The last couple of weeks brought two major excitements to the tennis world.
The first one came from Justine Henin, the 3-time French Open champion and world’s No. 1, who decided to retire from the game at age 25. The Belgian said that the reason she quit was that she thought she lost her competitive spirit.
She is the first woman ever to leave the game while still holding the No. 1 rank.
The second one was Novak Djokovic’s attempt to overtake Rafael Nadal at No. 2 spot in the Hamburg Masters semifinals last Saturday. However, the Spaniard was able to win the game 2-1 (7-5, 2-6, 6-2), and keep the rankings unchanged.
With Henin out, and Novak Djokovic only 360 points shy from Nadal’s No. 2, two questions immediately come to mind before the French Open starts in two days.
The first question is, of course, who will succeed Justine Henin’s French Open title?
The greatest contenders for the championship will certainly be Serbia’s No. 2 Ana Ivanovic and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, with Russia’s No. 1 Maria Sharapova.
Ivanovic already has one Roland Garros final behind her.
In 2007, she dominated Sharapova 2-0 (6-2, 6-1) in the semifinal, but lost to Henin in the final match with almost similar result 2-0 (6-1, 6-2).
However, her matches on clay this year weren’t something to be proud of—she only won three games, and lost two. Furthermore, she was knocked out from the last week's tournament in Rome in her first match.
Sharapova, on the other hand, has won the Australian Open in January, beating Ivanovic 2-0. Furthermore, she has improved her clay court game significantly this year, having won 10 out of 12 matches.
History, though, is not on her side.
Namely, the Russian has never played in the finals of Roland Garros. The closest she ever got was last year’s semifinals, where she was stopped by Ivanovic.
As for Jankovic, she won the WTA tournament in Rome last week, and similarly to Sharapova, she has won nine out of 11 games played on clay this year.
But, when put against Ivanovic and Sharapova, her Grand Slam placements don’t look too well—she participated in only three semifinals so far, including 2008 Australian Open and 2007 French Open. Furthermore, of all her Grand Slams, she has the worst win/loss record at the French Open, which is 7-4.
It will be very interesting to see how the games of these three ladies play out at the tournament, and who will eventually come on top.
The second question is will Nadal finally fold at the French Open, and possibly drop to No. 3 after the tournament?
No. 1 Roger Federer will be coming after the Spaniard intensely, as the French Open is the only Grand Slam the Swiss hasn’t won so far. The world’s No. 1 currently holds 12 Grand Slam titles—three Australian Opens, five consecutive Wimbledons, and four US Opens—and has been ranked best in the tennis world ever since February 2nd, 2004.
At the Hamburg Masters finals, which was a prelude to the French Open, the two players clashed to see who is in better shape before the Grand Slam, and after a three hour drama, Nadal won 2-1 (7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3).
Though Nadal came out as a winner, Federer dominated the first set, but failed to break him after a 1-5 lead and a set point. This showed that the Spaniard is, in fact, vulnerable at his “playground.”
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic will also have high hopes for breaking the Spaniard in order to advance to the No. 2 spot in the ATP rankings.
However, one needs to keep the following stats in mind—Nadal has never suffered a defeat at the French Open; he has only lost two games in the past 111 played on clay; he has won the French Open three times in a row (one shy of becoming the record holder for most consecutive wins alongside Bjorn Borg); and, he’s currently in great shape, having won three tournaments in the past month.
The Spaniard will definitely be the man to beat at the tournament.
There are a lot of things to get excited for at this year's French Open, and these two examples are just a starter.
If one has ever considered of becoming a tennis fan, the 2008 Roland Garros is the tournament to pick, because history, in both men's and women's categories, will be made!