It’s that time of the year when the action settles down on the dusty red clay of Europe where men and women slug it out in a rally fest to get that ever elusive winner, which is so hard to come by on the slow red clay.
What makes the surface so special is the sheer persistence and the wherewithal to get a solitary point. A serve down the T would have been enough to garner a point on the grass and a big booming forehand smash would solicit an easy point on the hardcourts . No such luxuries here , my dear readers.
For years there has been a vacuum at the top of the women’s tennis with no single lady dominating the circuit. Serena(Hardcourts) , Henin(Clay) are some of the names that come to mind who had a stranglehold on the game sometime back.
Can any lady step up and dominate the game or could we have some top notch rivalries among a few ladies regularly on the Grand Slam stage?
I used to marvel at the Henin backhand, her sliced returns, the movement and the slide that she exhibited during her halcyon days at the top. Her game suited the surface and she made full use of it.
There are many gracious clay court players who could not realise their potential and fell by the wayside. Guileermo Coria , is one name that comes to my mind. Remember the clay court season of 2004 ,where he was the dominant player all throughout but due to ill fortune had to play below par for 3 sets in the final against Gaudio. Coria was never the same player again and Nadal dominated the clay court scene ever since.
This year brings with it a new challenge to the players (particularly the fairer sex) of taming the red clay.
My analysis of the probable winners:
1) Schiavone, Francesca: The World No. 11 and former French Open champion is one of the likely candidates to do well. Her game suites the surface. She possesses a good all round game with the necessary spin and bite in her shots, which trouble the bigger,taller power hitters of the women’s game. She won in 2010 and reached the final last year before losing to Li Na. Her form guide this year has been ordinary with a loss to Govortsova in the 1st round at Barcelona in April. Keep an eye on her as on her day she may upset any top 10 player.
2) Maria Sharapova: Yeah, I never thought I’d be writing her name among the likely candidates to win the French Open, of all majors. But, her win in Stuttgart has put her name atop this list . Beating the form player this year, Victoria Azarenka, is no mean feat considering the fact that Maria has been annihilated by Victoria twice in the finals this year(Melbourne, Indian Wells). Sam Stosur did run her close in the tournament but she came out of the match the better player. Her height and poor court coverage has become her nemesis on clay. It will be interesting to see how she does at Roland Garros. Winning at Roland Garros would complete her Grand Slam collection and take her to an elite group of ladies winning all four Slams.
The other pretenders for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen would be revealed in the next article.