Power Ranking the Top 20 Women's Players Heading into the 2013 French Open

Nick McCarvel@nickmccarvelFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2013

Power Ranking the Top 20 Women's Players Heading into the 2013 French Open

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    It has perhaps never been more clear that Serena Williams is the most dominant force in women's tennis. The 31-year-old American has won a whopping 22 matches in a row, including three clay titles in a row leading up to next week's French Open.

    Williams, however, hasn't won on the red dirt since 2002 and comes in with a target on her back against a slew of trophy-hungry opponents, including last year's Paris champion, Maria Sharapova.

    But who else is lingering in the wings? From young-gun Sloane Stephens to storied veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova to former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, the week-by-week rankings don't tell the real story of who's the best bet in women's tennis right now.

    We've pulled together power rankings for the top players in the sport to find out who has the strongest game heading into the French Open.

20. Madison Keys

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    WTA Ranking: 59

    Why She's Here: At 18, Madison is the next big thing in American tennis. The teenager registered her biggest win yet two weeks ago in Madrid, beating 2011 French Open winner Li Na in straight sets.

    Early French Outlook: The Illinois native is still a little green on the red stuff, but the fact that the world No. 59 wasn't even ranked high enough to play the tournament a year ago—this is her first Roland Garros—makes her a dangerous floater for any seed.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: There's only one way for Madison to go: up. She has few points to defend on the main tour, which means a solid run at a big tournament could launch her inside the top 30, which is where you should expect to find her come post-U.S. Open.

19. Simona Halep

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    WTA Ranking: 44

    Why She's Here: The 21-year-old Romanian wouldn't have made this list a week ago, but then she made an eye-popping run at the Italian Open, beating the likes of a two-time Slam winner and two Slam runners-up en route to a semifinal loss to Serena Williams.

    Early French Outlook: After Rome, anything is possible for the player who won the junior title here in 2008. Halep showed she can grind with the best of them, beating former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, one of the best backboards in the business, in a drawn-out three-set affair.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Halep stands just 5-foot-6 and is slightly built, so once the game moves off clay, she might struggle. But with brimming confidence, she could top her career high of No. 37

18. Laura Robson

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    WTA Ranking: 35

    Why She's Here: If you don't know Laura Robson's name, you should. The 19-year-old won the junior Wimbledon title five years ago and became a darling of the British press from that moment on. The 6-foot-1 lefty slowly but surely backed it up, registering high-octane wins over Li Na, Kim Clijsters, Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams over the last year.

    Early French Outlook: With a booming serve and powerful strokes, Robson doesn't take to clay with any sort of ease. But the teenager scored a win over Venus in Rome last week and if her A-game is on, she can be one of the best in the business. It's all about consistency.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Have one good, deep run. Robson has been careful to build her momentum at a consistent rate, but how about a big run at a well-known tournament? Heck, why not Wimbledon? One of those and she's almost assured a top-20 finish by year's end.

17. Sloane Stephens

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    WTA Ranking: 17

    Why She's Here: You know her, you don't, you love her, you don't care. Stephens, she of Serena Williams-beating (and trash-talking) ways from Australia, has been tapped the "next big thing" in American tennis, but since her Cinderella moment, the carriage ride has been somewhat bumpy for the now-20-year-old. Sloane is 5-8 since Melbourne, obviously acclimating to a new life under the spotlight.

    Early French Outlook: Two weeks ago it was looking bleak for Sloane in Paris, as she was on a four-match loss streak, dating back to March. But she snatched a couple of wins in Rome and is further tuning up for Paris' red stuff in Brussels this week.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Maintain. Sloane's been on a roller coaster over the last five months, so for her to find some normalcy and consistency in her game would be a massive blessing. She was injured last fall, so a chance to sneak into the top 15 might not be that out of the question.

16. Kirsten Flipkens

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    WTA Ranking: 21

    Why She's Here: What the flip?! That's what even a few seasoned tennis fans might be saying about this Belgian, who has moved her strong but elegant game up the rankings with a slew of solid results. But Flipkens is suddenly looking like a not-so-shy torch bearer for the country that gave tennis Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

    Early French Outlook: Bleak. Flipkens, who works with Clijsters on a part-time basis as her coach, is just 1-3 on clay this spring. She had run up a 14-8 record leading into the clay season, but almost exclusively on hardcourts. She'll need a soft draw to try to work her way into Paris.

    Best Cast Scenario for 2013: Play more on hardcourts. Well, on faster surfaces, that is. Flipkens, along with the fourth round of the Australian Open, has been to the third rounds of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Opens. With solid performances on faster surfaces (where most of the rest of the season is played), she's safely inside the top 20.

