French Open 2011: Realm of Possibilities in the Women's Draw Starring Sharapova

Linus FernandesAnalyst IIMay 28, 2011

Maria Sharapova
Maria SharapovaClive Brunskill/Getty Images

No Kim Clijsters, no Caroline Wozniacki, no Samantha Stosur.

The women’s round of 16 has a threadbare appearance.

Three big upsets in the first week tells a tale of the unpredictability visited on the WTA tour—absent the Williams sisters.

Fans are so used to seeing Serena Williams perched atop the rankings that they failed to note the depth in the lower rungs.

When the No. 1 seed wins almost everything in her path but comes a cropper at the majors, you have to wonder if rankings tell a true tale. Surely not.

Caroline Wozniacki’s exit was not unexpected. But even her bitterest critics admit that they did not expect her to bow (blow?) out in the third round.A hammering by the inconsistent Daniela Hantuchova was not in the script.

The Woz discovered that intensity levels at Slams are so much higher than at other sundry WTA tournaments. There’s something about playing the No. 1 seed that brings out the best in opponents. They recognise that they have to execute their A-game to prevail. Nothing else will do. Hantuchova brought to bear years of experience on the tour and the cookie crumbled—against Caroline.

The Dane is neither invincible like the current Djokovic nor does she inspire the awe of a Nadal or a Federer. Until she clinches that coveted elusive major, her foes will glimpse the wanting shadows of her Numero Uno predecessors—Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic—dogging her every footfall.

It is, perhaps, time that the Dane evaluates her playing schedule. Winning at Brussels before  the French Open is commendable. But it sometimes makes fans wonder if the Dane is chasing too many points outside the Slams and accomplishing little at them. There is, maybe, a little less impulsion, a little less gas in the tank at the majors. Even the indomitable Novak paced his conquests this season.Is the Dane afraid that a week’s rest will make her slow off the blocks?

Kim Clijsters came in cold into the French Open. The warmth of the French summer could not light up her game. Losing in the second round to a fearless Dutch, Arantxa Rus, will hurt. But only the brave would have bet their last dollar on the Belgian triumphing at Roland Garros this year. Not so early perhaps but prognostications have a way of coming true, sooner than later.

The astonishment evinced is not at her exit but at its precocity.

Last year’s finalist, Sam Stosur, disappointed her myriad fans by falling to Argentina’s Gisela Dulko. Stosur ensconced herself in the top 10 over the past year. But she has to lift herself mentally to make sure that she makes it to another final. She threw away a chance to clinch a quarterfinal match against Clijsters at the 2010 US Open despite having the defending champion on the ropes.

Maria Sharapova was nearly another casualty but was able to fend off an upset in the second round, aided by her inexperienced 17-year-old opponent. Caroline Garcia of France had Andy Murray raving on Twitter terming her a future No.1. You heard it here,” wrote the Scot.The relieved Russian made it to the third round on her least favoured surface.

The women’s draw throws up a realm of possibilities.

Only three players have won majors before—Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone.

Of the others, Li Na,Jelena Jankovic,Marion Bartoli and Vera Zvonareva have featured in major finals.

Na lost to Kim Clijsters at this year's Australian Open. Zvonareva made the finals at the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open.Jankovic finished runner-up at the 2008 US Open.Bartoli made the 2007 Wimbledon finals, whipped in straight sets by Venus Williams.

Gisela Dulko and Ekaterina Makarova are the unseeded players left in the draw.Makarova teeters on the edge at 33.

Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova’s experience can help her pull off a tremendous French Open repeat. But she has to stave off challenges from Hantuchova, Zvonareva or Jankovic or Schiavone and possibly Azarenka or Sharapova to hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Last year’s French Open had a fairytale quality to it with Francesca Schiavone winning her first major at the ripe old age of 29. This year, Roland Garros could witness yet another. A new star that fans will follow over the next decade or so is lurking in the wings.

Until then, go well, Maria.

Quote of the day: 
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length. – Robert Frost