French Open 2011: The Women's Quest for the Trophy Is Wide Open

AndersCorrespondent IIIMay 17, 2011

ROME, ITALY - MAY 15:  Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during the final against Samantha Stosur of Australia during day eight of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 15, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Last year, the French Open had a fairytale winner in terms of the now 30-year-old Francesca Sciavone. The Italian had never been anywhere near winning as big a title and with her unorthodox and entertaining all-court game, she soon became a crowd darling. Last year, the French Open had favorites in terms of three-time winner Justine Henin.

This time, the contest on the red clay is as open as you can imagine. During the clay season, no woman has proved herself stronger than the rest of the field as Sam Stosur did last year and Dinara Safina did the year before (both without winning the crown that matters the most).

Victoria Azarenka has looked strong and is a serious contender. Maria Sharapova has been playing well and just had a very big win in Rome, but clay remains her worst surface and she can lose to anyone who’s able to move her around on court.

Samantha Stosur is starting to look good again and made the finals in Rome. Andrea Petkovic has taken everyone by storm, but can never be more than a dark horse for the title. Same with Julia Goerges, who’s beaten Caroline Wozniacki, World No. 1, two consecutive times on clay. The Danish No. 1 has played fairly well, but is yet to win her first clay tournament and has been out-slugged in three consecutive tournaments.

Kim Clijsters is coming back from injury and remains a big question mark, especially given it’s clay, her worst surface. Venus Williams is out and Serena Williams is out out too. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic, both former champions at the French Open, are far away from previous form. Vera Zvonareva hasn’t shown much on clay, losing to Stosur and Kvitová in her two tournaments, and clay remains her worst surface.

The defending champion, Schiavone, has not showed anything like consistent play either falling early in her two first clay tournaments before losing to Stosur in the quarters in Rome. Then we have a dark horse like Petra Kvitová, the winner of Madrid and a woman capable of bludgeoning any player on any given day. She might be as good a guess as any, but she does remain streaky and has never pulled it all together in a Slam.

Who are we to favor?

The proven slam winners? That leaves us with a very small circle. The unproven contenders? They are by nature unproven. The slamless World No. 1? She’s just been beaten three times in a row by more hard-hitting players on the red turf and the question remains whether clay simply provides her opponents with too much time to utilize their power and set up their shots against the Danish human wall. However, she’s aimed her training at peaking at the French and if it pays off, who are we to say she didn’t win Rome?

Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the French Open is vastly unpredictable this year. Sure, Wozniacki is more likely to win it than say Petkovic, but dare anyone say Petkovic doesn’t stand a chance? No. There are around 10 players capable of taking the title.

If Sharapova can keep her serve together, she suddenly finds herself as one of the unlikely favourites for the French. If Kim Clijsters has had enough time to prepare on clay, we all know what she’s capable of. If Azarenka can keep her focus, she’s a very legitimate contender. Same with Kvitová, but she’s less proven.

Slamming Stosur is another one who deserves mention among the top favourites. And last year’s unlikely champion? Well, I guess she deserves it too. So does Wozniacki, simply by virtue of being No. 1.

The bottom line is this. Predicting the men’s two finalists does seem like a much easier task than the women’s finalists.  If anything, that means we should have an exciting tournament full of surprise runs.