Since the long term injury to Serena Williams and the demise, through injury of Maria Sharapova and with the final retirement of Justine Henin, there is currently no female player who absolutely dominates world tennis. Currently the top three are Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva, who will hold those positions when the French Open Championship begins in Paris in May.
The latest world rankings tell us that the best player in the world right now is Wozniacki from Denmark, a gifted 20-year-old but has yet to win her first “Grand Slam” title. However, she has won plenty of tournaments, resulting in her lofty position. But as the French Open approaches, the pressure is on her to prove her position.
Wozniacki has won three times on tour this season—Dubai in February, then came victory at Indian Wells in March and earlier this month she took the title in Charleston. Before these victories she had played well at the opening “Slam” of the year in Australia, where she reached the semifinal before going down to Li Na.
It was her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal after reaching the same stage at the US Open last September; that time she went out to the eventual runner up, Vera Zvonareva. Twelve months earlier she made the final at Flushing Meadows only to be beaten by Kim Clijsters. Those efforts suggest she’s got the ability to once again reach the latter stages in Paris and is entitled to make her presence felt.
Many followers of female tennis will maintain that winning Grand Slams is the only real proof of a player being the best in the world. For many, being number one without a Grand Slam title to your name is the equivalent of being a “Queen without a Crown.” It will be a concern to the Dane, but no one can accuse her of doing anything wrong. She is winning ranking tournaments, doing so in fact more often than any of her rivals. She is only 20-years-old with plenty of time to claim a few ‘crowns’ yet, possibly starting at Roland Garros!
Clijsters, who openly admits is “Grand Slam” hungry, will come to Roland Garros for the French Open next month, ranked second in the world and looking to add to the Australia title she won in January. That win in Melbourne was her fourth Grand Slam title, adding to the three she has won at the US Open. Interestingly and possibly proving the point that the ladies game is short of a dominant factor, three of those victories have been achieved since she came back into the game in 2009 after retiring two years earlier to have a child.
Clearly since her comeback, the level of competition has not been as high as it was when she had to compete against the likes of the Williams’ sisters, Henin and Sharapova. Indeed Clijsters reached five Grand Slam finals before her 2007 retirement, winning just one (US Open 2005) and losing the other four; three of which came at the hands of her once-deadly rival and compatriot, Henin.
Two of those finals came at Roland Garros, which strongly indicate that she has the game to win on the clay court and the principle reason why she should start that tournament as the favourite to win.
Vera Zvonareva is the third ranked player in the world, who has one tournament win under her belt so far this year and reached the semifinal in Australia. Although no Grand Slam wins as yet, the Russian number one has made it a habit in recent times of reaching Grand Slam finals, making both the Wimbledon and US Open finals last year.
Her record in the French Open however is not so good; her best performance coming eight years ago, when she reached the quarterfinal. That said, she has played well on clay in the past, and has even won two clay court tournaments—in Croatia in 2003 and more recently in Prague in 2008. She will therefore be amongst the favourites to win in Paris and certainly has the game to justify her world ranking.
At present, women's tennis is wide open and as competitive as it has been for a long time; a situation that couldn’t be any further removed from the current situation in the men's game. All the leading female contenders will be confident of winning the French Open and building on that for the remainder of the season and beyond. Whilst they all have question marks to answer, it is Kim Clijsters who looks the most likely to be the one to dominate.