By Christopher Phillips
[Ed note: Chris Phillips, part of TSF West, files his thoughts on who’s hot, who’s not and who might just make a run at this year’s Roland Garros. -NEM]
Franny was feeling it last year. But can she re-capture her Parisian glory?
Caroline Wozniacki | I know Caro’s spring hasn’t been the best, but she’s 15-3 on the dirt, winning in Charleston in April. Yes, she lost to upstart German Julia Goerges twice and went out to Maria Sharapova in Rome, but with her earliest loss being the round of 16 in Madrid, I still think she has to be the favorite going in — just not as big of one as she was a few weeks ago. Result: Runner-up (to Kvitova in three-set loss)
Maria Sharapova | I’ve always been a bigger fan of Maria on clay than she has been herself. She won Rome beating four of its top ten seeds (Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur and Shahar Peer) without too much difficulty and went out the week before that to former FO semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova in Madrid in the round of 16. A semifinalist back in 2007 and three-time quarterfinalist, Maria pushed Justine Henin to three sets last year before bowing out. She’s got nothing to lose. Result: Semifinal
Francesca Schiavone | I think I was the only one who wasn’t surprised — okay, completely surprised — by her victory last year. Even though her results on clay this year have been sub-par, I think Franny will have more confidence and desire going into Roland Garros than she did last year. But will it all come together? Result: Quarterfinal
Vera Zvonareva | She’s only played two clay court tournaments all season losing to Stosur and Petra Kvitova but Vera is as unpredictable as her emotions — you can’t count her out. Result: Semifinal
Victoria Azarenka | She’s 12-3 on clay this year but was forced to retire against Sharapova in her last match. Azarenka’s best victory on the dirt this season has been over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. And here’s something that might surprise you: Of the five times she’s played the French, she’s lost in the first round three out of five tries — including last year to Gisela Dulko. Result: Quarterfinal
Petra Kvitova | The Madrid champion (and Prague challenger finalist … what?!) has wins over Zvonareva, Li Na and Azarenka on the dirt. But can she make a deep run here? Result: Champion
Kim Clijsters | She’s decided to play Roland Garros, her first clay court tournament of the season after injuring her foot in April. A two-time finalist and semifinalist last year, she’ll be a contender but I don’t know if she’ll be a threat. It all depends which Kimmie shows up, and the two months of not playing could help or hurt — depending on how you look at it. Result: Fourth round
Sam Stosur | Since Roland Garros last year, where Stosur reached the final, she was yet to make it to the finals of another tournament until this past week in Rome. Granted, her loss to Sharapova wasn’t pretty, Stosur has beaten Zvonareva, Schiavone and Li Na in the past few weeks on red clay. She was a semifinalist in 2009 and came into the French last year on a hot streak but can she repeat her success? As we’ve learned with Sam, it’s up to her head more than anything else if that forehand can swing freely — and controlled. Result: Fourth round
Jelena Jankovic | Jankovic has underperformed as well this year but she’s reached the semis in Paris three times before. If she equals that mark again, I don’t think many would consider it a surprise. More trouble: Janky upset in Brusells Result: Fourth round
Li Na | Li started 2011 on a hot streak Down Under, but has fizzled since. The last two weeks she’s shown signs of life again with semifinal appearances in both Madrid and Rome. Granted Li had no real significantly mentionable wins in those two tournaments, maybe that’ll be the kick she needs to get back on track for the year in Paris where she’s never lost before the third round. Result: Fourth round
Who are the dark horses in the women’s field? Find out after the cut.
Sveta has become the Andy Roddick of the ladies’ tour. A change of scenes for the recently-slumping Russian?
Other Notable Players to Watch:
Svetlana Kuznetsova | Her season’s been up and down (or just down and down?) but the 2009 champion, 2006 finalist and 2008 semifinalist knows how to play in Paris. Result: Fourth round
Andrea Petkovic | She’s turned in her best year on tour thus far in 2011. While her clay results have been unimpressive, some confidence-boosting wins could see her going deep in the field. And how about a post-Petko dance dance? We’d love to see that happen. Result: Quarterfinal
Agnieszka Radwanska | Her best clay court tournament has been in Stuttgart this year where she beat Schiavone en route to a semifinal loss to Wozniacki. She’s never made it past the round of 16 in Paris but could turn that around in 2011. We’re beginning to think, however, if Aggie doesn’t break through soon, will she ever? Result: Fourth round
Julie Goerges | The 22-year-old German started playing her best tennis of the year (career?!) when she returned to the clay courts in Europe, winning Stuttgart in front of a home crowd (beating Caro in the final) and reaching the semifinals in Madrid. During those runs she’s notched victories over Wozniacki (twice!), Azarenka, Stosur, Kanepi, Dinara Safina and Pavlyuchenkova. Showing that those weren’t just fluke wins, she may be the ultimate dark horse of the field. Result: Quarterfinals
Dominka Cibulkova | She’s beat Sharpova, Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic on the dirt so far this year. She’s never lost before the third round in Paris and made it to the semifinals in 2009. In a game full of power-hitters, Cibulkova’s retrieving, low-to-the-ground game might serve her well — especially if the weather is cool and damp in Paris. Result: Third round
Ana Ivanovic | The 2008 champion and 2007 finalist has had better seasons, but you can’t count out anyone who’s made it to the last day of play before. With Ana, it’s all about her confidence, and if she can get past the third round, she might be able to use that forehand to bring her back to the top of the game. Result: Fourth round
Lourdes Dominguez-Lino | The 30-year-old Bogota champion made it to the third round in 2009. Aaand?
Gisela Dulko | The Acapulco champion pushed Stosur to three sets in Madrid, reached the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2006. The dangerous Argentine has wins in Paris in her career over Azarenka (2010), Conchita Martinez and Martina Navratilova.
Alberta Brianti | This year’s Fes champion … and that’s about it.
Roberta Vinci | The Barcelona champion back in April upset Kleybanova in Madrid before pushing Li Na to three sets. She’ll be seeded for the first time at a major. Can she team up with Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta and Brianti for a little bit of an Italian revolution? Strength in numbers, y’all.
Anabel Medina-Garrigues | This year’s champion in Estoril (and Bogota doubles champ) is a former top 20 player with clay court wins this year over Marion Bartoli, Goerges and Patty Schnyder. She’s made it as far as the fourth round at Roland Garros back in 2007 and to her credit has wins in Paris over Azarenka, Daniela Hantuchova and Estonian upsart Kaia Kanepi.
(Schiavone image by euronews; Sveta image by @robynw — both via Flickr; )
Correction: Clijsters hasn’t played @RG since 2006.