost in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. But yeah i'd put money on her to win the title. Oh money! Have to be careful using that word in tennis now. Yeah the William sisters, no chance, i don't think that Sharapova will be a serious threat as she can't really play on clay. The Serb girls, they'll push for quarters to semi's but i dont see them winning the final. I also dount Dementieva will make an impact as her form is ALWAYS up and down. Kuznetsova all the way!

Lou said...

Btw, i think that you were describing the semi between kuznetsova and vaidisova. Vaidisova choked when serving for it in the second at 5-3 (?) and Kuznetsova took advantage of it and won 5-7 7-6 6-2. And believe it or not, i pulled that fact off the top of my head. Don't know how i remember that :P

Diane said...

Thanks for the catch, Lou--I meant second set, and I've corrected it.