15. Caroline Wozniacki

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    WTA Ranking: 10

    Why She's Here: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Wozniacki's drop from world No. 1 (a title she held for over a year until January 2012) has been hard to watch, and some fans might wonder why she would make a power rankings list of the top 20 players to start with. Bojana Jovanovski. Yaroslava Shvedova. Carla Suarez Navarro. Yeah, those are players Wozniacki shouldn't be losing to.

    Early French Outlook: It's hard to say it's anything but bad for a player who is 0-4 in her last four matches and is heading into what has been historically her worst major. For some reason, Wozniacki's consistent, grinding game doesn't translate on the slow stuff. She'll need a dream run in Brussels this week to boost her confidence.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: For completely different reasons than Robson, Caro needs a strong run at a big event. She did this in Indian Wells in March, but followed it up by losing six of 10 matches. Staying inside the top 10 would be an achievement, big title in tow.

14. Maria Kirilenko

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    WTA Ranking: 12

    Why She's Here: Tennis' "other" Maria is having a late-career surge of sorts at age 26, quitting doubles (where she won the season-ending title a year ago) and focusing on her singles game. It's paid off: she won a title in Pattaya City in February and made the semifinals of Indian Wells the next month. Her lack of one big weapon pushes her down in our rankings, however. 

    Early French Outlook: Believe it or not, this is Kirilenko's 34th straight major, including her 10th French in a row. Kirilenko has been on form as of late, but she pulled out of Rome with a knee injury. Should she be healthy, she should make another fourth-round run, the same place she's gone in her two best results in 2011 and 2010.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: This is it. Without a major weapon, Kirilenko can hover around the top 10 all she wants, but it's hard to see her getting any higher. Oh, and the Russian is marrying NHL star and countryman Alex Ovechkin later this year, as well.

13. Sabine Lisicki

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    WTA Ranking: 32

    Why She's Here: There might not be a harder hitter on the women's tour—not even Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova. The German Lisicki strikes a scarily strong ball off of both wings and has been to a Wimbledon semifinal and gone toe-to-toe with the best. She's slowly making her way back from an injury that put her out for much of last year, but can she stay healthy?

    Early French Outlook: While Lisicki is an abysmal 2-4 career-wise in Paris, she's had a decent clay effort this spring, including a tight two-set win over former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in Stuttgart. With the right draw (the top 32 players get seeded), Lisicki could belt her way into a comfort level and be a dangerous floater in Week 2.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Top 10, baby! It's where Lisicki should be, and should she collect her health and her consistency again this season, she will get there. She needs to match her Wimbledon quarterfinal from a year ago and perhaps make a dash to the WTA Championships in the fall.

12. Svetlana Kuznetsova

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    WTA Ranking: 39

    Why She's Here: At 28 years old, it seems as though Sveta has revitalized her tennis career. The Russian, who has won two Grand Slam titles, is 19-11 on the year, making the Australian Open quarterfinals. Kuznetsova has talked about finding love for tennis again this season, which has translated solidly to the court.

    Early French Outlook: It should be stellar, but is it? Kuznetsova won here in 2009 with compelling three-set wins over Agnieska Radwanska, Serena Williams and Sam Stosur. But Sveta is an underwhelming 4-3 on clay this spring, including a drubbing via Halep in Rome last week.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Keep calm, stay healthy. Don't be fooled by Kuznetsova's No. 39 ranking, that is without half of 2012's points. She left the tour after Wimbledon for a knee problem, so she will safely climb inside the top 20 over the summer and fall. But can she stay fit as well?

11. Sara Errani

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    WTA Ranking: 5

    Why She's Here: Will the most surprising mid-career flourish begin to falter at Roland Garros? Perhaps. Errani does her dirty work on clay, winning a majority of her matches on the red stuff, including almost half this year and more than that a year ago, but she has carved herself a decent hardcourt record, as well. 

    Early French Outlook: All signs point to repeat, right? A year ago, the Italian shocked the tennis world with a run to the final, a virtual unknown playing media behemoth Maria Sharapova. This year the pressure could be overwhelmingly stifling to the 26-year-old, who has held her ground inside the top 10 okay, but has suffered a few eyebrow-raising losses throughout the year.

    Best Case Scenario in 2013: Can it get any better for Sara? If she does end up making a deep run in Paris, she'll need to defend her points again at the U.S. Open, where she was a semifinalist. To stay in the semifinals an make another WTA Championships? That'd be worth an extra scoop of gelato for sure.

