As the 2011 French Open gets underway next week, the women’s field remains wide open. There is no clear cut favorite for the title.
In fact, there has never been a true favorite heading into Paris since Justine Henin announced her first retirement from tennis in 2008. The champions crowned in Henin’s absence have been great surprises––like Ana Ivanovic in 2008, Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 and Francesca Schiavone in 2010.
The good news for tennis fans is that Kim Clijsters will be returning to action in Paris with her ankle severely taped. The Belgian, however, will not have the needed warm-up time on the clay to give her adequate preparation for a win in Paris.
In addition to the top 10 women listed in our power ranking, there are other players who merit our attention as we get ready to crown another French Open champion in 2011. These “also to be watched” players are as follows:
Kim Clijsters can never be discounted at any major tournament regardless of her physical injuries. As the winner of the last two slams at the 2011 Australia Open and at the 2010 U.S. Open, Clijsters will be looking to win this French Open crown. This remains a title that has eluded her in the past.
Svetlana Kuznetsova won the French Open title in 2009 and has the game to win the title again. After her campaign in Marbella where the Russian made the semifinals, Kuznetsova has not fared well on the clay. She will definitely be looking to improve on the grounds at Stade Roland Garros.
Ana Ivanovic has done nothing to suggest that she can win the French Open title again. Still, as a former champion, she has to be considered as a dark horse coming in because she knows exactly what it takes to win it all on clay. Everyone hopes to see the Serbian beauty win in Paris, but the odds are not in her favor this year.
Andrea Petkovic is another of the surging German women who has been making a name for herself on the World stage in tennis. Although Petkovic has not done well on the clay, she is a dangerous player with the potential to do well on any surface.
Our top 10 rankings are based on the four most recent tournament results and the WTA ranking points awarded. The points are aged with the most recent receiving the most points. Following are the top 10 women poised to win at Roland Garros starting Monday in Paris.
JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Ronger Fengerer write the Power Ranking series. Please also check out the latest men's tennis power rankings by clicking here.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 14
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [R 16], Madrid [Quarterfinals], Stuttgart [R 16], Miami [R 16].
Power Ranking Points: 285
Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova overcame countrywoman Vera Dushevina to advance to the third round where she met Victoria Azarenka on the clay courts in Rome at last week's Italian Open.
The teenager appeared to have developed her “clay legs” as the season progressed. Unfortunately, Pavlyuchenkova found the lady from Belarus in excellent form. The Russian was not able to defeat Azarenka in the third round, losing the match 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
After winning the tournament in Monterrey, Pavlyuchenkova’s results have fallen off. Making the quarterfinals in Madrid, however, gave the Russian newfound confidence on the red dirt.
French Open Expectations: This teenager should not be taken lightly by any opponent who finds herself facing Pavlyuchenkova on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros. Although she has shown nothing spectacular during the clay court season to date, the sleeping giant within her could awaken at any moment. With some experience, Pavlyuchenkova is a player with a very promising future.
Last Power Ranking: 8; WTA Ranking:10
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Quarterfinalist], Madrid [R 32], Stuttgart [R 16], Charleston [Semifinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 313
Jelena Jankovic continues to play well but not great. She has not won a title so far in 2011 although the former World No. 1 made the final in Monterrey where she lost to Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
At the Italian Open in Rome this past week, the Serb fell to the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki in their quarterfinal contest, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. This week Jankovic is scheduled to play in the Brussels Open, one week prior to the start of the French Open in Paris.
In 2010 Jankovic enjoyed a much better clay court season as she reached the final at Rome and the semifinal at Roland Garros. While her successes so far have been few, Jankovic continues to battle, giving her utmost each and every time she takes the court.
French Open Expectations: Jankovic must always be considered a factor at a major especially on clay which suits her game as a counter-puncher. Her impressive defensive skills are suited to the slower surface.
Clay gives the Serb another step and one more tick on the clock. Her form to date in 2011 will not see many giving Jankovic the nod to win the tournament, but she certainly has the game to take the trophy.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 5
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Quarterfinalist], Madrid [R 16], Stuttgart [R 16], Miami [Quarterfinalist]
Power Ranking Points: 315
Who can forget Francesca Schiavone’s run to the French Open championship in 2010? Her final win over Samantha Stosur was a thing of beauty for tennis fans everywhere because her game plan was so courageous and because Schiavone executed it with precision and touch.
When the clay court seasoned rolled around once again in 2011, everyone’s thoughts returned to that final in 2010, wondering if Schiavone could recreate her French Open magic.
