Serena and Sharapova set for French Open bids
Date published :
27 May 2012 - 06:46:53
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, two players better known for their hardcourt and grasscourt abilities, are the form players going into the climax of the claycourt season at the French Open.
Between them they won the four main leadup events on the surface at Charleston and Madrid for the American and at Stuttgart and Rome for the Russian.
The question is whether one of them can sustain their form through two weeks and seven matches in the often unpredictable playing conditions that are a mark at the famed Roland Garros complex on the western edge of Paris.
Williams, whose only win came 10 years ago when she defeated sister Venus in the final, has staged yet another impressive return to form in recent weeks.
The 30-year-old defeated Lucie Safarova in the final at Charleston before pounding world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-3 to take the Madrid Open title at the start of May.
She subsequently withdrew from the semi-finals of last week's Italian Open with a lower back injury but has expressed confidence she will be fully fit to challenge for the title in Paris.
On top of that she has re-dedicated herself to her sport following the nightmare she went through with injuries and illness in 2010-2011.
"I think in general I have much better commitment in tennis. I just am really 100%," the 13-time Grand Slam champion said.
"I love being on the court now. I love every moment. This is what I live for. After going through everything that I went through, I really kind of appreciate every moment more, especially being out on the court."
Sharapova, at 25, is a late convert to claycourt tennis having once described her movement on the slippy red dirt surface as being "like a cow on ice".
She reached the semi-finals last year before losing to eventual champion Li Na and it was the Chinese player she defeated last weekend to defend her Italian Open crown in Rome.
She also chalked up a straight sets win over Azarenka in the final at Stuttgart, a win that followed losses to the Belarussian in the finals at the Australian Open and Indian Wells.
But her only encounter so far this year with Serena Williams resulted in a 6-1, 6-3 thumping in the quarter finals in Madrid.
There is also the question of whether Sharapova's notoriously inconsistent serve can survive through two weeks of outdoor conditions with gusts of wind whipping up the dirt particles and causing all sorts of havoc.
The Russian though is quietly confident that she has a realistic chance of completing her career haul of Grand Slam titles having previously won Wimbledon and the US and Australian Opens once apiece.
Of her play on clay she said: "It's always nice to come to Roland Garros knowing that I have been playing extremely well on it and having won a few titles in the last few weeks."
Defending champion Li, who last year made history in Paris by becoming the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title, showed in her run to the Rome final, where she stretched Sharapova to a third set tie-breaker, that she is running into form at just the right time and could challenge again.
Azarenka, however, seems to have stalled after a tremendous start to the year that saw her win four tournaments, including the Australian Open, and rise to number one in the world rankings for the first time.
She will be the top seed in Paris but there are injury doubts following her withdrawal from her third round match in Rome with a shoulder injury. She has also has been troubled by a wrist injury.
Azarenka is now working under a new coach in the form of retired French favourte Amelie Mauresmo, and she hopes that could prove to give her an extra edge.
"She can give me advice on how to handle yourself during matches because she's been on the big stages as I have been already too. It's good to see somebody else's opinion sometimes," she said.
The east European challenge could also come from Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and the consistent, but lightweight, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, while US Open champion Samantha Stosur of Australia and 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone of Italy both have the games to go deep at Roland Garros.
The joker in the pack could be Dane Caroline Wozniacki who has tumbled from the world number one position she held last year and is currently at ninth, but is still capable of a return to top form.