10. Jelena Jankovic

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    WTA Ranking: 18

    Why She's Here: The former world No. 1 has begun to re-stake her claim in women's tennis this year, including a semifinal run in Miami and a final appearance in Charleston on green clay. Her down-the-line backhand, one of the most lethal in the game, has found its mark again and her on-court antics—from yelling at herself to slumping in the change-over chair—have made the 28-year-old all that more fun to watch.

    Early French Outlook: She's twice been to the French Open semifinal and Jankovic looked steady through the clay season, although many thought she would triumph over Simona Halep in Rome in the quarterfinals. JJ, as she's called, is still prone to mental blocks, which led to her fall from the sport's top spot.

    Best Case Scenario in 2013: Steady inside the top 15. She's been knocking at the door of being among the game's elite for a solid three years now, so to turn in more consistent results (and win her first match at Wimbledon since 2010), would put the Serbian back there, and a run to a Grand Slam quarterfinal wouldn't hurt, either.

9. Angelique Kerber

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    WTA Ranking: 8

    Why She's Here: Kerber comes in just one spot behind her pro ranking because the German hasn't quite delivered the same kind of tennis this year that cemented her inside the top 10 in 2012. The lefty, however, continues to be the most consistent force on tour, meaning it's almost impossible to get anything past her on any given surface.

    Early French Outlook: It's hard to tell. The 25-year-old German was a semifinalist in Stuttgart and made the quarters at Madrid, but she pulled out of Rome with an abdominal injury. Her flat strokes don't cut through the dirt well, though she made good on a quarterfinal run in Paris a year ago and could do it again.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: She remains the top-ranked German, which with this current crop is no easy feat. A clutch win over a top-ranked player would be key for Kerber, but continuous Grand Slam quarterfinals and smaller titles are suffice so far.

8. Ana Ivanovic

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    WTA Ranking: 14

    Why She's Here: Is Ana's slow climb back to the top of the game over? Not yet, we don't think. The Serb, a former world No. 1, fell as low as No. 67 in the world but has been slowly chipping her way back to the top block in women's tennis, and she seems to be making progress. Her form is consistently better and at times downright impressive, giving her a top-10 nod in our shakedown. 

    Early French Outlook: Just over a week ago, it looked like the 2008 Roland Garros winner could be one of the favorites for the second major of the year, but the Serb crashed out in Rome as she continues to try to build up her consistency. If the forehand is on, Ivanovic's stay in Paris could be for more than just the first week, and if she gets into her first major final in five years, she might just pounce at the chance to validate all the hard work of the past half-decade.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: A top 10 finish. Ivanovic hasn't been there since she crashed out in 2009, and it would be quite the comeback story if she is to make it all the way there. 

7. Agnieszka Radwanska

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    WTA Ranking: 4

    Why She's Here: Normally, on any given day, Radwanska is where she should be, but not lately. The Pole, who was a finalist a year ago at Wimbledon, created a stir earlier this month when she went from brown to blonde hair, and her tennis seems to be suffering from it. Usually the brunette picture of consistency, the 23-year-old has won just one match in two clay court events this spring.

    Early French Outlook: Like Wozniacki, it would seem as though Radwanska would like the clay for her style of play, but she's never been past the fourth round in Paris. But the spry all-court player will have plenty of energy if a bum shoulder is green-lighted for the major, meaning she will run all day in chasing a deep run in France.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: A few weeks ago, it might have been a first-ever Slam title for Radwanska, but now it seems that the Pole needs to re-capture some of the guile that got her so safely inside the top five. Perhaps a move back to brunette wouldn't be a bad choice, either.

6. Sam Stosur

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    WTA Ranking: 9

    Why She's Here: When it all comes together, the Australian Stosur has one of the most lethal games on clay, with a monster spin serve and a biting forehand (a la Rafael Nadal). While her game has been slow to take off after a calf injury, she put on an impressive performance in Rome last week.

    Early French Outlook: Though she is a U.S. Open winner, Stosur has had her best consistent results in Paris: reaching the semifinals in 2009 and 2012, and making the final in 2010. The 29-year-old will try to use the rest she got in the early spring and couple it with momentum from Rome to spring herself into Week 2 of Roland Garros.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Win another major. Everyone has been waiting for Stosur to break through in a big way again; it's all about just putting all the pieces together. Most likely places for such a thing to happen: French Open first, then the U.S.

5. Petra Kvitova

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    WTA Ranking: 7

    Why She's Here: The Czech player who romped to a Wimbledon title in 2011 has cooled off since then, but she's playing better ball than she was six months ago. Her big-swinging game is as lethal as they come and her lefty hook throws opponents off when she pushes the ball especially deep. The ebbs and flows of Kvitova's game are why we put her in our top five: she's about to be flowing again right about now.