This year to date, Schiavone has shown moments of brilliance on clay, but she could never sustain them long enough to bring herself a win. The most compelling match for the feisty Italian so far has been against Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open in Rome. The press referred to it as a repeat of the French Open final match. This time, however, Stosur defeated Schiavone 6-2, 6-4.
French Open Expectations: Certainly everyone will be watching the Italian to see if she can pull off a repeat of her run in 2010. With the current field, there is every reason to believe Schiavone has just as great a chance to win the French Open in 2011 as anyone else in the field.
This is especially true without Clijsters in top form even if the Belgian enters the field. It is hard to bet against Schiavone, but repeat champions are rarely seen on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 18
Last Four Tournaments: Madrid [Semifinalist], Stuttgart [Winner], Charleston [Quarterfinalist], Miami [R 128].
Power Ranking Points: 363
Unfortunately German Julia Goerges ran into a red-hot Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals at Madrid. Goerges, who seems to have the edge over world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, did not have the right ingredients to stir up a similar win over Azarenka, losing her encounter 6-4, 6-2.
The German committed 37 unforced errors in her match against the lady from Belarus and earned only one break point in the match.
Although Goerges prefers the hard court surfaces and grass, she is learning how to negotiate on clay. Recently she won the tournament in Stuttgart on the red dirt, upsetting both Samantha Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki in the process. By winning in Stuttgart, Goerges became the first German champion there in 17 years. Anke Huber last won the title in 1994.
In the tournament in Madrid, Goerges again upset Wozniacki in the third round before losing to Azarenka. But her play on the clay moved the German into the top 20 for the first time in her career.
French Open Expectations: Goerges pulled out of Rome and Brussels with lower back pain and is currently hitting the ball in anticipation of the upcoming French Open in Paris. Goerges has a powerful serve enhanced with equally aggressive baseline play. She also seems mentally tough.
As long as her back presents no lingering problems, Goerges will be someone to watch in this year’s French Open.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 9
Last Four Tournaments: Prague 2 [Finalist], Madrid [Winner], Miami [R 32], Nassau [R 32]
Power Ranking Points: 512
At last year’s Wimbledon unseeded and unknown Petra Kvitova found herself in the semifinals where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams 7-6, 6-2. After that, the young Czech fell into a bit of a slump making everyone feel her inroad at Wimbledon was a fluke.
They are no longer looking at Kvitova as an anomaly. When Kvitova won the title in Madrid over the hottest player on tour, Victoria Azarenka, she marked her arrival in the top ten and as a top contender on clay.
Kvitova skipped the Italian Open in Rome to play in a challenger event in Prague, honoring a prior commitment to her home country. While the Czech made it to the Prague finals, she lost that encounter to Magdalena Rybarikova of the Slovak Republic 6-3, 6-4.
French Open Expectations: Kvitova is six feet tall and plays left-handed. Her aggressive game is more suited to the faster surfaces. The Czech, however, is learning fast how to play on clay. Her recent successes on the red dirt make her one of the favorites coming into Paris next week. Kvitova will definitely be someone to watch as the French Open gets underway.
Last Power Ranking: 1; WTA Ranking: 4
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Quarterfinalist], Madrid [Finalist], Stuttgart [R16], Marabella [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 622
Unable to continue play, the lady from Belarus retired down 0-3 in the second set. Until her injury, Azarenka looked to all the world like someone on her way to winning another major title.
After reaching the finals in Madrid and winning in Marbella, Azarenka’s clay court season has been nothing short of spectacular, especially when you consider how poorly she played on this surface a year ago. She and her team will pray that her elbow heals quickly so that she is not side-lined for an extended period.
French Open Expectations: No one is playing any better or more consistently coming into Paris for the 2011 French Open than Azarenka. Assuming her elbow injury becomes a non-factor, there is every reason to expect Azarenka to do very well at Stade Roland Garros.
She should be standing as one of the final eight based on her play on clay so far. More than likely she will be one of the finalists in Paris.
Last Power Ranking: 3; WTA Ranking: 1
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Semifinalist], Madrid [R16], Stuttgart [Finalist], Charleston [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 623
Still world ranked No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki fell victim to German Julia Goerges in Stuttgart and in Madrid. In Rome Wozniacki lost to Maria Sharapova in the semifinals of the Italian Open.
Wozniacki, however, remains solidly in the conversation in each event because the Dane’s unflagging, stellar play keeps her in contention in tournament after tournament.
In 2011 she has compiled a 34-7 match record, winning titles to date in Dubai, Indian Wells and Charleston.
