(Hey y'all - I'll only be posting the ladies' preview today since it's long weekend here in the US for Memorial Day. I'll be back late Sunday for the opening day of Roland Garros. In the meantime, enjoy the preview!!!)
The Queen is dead!
Well okay, more like retired away at a tiny Belgian village for ex-tennis ballers. And, although she wouldn't have been a clear-cut favorite as say Rafael Nadal, four-time defending champion Justine Henin's unexpected retirement this month opened up the ladies' draw nicely for someone to grab the mantle and run like hell. Who are the main contenders for the crown? Let's take a look...
With Justine's retirement complete, Maria "Shriek"apova moved into the penthouse of the WTA Tour. The Russian earned her third Grand Slam at the Australian Open and went on a 17-match win streak until she was beaten at Indian Wells. The clay surface, where movement is an ingredient for success, is not a friend to the 6'2" Maria who once even described herself as a "cow on ice" when stepping onto the slippery stuff. But she made the semifinals of Roland Garros last year nursing a bum shoulder and won her first ever clay-court title at Amelia Island this year. And with her trademark mental strength and tenacity, never count her out. Plus, a win here would give the Russian glamourpuss a career Grand Slam at the tender age of 21.
Someone who never counts Maria out is Serena Williams (which is probably why she's beaten the Russian the last four times they've met.) She's the only baller left on the women's side who's actually won in Paris so experience, including seven other Grand Slams, is on her side. And, next to Maria, ReRe has been the best baller on tour winning three titles to date in Bangalore and Tier 1's in Miami and Charleston. The 26-year old owns arguably the best serve on the tour, powerful groundies, and superior strength. Add to the mix her incredible movement and ReRe looks to be the odds-on favorite now with Justine out of the picture.
Jelena Jankovic is one baller who's probably not sad to see Justine retired: the Serb never defeated the Belgian in nine attempts including the semifinals of last year's French Open. However, she's beaten everyone else in big matches including Maria and the Williams sisters and possesses the best backhand down-the-line in the women's game. Jelena is a fluid mover whose counter-punching style will serve her well the next two weeks. Her mental game, however, is still suspect and her serve still soft (though it's not as much of an impediment on the slow clay.) But if she's able to stay mentally tough in the key moments, she may very well reach her first ever Grand Slam final.
Jelena's sister Serb, Ana Ivanovic, is the new pin-up girl on the tour. But this beauty has a beast of a game including a strong, if sometimes inconsistent, serve and blowtorch forehand. Ana made her first Grand Slam final appearance here last year and followed that up with the finals of Australia. That being said, she has struggled with the pressure and expectation recently, falling in the opening round of Rome. But she has the ability to shut out bad matches with brilliant returns-to-form so expect a great showing in Paris.
Other lady ballers to keep your eyes peeled for:
Vera Zvonareva - Another baller from the Russian army, this 23-year old has already reached four finals this year, winning one on clay in Prague. She's another great mover that possesses tenacity and gritty determination but is prone to mental fits and crying on the court (no crying in tennis Vera!). If she keeps her head on straight, a career-making tournament isn't out of the question.
Alize Cornet - The 2007 French Open junior champion has been on a tear since reaching the finals of Acapulco (losing to Italy's Flavia Pennetta.) The 18-year old followed up that achievement with the semifinals of Amelia Island and Charleston and the finals of Rome. At only 5'8" and 132 pounds, a stiff wind could seemingly knock this Frenchie off her game, but not likely on her favored surface.
Victoria Azarenka - Another teen queen at 18-years old, Victoria has been quietly building a solid season so far. After reaching the final of Gold Coast to open the season, the Belarusian made the finals of Prague and the semifinals of Berlin. Victoria has a powerful baseline game, but her movement is still raw. Regardless, with a nice draw and some dumb luck, this up-and-comer could have a breakthrough tournament.
In case you missed it, click here for the boys' preview.
(image via Getty)