Whoever said it’s lonely at the top wasn’t talking about women’s tennis. At least not in its current state with the No. 1 ranking having been shared by three different players this year alone.
That’s why this list is so much fun to compile. It’s such a free-for-all at the top of the women's game that you can put just about anyone on here and get away with it. It’s not like the list of men’s contenders—put more than four names on there, and you’re asking for trouble, laughter, or both.
Once the French Open draw comes out on Friday, May 22, this list will need to be shortened, expanded or otherwise modified. But Friday is Friday, and today is well...not. So here it goes in order. Drum roll please…
1) Dinara Safina—She’s currently perched atop the women’s rankings, has won the last two big clay court tournaments (Rome and Madrid), and was a French Open finalist last year.
For these reasons—and the dramatically improved fitness and attitude that brought these about—it’s hard not to consider her the favorite. Unlike Rafael Nadal, who will shock the tennis world if he doesn’t win the men’s title, Safina won’t shock anyone by losing, but she certainly won’t surprise anyone by winning. (2009 Singles Record: 28-6)
2) Svetlana Kuznetsova—Kuznetsova’s known to be hot or cold, and right now she’s hot.
At the clay court tournament in Stuttgart earlier this year, she was on fire, beating Safina in straight sets. The next week she made it to the Rome final also against Safina; that time she lost but not before beating much-touted Victoria Azarenka in the semifinal. Kuznetsova has won a Grand Slam before, so she knows and has what it takes. The big task for her will be to limit her unforced errors and, perhaps more importantly, keep it together mentally. (2009 Singles Record: 21-7)
3) Elena Dementieva—Some consider her the best player never to have won a Grand Slam. She’s been close (she was finalist twice), and she won the Olympic gold medal for women’s singles last year.
She hasn’t been playing as well the past few months as she did before the Australian Open, when she won back-to-back tournaments, but she’s had respectable results in the three clay court tournaments she’s played. If she can play her high standard of tennis for two full weeks, keep her serve in check, and avoid meeting a Williams sister too early...she has a shot at winning her first Grand Slam. (2009 Singles Record: 31-8)
4) Venus Williams—She’s never won the French Open before, and everyone know she’s not nearly as good on clay as she is on grass. You can’t count her out though, because she’s a seven-time Grand Slam champion, she’s been playing consistently well and mostly injury-free this year (she’s back at No. 3 in the world) and, perhaps most importantly, she’s a Williams sister.
She’s played three clay court tournaments, losing to eventual champion Sabine Lisicki in Charleston and eventual finalist Safina in Rome (in what some consider the women’s match of the year). If she can play her forceful style of tennis while limiting her unforced errors and increasing her first-serve percentage—and not get dismissed in the first two or three rounds (like she was last year )—she may finally be able to add the French Open trophy to her overflowing cabinet. (2009 Singles Record: 19-5)
5) Serena Williams—She's on a shocking four-match losing streak, including all three clay court matches she's played this year, and she may have a leg injury. However, she's also been in the finals of the last three Grand Slams (winning two of them), has won 10 Grand Slams (including the French Open), and is currently No. 2 in the world. Those don't even include the biggest reason she's a contender.
The biggest reason? She’s Serena Williams. You can't always count her in, but you can't ever count her out. (2009 Singles Record: 21-6)
* Maybe—Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, and Victoria Azarenka
* Maybe Not—Ana Ivanovic, Amelie Mauresmo, Sabine Lisicki, and Maria Sharapova