With her ever-improving game, pundits constantly speculate “when” the Dane will win her first major. As a seasoned counter-puncher, clay should bring her very best results because clay allows her additional time to track down every ball hit at her. No one disputes that Wozniacki remains resolute and tenacious on court.
French Open Expectations: With the absence of the Williams sisters, the injury to Clijsters and the second career retirement of Justine Henin, this could be the breakthrough year for Wozniacki at the French Open. The competition for the title is wide open. But the top contenders are players that Wozniacki has beaten in her career.
With her growing maturity and confidence, winning the championship on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros remains well within her grasp in 2011.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 6
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Semifinalist] Madrid [Semifinalist] Stuttgart [R 16], Miami [R 64].
Power Ranking Points: 636
Na Li made a name for herself at the 2010 Australian Open with her outstanding performance on the hard courts, making it to the semifinals.
There she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams 7-6, 7-6 in a tightly contested match. With that result, Li became the first Chinese woman to be ranked in the WTA top 10.
Most would assume that the hard courts were her forte, but Li appears to have found her footing on the clay. So far in 2011, Na Li has managed to do very well on the red dirt, making it to the semifinals of both Madrid and Rome. She is once again primed to take on the best at Stade Roland Garros.
Last year Na Li ran into a red hot Francesca Schiavone and lost in the round of 32 to the Italian who went on to win the 2010 French Open title.
French Open Expectations: This year, Na Li is right up there with all the top seeds hoping for her chance to win in Paris. There is nothing to suggest that her determination or her enthusiasm are lacking. She has plenty of both. Winning the French Open would be a stretch––but then we thought the same thing about Schiavone’s chances a year ago.
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 8
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Finalist], Madrid [R 16], Stuttgart [Semifinalist], Charleston [R 16]
Power Ranking Points: 750
Finally, Samantha Stosur is beginning to repeat the form that took her to the finals of the French Open in 2010. A year ago, Stosur was peaking, playing her best clay court tennis. It looks as though that may be the case again in 2011 as her Rome campaign attested.
All clay-season long fans expected another break-out performance from the Aussie who had not made it to a final since last year’s French Open. Stosur is finding her best form at an opportune moment––just in time for the French Open.
On her way to the final in Rome Stosur had to overcome the woman who beat her on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros in the 2010 final, Francesca Schiavone. The Aussie dispatched the feisty Italian in the Rome quarterfinals 6-2, 6-4.
However, in the final Stosur was summarily dismissed by a confident and accurate Maria Sharapova who defeated her 6-2, 6-4 after a very long rain delay. Sharapova won 14 of the first 15 points and Stosur was never really a factor in the match.
French Open Expectations: Stosur has learned how to make it to finals. Now, she must learn how to win finals. Certainly no one has a better clay court game than the Aussie, but her nerve seems to desert him when there is trophy waiting at the end of a match.
Hopefully, she will learn to overcome her fear of making that winner’s acceptance speech––but until Stosur wins her first French Open crown, she will have doubters across the net and filling her head.
Last Power Ranking: 2; WTA Ranking: 7
Last Four Tournaments: Rome [Winner], Madrid [R 16], Miami [Finalist], Indian Wells [Semifinalist]
Power Ranking Points: 1,120
It seems that Maria Sharapova has finally learned how to play tennis on clay. In the past she has described herself as a “cow on ice,” speaking of her footwork on the red dirt. But now she is back in the top ten, currently sitting at world No. 7. She not only reached the finals in Rome, Sharapova won.
This feat was accomplished at the Italian Open immediately prior to the start of the French Open and––we must reiterate, on clay.
Prior to the clay court season, Sharapova made it to the finals in Miami but lost to Victoria Azarenka in the final. In Rome, needless to say, Sharapova received a break when Azarenka was forced to retire in their quarterfinal match.
But the Russian, building on her newfound confidence, came back in the semifinals to dispatch the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki. That allowed Sharapova to advance to the finals where she met and defeated Samantha Stosur who was also building her form on clay.
When Sharapova returned to the tour after her shoulder injury in 2008, she struggled with double faults and unforced errors. Now she seems back on track which is especially fortuitous considering the current vacancies at the top of the women’s game. Sharapova’s reemergence is a shot in the arm for the women’s game.
French Open Expectations: The French Open is the only major trophy missing from Sharapova’s mantle. Her deepest reach into the draw came in 2007 when she reached the semifinal. It is very probable that Sharapova has the game this year to achieve her career Grand Slam in 2011.