2011 French Open: Top 10 Women's Contenders at Roland Garros

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IApril 11, 2011

2011 French Open: Top 10 Women's Contenders at Roland Garros

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    PARIS - JUNE 05:  Francesca Schiavone of Italy celebrates winning championship point during women's singles final match between Francesca Schiavone of Italy and Samantha Stosur of Australia on day fourteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 20
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Get ready to consult the best astrologers in the planet to have the name of the 2011 French Open champion on the ladies side.

    Women's tennis has become so unpredictable that I would not be surprise to see a Julia Puntintseva to come out of nowhere and take the title.

    Definitely you will always have the Clijsers, Wozniackis and Azarenka's that come to mind.
    However, their performances on clay have not been that great over the past years.

    Clijsters has not played at the French since 2006, while Wozniacki is not as comfortable on the dirt as she is on the hard courts.

    If you decide to make a poll on the streets, very few people, unless they live in Italy, will remember that
    Francesca Schiavone is the actual defending champion, while Serena Williams is very likely to not play this year.

    When things seems difficult to predict It's  always worth picking an experienced player who knows what it takes to win seven successive matches.
    Therefore, you have to go with Clijsters, Schiavone, Sharapova, and Kuznetsova.

    As The French Open is exactly six weeks away we thought it would be the best time to make a top ten list of the favorites.


1° Kim Clijsters (BEL)

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29:  Kim Clijsters of Belgium looks on after winning her women's final match against Na Li of China during day thirteen of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 29, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ca
    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Odds are very much against Clijsters to win in Paris.
    The 2001 runner-up will return just in time to competitive tennis as she is recovering from a shoulder injjury.
    Moreover, the Belgian is not comfortable on the dirt.
    In addition, the 27 year-old has not played Roland Garros since 2006.
    At that time she was dominated in the semifinals by her compatriot Justine Henin, one of the best clay court player of all time.

    Despite all these facts, I don't see why Clijsters could not win her first French Open, which would be stunning.

    The only players who could really give Kim a hard time  in Paris are Schiavone and Kuznetsova since both players can mix their game well and force her to put the ball in play more than she likes.

    Roland Garros  will  be Clijsters biggest challenge this year.

    However, the Bree native is still the defending champion of the last two majors and will be the toughest player to beat in the draw if she is healthy.

2° Francesca Schiavone (ITA)

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    INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 11:  Francesca Schiavone of Italy hits a forehand in her match against Zuzana Ondraskova of The Czech Republic during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11, 2011 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by
    Harry How/Getty Images

    In a sport where 27 is considered old, Francesca Schiavone winning French Open at 30 is an unbelievabel achievement.

    What's even more stunning is that the Italian went on to have good results in the summer.
    Most of the time when an underdog wins a major there is nothing left in the tank for the next few months of the season.

    However, Schiavone went on and was a quarterfinalist in Montreal,Flushing Meadows, Beijing and a semlifinaist in Tokyo.

    At the beginning of the season, the Milan resident won the most amazing match of the past dacade against Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last 16 of the Australian Open.

    Schiavone beat Kuznetsova after a marathon match of more than four hours, which finished with the 30-year-old winning the deciding set 16-14.

    Therefore, there is decent chance Schavone will defend her title successfully.





3° Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)

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    DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 18:  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia plays a shot during her quarter-final match against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland during day five of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February
    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the players most of the media never pay attention to.

    The fact that the Russian does not have the same media coverage as her compatriot Maria Sharapova take some of the pressure out of her shoulders.

    That's how she claimed the US Open in 2004 and Roland Garros in 2009.

    We also forget that the Russian is one of the very few complete players.
    There are not real weaknesses in her game.

    Although, when "Kuzy" has the opportunity to close a match that's where her game falls apart.

    Kuznetsova also has the tendency of  taking a lot of time before finding her rhythm in a match.
    It's not unusual to see her trailing by a set and a half before coming back, which can cost her a lot of energy.

    However,  Kuznetsova is also one of the main players who know how to slide on clay; which will make her a true contender.

4° Victoria Azarenka (BLR)

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - APRIL 02:  Victoria Azarenka of Belarus celebrates with the trophy after she her match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during the women's singles championship at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 2, 2011 in
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Victoria Azarenka is a different player than she was a year ago.
    The Belarusian is more patient, does not get upset as she used to when losing an important point.

    That's how she won in Miami and Marbella, two successive tournaments on two different surfaces.

    The Marbella Open is the first European clay court tournament of the season.
    Therefore, to open it with winning ways is nothing but positive for the up-coming weeks.


    Azarenka's 11-match win streak will boost her confidence going to the French Open/

    The 21-year-old was in the top 10 two years ago, then fell in the rankings last year after several injuries, and now is playing the best tennis of her life.

    Azarenka   rebuilt her staff by changing her coach and fitness trainer. She may have needed all this time to adjust to a new way of working.

    The 2009 French Open quarterfinalist  still needs to work on her serve and other major weapons, but she has worked a lot on her fitness and can now hit with more power.

    Elsewhere, the Minsk native is a crafty player, who could do a lot more damage on the French clay.

    I would not be surprised to see "Vika" reach the final of Roland Garros.



5° Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 24:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark looks on against Bethanie Mattek-Sands during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 24, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Can the World number one surprise the World by winning her first major at Roland Garros?

    I think we will have to wait a little bit longer.

    Some will argue that the Dane won Charleston on clay, which should help her confidence moving forward.

