2009 French Open Preview: 10 Questions on the Women's Side
For every 100 previews of the French Open, 99 of them will tell you that Rafael Nadal will easily hoist his fifth consecutive Coupe des Mousquetaires. The lonely other one is probably written by either the BBC or a hopeless Roger Federer fanatic.
Needless to say, the men's side of the draw has essentially been determined. Now, the mere formality of playing through the tournament.
However, the WTA is anything but decided. Since the sudden retirement of then-No. 1 Justine Henin, clay court titles have been completely up for grabs. No one has come close to establishing dominance on the surface for an extended duration.
For the champions of 2008, the singles and doubles platforms may have been unexpected, shall we say? Ana Ivanovic captured her first-ever Slam title, coincidentally bumping her into the world No. 1 slot. Spanish duo Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual swiped the title out of the hands of Black and Huber.
Through the fog, nothing seems clear. Here are some of the big questions.
10. Can the Ukraine's sister act climb the final slope to a French Open title?
Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko smashed their way onto the doubles scene at last year's Roland Garros, running all the way to the semifinals before they were eliminated. The pair believe they can finally go all the way in 2009.
Their performance in 2008 got better with each round. If they can climb the peak, they would become the first-ever sister pairing to capture the crown.
9. Can doubles duo Liezel Huber and Cara Black complete the elusive career Grand Slam?
Liezel Huber and Cara Black have won all three Slams to date, except the French. The current world No. 1 pairing have reached the final before, back in 2005, but fell to the 2008 champions Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual.
They are hitting their stride to perfection at the right time too. As the top seed in Madrid, they knocked out Nos. 5, 4, and 3 en route to a championship.
Watch out. Their Grand Slam could be the story of the tournament that nobody talks about.
8. Who will be the Carla Suarez Navarro surprise player of 2009?
Last year, the Spanish qualifier ran to the quarterfinals, knocking off a pair of seeded players before reaching the elite eight. Despite losing to third-seeded Jelena Jankovic in straight sets, she made headlines all over the tennis world.
This year's qualifying rounds are loaded with capable assassins.
* Yaroslava Shvedova: The towering top-seeded Kazakh is a solid fundamental clay court player who could surprise with her speed and power. She gave Italian Flavia Pennetta a run for her money in Madrid.
* Simona Halep: Romania's 2008 Junior French Open champion is ready to make a splash on the big stage. The 17-year-old has already dumped her fair share of decent adversaries on clay.
* Arantxa Rus: It may be the Dutchwoman's first appearance in the French Open, but don't be discouraged. The southpaw from Monster can hold serve with anybody. She's had a good deal of success on the Junior stage on clay.
Or maybe it will be someone else completely?
7. Will there be any top seeds making early exits?
In 2008, three of the top four players in the draw made it to the semifinals. Maria Sharapova, the No. 1 seed, did not. She was joined by the Williams sisters, who both made third round exits, and sixth seed Anna Chakvetadze, who dropped out in the second.
This year, many of the same faces make up the top 10 players in the draw. Newcomers to the group, however, will be Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, and Vera Zvonareva.
Who will fall out early, if anyone? Or will the WTA emulate the ATP and have all the top seeds playing in week two?
6. Will Maria Sharapova be a factor?
Well, she's back and gunning for the career Grand Slam. But will she be any kind of factor at all? Currently ranked at 126th in the world, she sure won't have an easy road to the finals. But forget that.
Getting out of the first few rounds will be a challenge. She is streaking through the field at Warsaw, set to face Alona Bondarenko in the third round.
The last time she faced a top-caliber player was last year in a R16 defeat at the hands of countrywoman Dinara Safina. That's not a friendly layoff.
5. Will Serena Williams back up her "I'm the best player in the world" attitude?
For whatever pressure is on Dinara Safina to produce a Slam victory now, Serena also shoulders a great deal of it. Her bold statements may not have been delivered at the best time. Since winning the trophy in 2002, Serena has not had a sniff of French Open singles success.
Her health has also been a primary concern. Every tournament she chooses to play nowadays, she finds herself with some severely dampening injury. She will not win at Roland Garros without total strength.
4. How far will the young guns go?
They are armed. They are ready. They are the Young Guns of the WTA, namely Azarenka, Wozniacki, and Agnieszka Radwanska. None have won a Slam title yet, but will that change this year?
Azarenka has already proved her worth, capturing the crown in Miami, and while her success has not transferred to clay just yet, she can heat up at any time.
Caroline has a newfound love for the dirt after winning her first clay court title of her career at Ponte Vedra Beach. She also reached two finals, none bigger than Madrid, where she gave everything she had in a loss to top-seeded Safina.
Is it their time to shine?
3. Which Ivanovic will show up?
When Ana Ivanovic has been good, she's been very good. See: Indian Wells. When Ana Ivanovic has been bad, she's been, well, pretty awful. Agnieszka Radwanska ended her fun in Rome.
Since reaching the world No. 1 spot after winning last year's French Open, will she have the consistency to defend her title? Common sense says no.
Good or bad?
2. Can Dinara Safina silence her critics and win her maiden Slam title?
Is she really worth No. 1? Or is she just a placeholder until someone else will step up? Either way, the spot is hers for now. She has heard all the criticism out there. Since assuming the top spot from Serena, she's been told by everyone in town that she has yet to win a Slam title.
However, hearing these critics and believing them are two different things. She's been heating up at just the right time. On clay, she has reached three straight finals and won two of them: Madrid and Rome.
But can she win the big one? If she can't get motivated here, there isn't much that will. Since Justine Henin retired, not many top seeds have had success on clay. Safina will do anything it takes to end that madness.
1. Who will be the hero?
The WTA's motto, "Looking for a Hero?" could be quenched here. But who will it be?
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