The draws are out, the players are in Paris. It’s time for the previews.
Justine Henin and Rafael Nadal are sharing the same mission at this year’s French Open. Both of them want to win the biggest clay court prize for a third consecutive year. Henin is looking for a fourth career title in Paris.
The Belgian will have her work cut out for her, as Juju will have to go through her two biggest challengers just to reach the final. First of all, Henin is scheduled to meet Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the quarters, whom she lost to in the final of Miami earlier this year. If she takes out Serena, Jelena Jankovic will be waiting in the semi’s.
I have seen Henin play on clay several times this year and I don’t feel she is as dominant as she was last year. She could have lost to Jankovic in the semi-finals of Warsaw, a tournament Henin won, and she should have lost to that same Jankovic in Berlin, when the Serbian was leading 4-0 in the third set but failed to close out the match. Henin fell to Kuznetsova in the semi-finals of the Tier I event.
Because of this, I am going for Serena Williams to take her out in the quarterfinals. There is no better fighter out there than Serena and I believe she has genuinely set her mind to performing well in Paris. Not to forget that Serena has already beaten Henin earlier this year, albeit on a hard court.
Semi-final pick: Serena Williams
Second QuarterMoving on to the second section of the draw. Here we have the in-form Jelena Jankovic, who just can’t seem to stop playing these days. Exactly one year ago, before the tournament in Rome, she was on the verge of retiring from the sport, when she couldn’t get past a first round in nine straight events. A year later, she won the Tier I event and moved up to number four in the world.Moving on to the second section of the draw. Here we have the in-form Jelena Jankovic, who just can’t seem to stop playing these days. Exactly one year ago, before the tournament in Rome, she was on the verge of retiring from the sport, when she couldn’t get past a first round in nine straight events. A year later, she won the Tier I event and moved up to number four in the world.However, Jankovic has apparantly not learned from what happened to her in Australia earlier this year. During the Australian circuit, Jankovic was performing so well, that she reached the final of back-to-back events in Auckland and Sydney. She had played 10 matches in two weeks time, right before the Australian Open. Jankovic would have been a real contender, had she been a hundred percent fit during the first major of the year. The amount of matches played before heading to Melbourne got to her, and she was an easy prey for Serena Williams in the fourth round.
Now, Jankovic had reached the semi-finals in Warsaw and the quarterfinals in Berlin – played over two days due to rain delays – before she won the tournament in Rome. All in back-to-back-to-back weeks. What would any person do the next week, just seven days before the start of a Grand Slam event? Exactly, pull out of the next event and rest up.
Jelena Jankovic though, is not any person. She decides to play the tiny warm-up event of Strasbourg, makes the semi-finals and then pulls out.
If Jankovic were to make the semi-final or final of Roland Garros, she would have played for six straight weeks. Don’t tell me this isn’t going to affect your physical condition.
Still, despite a tough draw with Venus Williams in the third round, Elena Dementieva in the fourth and Nadia Petrova or Nicole Vaidisova in the quarters, I’m going with J.J. in this section.
Semi-final pick: Jelena Jankovic
Ana Ivanovic captured the Tier I title in Berlin earlier this month and should have a fairly comfortable road to the quarterfinals here in Paris. So should Svetlana Kuznetsova, whom Ivanovic beat in the Berlin final. The Russian’s only threat comes in Shahar Peer, a likely opponent in the round of 16.
Kuznetsova, a finalist to Henin in last year’s edition, could meet Anastasia Myskina in the second round, should the 2004 Roland Garros champion win her first encounter after a long injury lay-off. Myskina hasn’t played a match since January, when she lost a first rounder against Gisela Dulko in Auckland. The Russian faces a tough opener against Meghann Shaughnessy.
Kuznetsova should have no problems with Myskina should the two Russians meet, but I don’t think the No.3 seed will advance past the quarterfinals. Ivanovic beat Kuznetsova in a third set tiebreaker in Berlin and I think the Serbian will once again prevail.
Semi-final pick: Ana Ivanovic
Maria Sharapova and Amelie Mauresmo are the two highest seeds of the bottom quarter. Still, I don’t see either of them making the quarterfinals. Mauresmo will likely face Lucie Safarova in the third round. The Frenchwoman lost to the 25th seed at the Australian Open and I don’t think things will turn out any different in Paris. Mauresmo is in the Strasbourg final this week, but even if she wins the title of the small Tier III event on Saturday, the current No.5 still hasn’t had much of a preparation on clay.
But the player to watch for in this fourth quarter is not Safarova, but a woman from Switzerland. With Martina Hingis sidelined due to injury, Patty Schnyder will be the Swiss hope on the women’s side. Just once has the 28-year-old veteran from Basel made the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, which was in 2004, when Schnyder reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and lost to Kim Clijsters. At Roland Garros, a quarterfinal appearance dating back to 1998 is her best result.
This year though, I think good old Patty could go one step further. She reached the quarterfinals at the Tier I in Berlin, and bested Serena Williams in Rome en route to the semi-finals, where she lost to tournament winner Jelena Jankovic. Schnyder has a tough third round opponent in Alona Bondarenko, a finalist in Warsaw a few weeks ago, but if she gets past that hurdle, I don’t see a Maria Sharapova without match practice stopping her on clay in the round of 16.
Semi-final pick: Patty Schnyder
Serena Williams – Jankovic
I would have honestly picked Jankovic to win this match and the title, because I think she can hit with Serena but moves better on the clay, giving her the edge. However, considering her tough draw in Paris, I fear she will be drained again just like in Australia once she gets to face Serena, falling short of a career first Grand Slam final.
Pick: Serena Williams
Ivanovic – Schnyder
Another Berlin duel going on a replay. Both women have never progressed to a final of a Grand Slam, but Patty Schnyder is the more experienced of the two. Still, I believe this will be a breakthrough event for Ivanovic, beating her compatriot Jelena Jankovic in becoming the first woman from Serbia to do battle for a Grand Slam title.
Serena Williams – Ivanovic
Serena Williams in a Grand Slam final against an inexperienced opponent. Would you honestly bet against her on this one? Neither would I.
Champion: Serena Williams
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