    First of all the clay of Charleston and Roland Garros are as different as could be the deco turf court played at the US Open  and the grass court played at Wimbledon.

    The Har-thru is a quicker and harder clay than than a red European  clay.

    The red clay is much more slower, which change the rhythm of a match.

    Switching racquets in January, coupled with some bad results, left some people worrying about her form, but Caroline reassured us by winning in Dubai, Indian Wells and Charleston.

    Her insistence on waiting and the flaws in her offensive game are not fatal against most of the players - but not when facing the best in the world.

    We always seem to end up at the same conclusion with her: Caroline wins a lot of matches because she's very steady and is a great counterpuncher, but she also has to work on being aggressive if she wants to win that, so far elusive, first Grand Slam.

    By the way, I'm sure it will happen at some point at the US Open, or next year, but it is unlikely to happen in Roland Garros, where she still needs to gain experience unless the draw opens for her.

6° Vera Zvonareva (RUS)

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    DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 14:  Vera Zvonareva of Russia speaks to the media during day one of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 14, 2011 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Michael Reg
    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Vera Zvonareva is a potential World number one player.
    The 27-year-old was a finalist at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows last year and has been a steady top three player since last summer.

    The Moscow resident is one of the few complete player on the tour.
    Elsewhere,the way she reads her opponents game and weaknesses is unique.

    She's a really interesting player because she's different from the other girls: she's independent and able to manage herself on a daily basis.

    We often see her spending hours in the fitness room to do specific bodybuilding or stretching work. She's doing it every single day. She's a very determined player and her ranking rewards all those years of hard work.

    The only downside of her resume has been her Roland Garros results.
    Vera did not play the tournament in 2009 and 2007 due to multiple injuries and lost in the second round last year.

    However, Zvonareva is a different player from a year ago and the odds to see her play her best career French Open are great if she remains healthy.


    

7° Dominika Cibulkova (CZE)

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia plays a backhand in her third round match against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during day five of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (
    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Many people will be surprised by the choice but I like Cibulkova's chances to win Roland Garros.

    We were expecting way better from Dominika Cibulkova , semi-finalist at the French Open in 2009 at the age of 20.

    She reached 13th place at that time but parting ways with her coach Vladimir Platenik didn't allow her to go on in improving. She now works with the duo that led Dinara Safina to number one: coach Zejko Krajan and a fitness trainer.

    Cibulkova has what it takes to play well on clay :  Determined, patient, and extra fit.

    Elsewehere, the 5"3 foot slides very well around the court and knows how to exhaust her opponents.

    Last but not least, the Czech player is one of the very few ones to have beaten Wozniacki - in Sydney -  and Zvonareva - In Indian Wells -  this year, which will be key if they meet in Paris, where they will play at Dominika's favorites tournament and surface.


8° Maria Sharapova (RUS)

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - APRIL 02:  Maria Sharapova of Russia looks on against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during the women's singles championship at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 2, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Al
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Maria Sharapova is finding form again.
    After struggling badly since her return from a shoulder injury two years ago, the Russian has shown significant improvement reaching the final in Miami before losing to Victoria Azarenka.

    If the three-time Grand Slam champion can manage to recover the full motion of the serve, she will win another Grand Slam.

    However, clay is Sharapova's most challenging surface.

    The 24-year old  still struggles with her movement  on the dirt.
    It is therefore amazing she  had managed to reach the semifinals of the French Open; which is a testimony to her big heart on the court.

    She remains dangerous if you give her angles and she likes to be moved around the court in order to use those angles to fire some great shots, which is more difficult to do on clay.

    The Miami finalist  is  a huge competitor still; she is a really tough on the key points, a player who rarely chokes when it is time to end a match and a player who is going to take her chance no matter what from the first to the last point.

    Sharapova will have a small chance to win the French if her draw does not have six, or seven successive clay court  specialists.


9° Andrea Petkovic (GER)

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 29:  Andrea Petkovic of Germany reacts against Jelena Jankovic of Serbia during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 29, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Andrea Petkovic has been the rising star in 2011.
    The German, who is my second underdog, has improved a lot over the past two seasons.
    Her fitness, the physical battle she forces her opponents to go through and her great first serve are outstanding weapons for clay.

    Elsewhere, the Bosnian born has improved a lot mentally.
    Her semifinal show in Miami with victories over Wozniacki and Jankovic is a testimony to her progress in that department.

    However, The 23-year old's second serve will also need to be improved, like the variety of her game, which can be sometimes a bit too easy to read

    Despite Petkovic's 2nd round exit at the French on the both times she played the event, I like her chances to surprise the tennis world and win her first major.

10° Samantha Stosur (AUS)

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    DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 18:  Samantha Stosur of Australia plays a shot during her quarter-final match against Jelena Jankovic of Serbia during day five of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 18,
    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Samantha Stosur has highlighted Roland Garros in the ladies side for the past two editions.
    The Aussie was a semifinalist in 2009 and a runner-up last year.

    Clay is Stosur's favorite surface. The 27-year-old becomes unbeatable when she  is on a good streak.

    The Gold Coast resident  plays a different kind of tennis that we are used to, way closer to what we see on the men's tour; strong serve, inside-out forehand and huge athletic strength.

    Stosur  possess many weapons to keep that momentum in 2011.

    Despite a shy start of the season, Stosur only needs one or two good results to get her rhythm going again.

    No doubt she will be one of the player to beat at Roland Garros.

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