    Early French Outlook: She was a semifinalist a year ago in Paris, losing to her 2012 nemesis in Maria Sharapova. Petra even broke out in 2008 at Roland Garros, making the fourth round of her maiden Slam. Anyone who tells you she hasn't played enough on clay this year (14 matches) is wrong: most have been quality and half of them have gone three sets, helping her hone her belting strokes. 

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Wimbledon 2.0. Nothing would be better for the Kvitova storyline than a return to glory at the place it all started: the All-England Club. But for Petra to nudge her way back into the top five with consistent results wouldn't be a bad second option, either.

4. Li Na

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    WTA Ranking: 6

    Why She's Here: The 30-year-old from China has been solid throughout the year, winning in Shenzhen before making the Australian Open final, and she was runner up again in Stuttgart. Her ranking has taken a hit because of an injury that put her out for more than a month earlier in the season. Li's ability to strike well off both wings with power makes her one of the most dangerous players in the game.

    Early French Outlook: The 2011 French Open champion looked dismal in a loss to Madison Keys in Madrid, then hit error after error last week in Rome, where she lost to Jankovic. Can she save her form for Paris? Maybe. Each match is delicate with Li. But, if she finds her zone, you're hard pressed to find someone (perhaps only Serena?) who can beat her.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Win another Slam. Are we sounding like a broken record? Once you get inside the top eight, it's a must for players who want to prove they belong. Li shouldn't be a one-Slam wonder, but right now there's a lonely "1" next to her name in the number of majors category.

3. Victoria Azarenka

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    WTA Ranking: 3

    Why She's Here: Many would bump Azarenka up one spot to No. 2, ahead of Maria Sharapova because of the Belarusian's 7-5 head-to-head record against Maria. But Sharapova has proven to be the more consistent (and healthy) one as of late, securing her the second spot. An injury that put Azarenka out for a good part of the spring had cooled her hot factor at the moment, as well.

    Early French Outlook: Clay has never been Vika's best surface, though she does have two Roland Garros quarterfinal appearances under her belt. Her preparation this year feels perfect: an early exit in Madrid, then a solid final appearance in Rome, losing to Serena Williams.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Beat Serena. Unlike all others inside the top eight, Azarenka already owns a Grand Slam title in 2013. But she needs another clutch win over the world No. 1, particularly in a big-time event. 

2. Maria Sharapova

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    WTA Ranking: 2

    Why She's Here: Almost any player would be overjoyed to be the world No. 2, but not Sharapova. Six of her last 10 losses have come to Serena Williams, a rivalry that has been deflated into one-sided status with Serena's dominating 13-2 head-to-head lead on the hard-hitting Russian. But Maria is 30-1 against the rest of the tour so far in 2013.

    Early French Outlook: The defending champion in Paris couldn't look much better coming into this year's tournament. She won in Stuttgart, was runner-up in Madrid, then withdrew before her Rome quarterfinal due to a bad cold. Should she slide her way into the final again and have to face Williams, it'll be the ultimate test if she can overcome her, much like Azarenka, in a big-occasion battle.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Re-capture Wimbledon. Forget about the French or the U.S. Open, Sharapova made a name for herself almost 10 years ago at Wimbledon and came oh-so-close in London two years ago, losing to virtual unknown Kvitova in the final. A win at Wimbledon would secure her top-five spot and put no pressure on the 26-year-old for the remainder of the season.

1. Serena Williams

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    WTA Ranking: 1

    Why She's Here: She's a sizzling 35-1 in 2013, with her only loss coming in that dramatic seesaw battle against Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open. The American has won 22 straight matches, including clay-court final wins over the world Nos. 2 and 3, Sharapova and Azarenka. The discussion of who is No. 1 on paper and on the court is no longer as Serena is safely the top dog, particularly if she performs well in Paris.

    Early French Outlook: A year ago unheralded Virginie Razzano produced the most shocking upset of the 2012 season at the French Open, beating Serena in the first round. It was the first time the younger Williams had lost her first match at a Grand Slam in her career. Serena will have to shoo away those demons early on in Paris, but should she get a few wins under her belt, a first title here since 2002 could be likely.

    Best Case Scenario for 2013: Win, win, win. Best case for Serena? She could go the rest of the year without losing a match. There is no chasing a Grand Slam (all four majors in one year) since she lost early at the Australian Open, but the final three are possible, as well as defending her WTA Championships title and ending the year No. 1 for the first time since 2009.