Can Maria Sharapova defend her French Open title in 2013?
With men's tennis being a battle of the same names to win the Grand Slams at every tournament, it is a refreshing and welcome change to see the women's game more open than ever. I, for one, thought that Serena Williams was set to dominate in 2013, but after her poor showing in Australia, it looks wide open for the rest of the season.
In 2012, Maria Sharapova completed the career Grand Slam but has done very little of note in the interim period. In this article I will assess the main candidates looking to win the second Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Can she defend her title?
Maria Sharapova enjoyed a decent run to the semifinals of the Australian Open and should be full of confidence after finally conquering her clay-court demons and winning the only Grand Slam that had eluded her at Roland Garros last year.
However, she still seems flaky on the biggest occasions at times, and with the women's game looking a great deal stronger than it was this time last year, she will have to play extremely well to defend her title. In order to do so, her serve must be flawless. It lets her down too often when it matters most, and she must keep double faults to a minimum if she is to beat her closest rivals.
Azarenka is world number one and retained her title in Australia
My favourite to win the title this year.
Victoria Azarenka has started the season with a bang, defending her Australian Open title and retaining her No. 1 ranking. She also managed this without playing particularly well, which is always the sign of a good player.
She has the athleticism required to be successful on clay, and, Serena Williams aside, she has a very good record against the other players at the top of the rankings. To win the title I believe she has to take slightly more risks on her groundstrokes. Against Li Na in the Australian Open final she left a lot of balls short, allowing Na to come in and attack. She needs to hit with greater depth and not allow her opponents to get into the rallies.
Serena crashed out in the quarterfinals in Australia.
In my opinion, Serena is a long shot to win the title at Roland Garros. Clay has always been her weakest surface, backed up by only winning one Grand Slam title on clay, and that all the way back in 2002.
She probably just lacks enough mobility to be a success on the surface. She isn't as slight as the other players, and this can wear you down over the course of a number of matches on clay. It is the heaviest surface and probably the most physically draining.
She also suffers as her power game isn't as effective on clay as it is on grass or hard courts. At Wimbledon especially, she gets a lot of easy points on her first serve that she simply doesn't get on the slower surface of Roland Garros.
You can never write her off, but I would be surprised if she made the final.
Radwanska is looking to win her first Grand Slam title.
Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, Agnieszka Radwanska is still waiting to win her first Grand Slam title. The closest she has come was making the Wimbledon final last year, where she was outclassed by a dominant Serena Williams.
She has never gone past the fourth round at the French Open and lacks the all-around game needed to challenge on the toughest of surfaces.
Li Na is always quick with a smile but is one of the most devastating players on tour
At her best, Li Na is one of the best players on the tour. When she gets her forehand working, she can win matches very quickly.
However, she is often worryingly inconsistent. She can look a world-beater one minute and then distinctly average the next.
She did win the title in 2011, and if she shows the same form that took her to the final of the Australian Open, she could well add another French Open win to her collection in 2013.
Kerber is always improving, but is she good enough to challenge the elite?
Angelique Kerber is one of the most improved players in the women's game over the last couple of years. She has made semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and reached the last eight at Roland Garros last year.
Does she have what it takes to win one of the big four tournaments?
Her career history would suggest probably not. Although her all-around game is excellent, she lacks the one big weapon in her armoury that can cause the best players problems. She has only won two career titles, which suggests that she lacks the killer instinct required to win tournaments. Nobody will relish playing her, but she is an unlikely candidate for the title.
Sara Errani has enjoyed success in singles and doubles over the last year
If anybody is likely to spring a surprise and win the tournament, the most likely candidate is Italian Sara Errani.
Errani enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2012, winning three titles on clay and making the final of the French Open before losing to Maria Sharapova. She is firmly established in the top 10 of the world rankings and thoroughly deserves to be there.
Her confidence should also be at an all-time high after the success she has achieved in doubles over the last year, claiming Grand Slam victories at Australia, Roland Garros and the U.S. Open with compatriot Roberta Vinci.
They seem certain to retain their doubles title, but can Errani make it a double celebration with singles success?
Kvitova has struggled for form since her Wimbledon win in 2011
When Petra Kvitova defeated Maria Sharapova to win her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2011, there was a feeling that we were watching the dawn of the next great women's player.
However, since her success she has had somewhat mixed results. She crashed out in the first round in the U.S. Open following her Wimbledon success.
2012 was a decent year for her without really challenging for any of the titles. She reached the semifinals at Australia and France before bowing out at the quarterfinal stage in the defence of her Wimbledon title.
2013 has started poorly when she was defeated by Laura Robson in the second round of the Australian Open. She is now down to No. 8 in the world rankings, and that reflects her recent performances. I wouldn't expect her to progress past the quarterfinal stage at Roland Garros.