French Open 2008 Womens Preview: Wide Open After Henin Exit

Posted on May 25, 2008

PARIS, France -- A few weeks ago there were few who would bet against Justine Henin winning her fourth straight -- and fifth overall -- Roland Garros title. But on Wednesday, May 14, the Belgian became the first player in Sony Ericsson WTA Tour history to retire ranked No.1 in the world; now, on the eve of the year's second Grand Slam tournament, the major opening that provided could not be any more obvious.

The world's Top 4 -- ranked No.2 through No.5 prior to Henin's departure -- all have a shot at emerging from the upcoming fortnight with the No.1 ranking. And with a combined record of 5-31 against the tenacious Belgian, this could be all of their best chances to win on the terre battue of Roland Garros. Maria Sharapova, who ascended to No.1 in Henin's place and was responsible for over half of the quartet's wins over her (she was 3-6 against her), recorded her best performance here a year ago, reaching the semifinals. She is also a two-time quarterfinalist, in 2004 and 2005. As the only one of the Top 4 seeds to have won multiple Slams (doing it three times) she is also used to this stage.

Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, who were 0-4 and 0-9 respectively against Henin and both lost to her in straight sets here last year, are the No.2 and No.3 seeds during the Parisian fortnight. Novak Djokovic became Serbia's first Grand Slam singles champion at the Australian Open earlier this year, and now these two big-hitters are in the hunt to become Serbia's first female Grand Slam singles winner. Also within striking distance of the title is Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, a one-time major winner (at the 2004 US Open). She was 2-16 lifetime against Henin, which includes a straight set defeat in the final here two years ago.

Based on previous form at this tournament and her being the Grand Slam title leader among active players, Serena Williams is being tipped by many as an arguable favorite for the title. She is the only player in the field who has won here before -- doing so in 2002 -- and she has had some phenomenal results this year, highlighted by winning three straight tournaments in the spring at Bangalore, Miami and Charleston. She has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, just ahead of Venus Williams, who has won six. Venus is a one-time finalist here, finishing runner-up to Serena in 2002. Serena and Venus are the No.5 and No.8 seeds here, respectively, and could meet in the semis.

Rounding out the Top 8 seeds are Russian stars Anna Chakvetadze and Elena Dementieva, No.6 and No.7. Dementieva has been coming on strong over the clay court season, and is the only Top 10 player who comes in with double digit wins on the surface; Chakvetadze lost early in her first few clay court outings, but rebounded with a semifinal finish at Rome.

Other seeds to watch include second week stalwart Patty Schnyder, recent Berlin winner Dinara Safina, 2008 standout Vera Zvonareva and a troupe of France's best that includes Marion Bartoli, Amelie Mauresmo and rising star Alize Cornet, who reached the two biggest semifinals of her career on the American clay of Amelia Island and Charleston before her breakout run to the final of Rome, collecting her first two Top 10 wins along the way. Former semifinalists Nicole Vaidisova and Nadia Petrova can never be counted out either, as well as a crop of teenaged rising stars, including Agnes Szavay, Agnieszka Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova.

Cara Black and Liezel Huber will look to win their fourth Grand Slam title together in the doubles event, but a slew of top teams, including Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung and Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama will also be in the hunt at the year's second major.
-- Sony Ericsson WTA Tour