[[Mornin'. I thought I'd kick off our French Open coverage with Bobby's preview of the women's tournament. We'll be doing a podcast shortly where Tom Perrotta, Ed McGrogan (formerly known as "Mr. Monday Morning Netpost") and I will discuss both draws. I'll have a post up at ESPN a little later and Jackie-Oh! will be around this evening. I'll post my own thoughts on the men's draw in some fashion or other tomorrow - PB]]
by Bobby Chintapalli, Contributing Writer
Let’s start with €1.12 million, because it’s not a bad chunk of change for two weeks of work. For women’s tennis it’s the yummiest of French treats, and exactly what the French Open women’s singles champion will pick up on June 5. For those of us used to smaller numbers, that’s €160,000 per match. For those who prefer more tangible details, that’s 36,000 jars of that Fat Girl Scrub Victoria Azarenka tweeted about, 16 of those Range Rovers Maria Sharapova drives around and maybe even one whole closet in Jelena Jankovic’s palatial San Diego digs.
It's a lot of money, but it's not the only thing 128 players stand to gain during the next two weeks in Paris. Let's look at some other goodies to be had and the women who could have them.
A Bigger Legacy (Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Venus Williams)
Grand Slam singles titles are the most-frequently cited measure of tennis greatness, and that makes Serena Williams… special. She has 12 titles, which is five more than her closest competitors among active players, Venus Williams and Justine Henin. Another title would not only put more distance between her and these mere mortals but also extricate her from a boring tie with Billie Jean King on the all-time list. The title would also take her halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam. Best of all for Serena, a win would mean an awards ceremony… and several minutes to sell an international TV audience on the Serena Williams Signature Statement Sexy Sequin Knit Scarf.
As for Justine Henin, a woman we're not likely to see gallivanting around Paris in a sexy sequin anything, the tournament's a chance to win a first major for her Version 2.0 self and to make a case for being second-best among active players. She'd wriggle out of her major singles title tie with Venus. (She'd also get into a total singles titles tie (43 titles) with Venus.) A fifth French Open title would also be more proof that she's the decade's queen of clay.
The decade's queen of grass, Venus Williams, has a few things to gain herself at the French Open this year, when she's going in with the tour's best main-draw win percentage (.867) and great clay-court results (Acapulco winner, Rome quarterfinalist, Madrid runner-up). She too could establish herself as second-best active player by winning in Paris. Also a title could get her the Number 1 ranking (if Serena loses before the fourth round), would leave her one Australian Open title away from a career Grand Slam… and should be a fun early birthday present a few weeks before her 30th birthday.
A First Grand Slam Title (Sam Stosur, Jelena Jankovic)
Sam Stosur has had a claytacular year. She won Charleston, lost to Henin in the Stuttgart final then to Venus in the Madrid quarterfinals. She has the most wins (14) and best win percentage (.875) on clay. She also has the fourth-best win percentage overall (.788). Stosur is the only Top 10 player going in to the French Open with a new career-high ranking, which says she's playing better than she ever has – and better than just about everyone else. Last year she surprised us by reaching the semifinals; this year she wouldn't shock us by going farther.
Jelena Jankovic, like Sam Stosur, is competing in her seventh French Open. Jankovic had a 2008 worth talking about (just ask her); she was the US Open runner-up and the year-end Number 1. To the dismay of her fans and glitter manufacturers everywhere, she didn't do as well last year. This year though she's making us take notice again, and it's not just the neon green. She won Indian Wells and made an even bigger statement in Rome, where she lost in the final but not before beating The Sisters to get there. Still the best way for her to convince us she can win a Grand Slam title is by winning a Grand Slam title.
Dinara Safina could use something that's just like chocolate cake but without all the calories – confidence. Last year she was the woman to beat and now has a gazillion ranking points (or 1400) to defend. You have to think she's not obsessing about the points – maybe playing at all is better than, you know, a broken back – and you can't help but hope that will help her win a few matches and boost her confidence going into Wimbeldon.
The tournament is a chance for other players coming in with injuries or so-so form to get some ego-boosting wins too. This includes the three active former Grand Slam singles winners not mentioned above – Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic, who could play well knowing they've lit it up here before - yet aren't the subjects of much pre-tournament hype.
For those who've been in form on clay recently, the French Open is a chance to build momentum on the biggest clay stage. Think Aravane Rezai, who won Madrid, and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who won Rome. Think also Shahar Peer, who's won more matches (27) than anyone else this year. And don't forget 20-year-old Anastasija Sevastova, who her first title at the Estoril Open earlier this month.
Also playing well are Li Na and Nadia Petrova, who have among the 15 best clay win percentages this year. Both also are among the 15 active women with the best Grand Slam win percentages. Li Na has a percentage that's higher not only than that of Petrova but also Wozniacki, Radwanska and Safina.
The French Open is also a chance for Elena Dementieva to regain the momentum she had early this year. She's one of two players to have won two singles titles this year (Venus is the other) and is currently the highest-ranked Russian. After an impressive 45 consecutive Grand Slam appearances (the longest active streak) she's still the best player without a Grand Slam title. She lost early in the last few tournaments, so the 46th time may not be the charm. It is, however, a chance to get back on track before she gets back on grass.
Every major is another opportunity for the top young players to show they’re contenders to go all the way… someday. Think Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Yanina Wickmayer, who all may be subject to injury woes this year. And there's also the wily Agnieszka Radwanska, whom Richard Williams has praised more than once.
Those who didn’t play well – or at all – last year can also gain some ranking points. Consider some of the players who lost in the first round last year – Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Daniela Hantuchova, Alona Bondarenko, Alisa Kleybanova and Maria Kirilenko. Consider some who didn’t make it out of the qualifying rounds – Melanie Oudin, Andrea Petkovic, Kimiko Date Krumm and Sofia Arvidsson. Consider some who didn’t even play – Vera Zvonareva, Shahar Peer, Arantxa Parra Santonja and Alexandra Dulgheru. Think all these ladies have something to gain here this year?
For all 128 players in the women's singles draw, the French Open is a chance to win new fans. The Grand Slams bring them out of the woodwork. Can you imagine Andrea Petkovic, for one, not leaving Paris with more fans than when she got there? (She's hands-down tennis fanatics' favorite among "unknown" players.) Here's to hoping that regardless of whether the tournament shows them the money, the fans will show Petkovic - and who knows who else, by the time the trophies are handed out - some love.