Justine Henin battling for his fifth French Open Crown
Before we hit the European clay, I wrote a preview http://bleacherreport.com/articles/373873-will-justine-henin-once-again-be-the-queen-of-clay of the clay season speculating whether Henin would once again be the queen of clay and rule the courts like Nadal does on the men's side.
Here we are at the French Open and the first week is coming to a close.
The lead-up tournaments provided us with a lot of different answers and new champions.
Henin did win one lead-up, but who would had seen Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez winning in Madrid?
And who figured Aravane Rezai would pull it off against three former number one's in Rome?
Or what about Venus Williams enjoying her perhaps greatest clay season ever?
I, for one, didn't, although I did have an idea about Venus doing well giving her strong showing in the US.
But where do we stand with regards to the women favourites for the title as Queen of the clay? Let's take a look at the four different quarters as they stand at this point.
Serena Williams Quarter, or Quarter of Death
This quarter contains three of the hottest pre-tournament favourites and after their first two matches, they all remain among the hot favourites.
I'm obviously talking about Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur.
Being in the same quarter makes the winning a whole lot harder. Especially for my pre-tournament favourite Henin, who will have to go through Maria Sharapova (third round,) Stosur (fourth round) and Serena Williams (quarters) just to get to the semis.
Does it get any harder than this? I doubt it.
Both Williams and Stosur have looked like they are on a mission when handing bagels and 1's almost at will (and yes, Stosur lost a set, but what a message she send afterwards! (4-6, 6-1, 6-0 against Los Rios.)
She should prevail in her third round match against qualifier setting up an intriguing fourth round against the winner of the Sharapova-Henin battle.
Serena will then wait for the winner of that triple in the quarters, that is if she prevails against the young Russian hope Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and either Marion Bartoli or Shahar Peer.
But if we take her second round match as an indicator, she should make her ways to the quarter, where she will face— Henin.
Sharapova will provide the first stern test and she might take a set, but I don't see her clay-court game as good enough as to take out Henin. Stosur is far more dangerous and could make the upset.
Bottom line, this quarter is extremely tight and hard to predict. The winner will go out with a lot of momentum, but possibly also with very tired legs after some hard fought wins.
Pick: Justine Henin as her clay court game simply is the best, even with her new more offensive attacking style. Watch out for Stosur. If she does edge it, she will be a hot contender for the title.
I haven't seen much of this quarter, but from the outskirts, you gotta like Jankovic' chances.
No other top-15 seeds are left in the draw, but that doesn't mean her path is easy. Bondarenko can provide a challenge, but should not edge it against the more seasoned player.
I have my eyes on Kleybanova after her butchering of Ana Ivanovic, but it really is a tough section to call with no one being in stellar form.
Pick: Jelena Jankovic
This quarter is already finished with the third round providing some interesting matches and upsets, most notably russian beauty queen Maria Kirilenko winning a nail-biting three-setter against defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
In the fourth round she is facing the Italian veteran clay-courter Schavione, who could provide as hard a challenge as the hard-hitting, but somewhat out of form, Svetlana.
Third-seed Danish Wozniacki is facing an in form Flavia Pennetta (23-10 in matches this year and thrashing Herzog in the third round).
Wozniacki had a very good American clay-court showing, but have been suffering from an ancle injury and resulting early loses throughout the European clay circus.
Though still playing with her ankle taped, her first three matches indicate that she has the confidence in her movement back — an essential part of the counter-punchers game.
With Svetlana out and the ankle doing seemingly alright, she has every chance to advance to the semis, but the three remaining contenders are all more than capable of providing the upset.
Pick: Caroline Wozniacki
Venus Williams Quarter
Elene Dementieva is injured, but apparently fresh enough to let her experience dominate her younger peers as she showed today when coming out on top of a hard fought battle with Alexandra Wozniak.
Her emotion and relief was evident as was her mothers. Next match should be easier when facing the world's number 131, Chanelle Scheepers and Dementieva seems booked in the quarters against, well, it's hard to say.
Nadia Petrova and French favourite Aravane Rezai is currently battling out one of the most entertaining matches so far in the tournament.
The match was stopped after darkness had arrived at 7-7 in the third. I only got to see the third set, but given Rezai's performance in Madrid, her being a crowd favourite and Petrova's very fluctuating level, I fancy Rezai's chances which would set her up against Venus Williams for an intriguing fourth round battle.
As you will remember, Rezai won against Williams in Madrid and this being in Paris and being a Slam certainly won't hurt the refreshing French who doesn't know fear and goes for broke whenever you would expect her to play it safe.
The winner of this match will have the upper hand against an injured Dementieva, but the winner is not that easy to pick. Venus has had a strange habit of losing when she should win in the Slams in the latter years (remember Aus 2010 anyone?), but her spring form has been better than ever and she looks as if she is capable of going all the way.
She would be the safe bet, but I have a gut feeling that Rezai will once again prove too much for her.
A very much awake sleeper: Venus Williams
Henin vs. Jankovic
Wozniacki vs. Rezai
If Henin gets to the semi's, she is either dead tired or on a roll or both. Still, I fancy her anytime against Jankovic (she is 10-0 in their head-to-head, five of those being on clay) — even more so if she survives the toughest draw of all.
Wozniacki vs. Rezai? Had it been Venus, Wozniacki would have a 0-4 record, but Rezai and Wozniacki have never met.
They have very different playing styles, Wozniacki being the fast retriever and counter-puncher, Rezai being the more aggressive dictator of the points.
I pick Wozniacki due to her rope-the-dope tactics and her ability to come back and win close matches.
The girl never, ever gives up. That said, it is a very close call and I wouldn't mind seeing the French girl continue her success with her refreshing game.
Henin def. Wozniacki
Yes, you heard me right. She will again be the queen of clay.
The two of them battled it out in Indian Wells and once Henin got her game going, she was a level above the Danish teenager.
Expect that to happen again if they meet in Paris — just as Clijsters was a level above Wozniacki at the Flushing Meadows.
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