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.