Monday, May 22, 2023

No shortage of French Open contenders

Statue, Jeanne d'Arc, Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)

It's rarely wise to try to figure out who will win the French Open (or any major, for that matter, but especially the French Open)--power hitting gets neutralized by clay courts, though power hitters have also been successful in Paris. However, going into the 2023 tournament, there are a few players who appear ready to hold the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. 

World number 1 Iga Swiatek injured her right thigh in Rome, which could hardly be more unfortunate for the two-time (and defending) Roland Garros champion. A slight injury can heal by the time Swiatek plays in Paris, so we should know something soon. If she's healthy, the Polish star has a good chance to win yet another French Open championship.

But other contenders will also be in Paris. The two most talked about are world number 2 (and Madrid champion) Aryna Sabalenka and world number 4 (and Rome champion) Elena Rybakina. Sabalenka, who struggled for some time with consistency--and who still sometimes struggles with her serve--is now looked at as a threat, regardless of where she plays. The reigning Australian Open champion lost to Swiatek in the Stuttgart final, but defeated her in the Madrid final.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina isn't known for her clay court skills, but winning Rome has caused many to look at her as a potential winner in Paris. (And--not to take anything away from Rybakina, but it's worth nothing she did have three players retire against her in Rome.)

But those aren't the only three women who could win in Paris. Other contenders include:

2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova: The Czech star was out for a while with an elbow injury last year, and it took her a while to get her groove on again, but when she did, she looked as deadly as ever. Krejcikova defeated Swiatek in the Dubai final this year, and she also defeated her in last year's Ostrava final. I think that she should be part of the "Who's going to win Roland Garros" conversation, but perhaps she isn't because her clay court season, so far, has been less than stellar.

Krejcikova (sadly) didn't enter Charleston. In Stuttgart, she lost to Sabalenka in the second round. In Madrid, she lost to Petra Martic in the round of 16, and in Rome, she lost to Alona Ostapenko in the third round. But the Czech feels comfortable in Paris, and she could resume her winning ways.

Speaking of Ostapenko--she was scary good in Rome, yet she lost her semifinal match against Rybakina in straight sets. However, the 2017 French Open champion--if she continues to play the way she did in Rome--she is definitely a contender.

Charleston champion Ons Jabeur, who was last year's Wimbledon runner-up and last year's U.S. Open runner-up, should also be considered a potential French Open champion. However, Jabeur had to retire against Swiatek in her Stuttgart semifinal because of a calf injury, and she then had to withdraw from Madrid, where she was the defending champion. She lost to Paula Badosa in the second round in Rome, but is healthy and ready to compete in Paris.

And that brings me to Badosa, who--though currently ranked number 29 in the world--wouldn't be a surprise Roland Garros champion (well, not to me, anyway). Finally, there's world number 11 (and 2021 Charleston champion) Veronika Kudermetova, who reached the semifinals in both Madrid and Rome, and whom I've been looking at for a while as someone with the potential for a big breakout.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Madrid and Rome, and the women who turned them upside down in 2010

Clay court tennis is known for producing unpredictable results, and it's hard to beat the results that occurred in Madrid and Rome in 2010. 

Aravane Rezai, the small woman in the gold lame tennis dresses, surprised a lot of people when--as an unseeded player--she won Madrid by defeating Venus Williams in the final. Rezai began her Madrid campaign by upsetting four-time French Open champion Justine Henin, and adding a bagel for good measure. That was just the first round. The hard-hitting Frenchwoman went on to defeat the likes of Andrea Petkovic and Jelena Jankovic, before defeating Williams in straight sets. But it wasn't an easy task; Rezai was down 2-5 in the second set and had to save six set points.

The same year, Jankovic--who had won Rome twice--once again reached the final, and this time, her opponent was the unseeded Maria José Martinez Sanchez, who defeated Francesca Schiavone, Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova, and Ana Ivanovic--all in straight sets. The Spaniard had a good, rather tricky, serve, which she used to her advantage against JJ. But what fans will probably remember most vividly was Martinez Sanchez's use of the drop shot as a return of serve.

When Roger Federer introduced SABR, he was a genius. But when Martinez Sanchez used a drop shot as a return of serve, some fans said that she wasn't playing "real tennis." (This kind of thing isn't unusual. Once, when Francesca Schiavone hit a tweener, a commentator said "oh, she's copying Roger." Right. Schiavone was hitting tweeners while Roger was still figuring out his game.) 

She was playing very clever tennis, and she defeated Jankovic 7-6, 7-5.