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2012 French Open: Who Will Shine, Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams? 38

Posted on May 25, 2012 by JA Allen

The French Open gets underway on Sunday with Sharapova one of the favorites.

Finally, grand slam No. 2 gets underway Sunday, May 27, 2012 in Paris.

Thankfully, it marks the end of the ever-increasingly dull, dusty and predictable clay court season for the men.

While watching men play tennis on clay is second only to watching the grass grow, the women have presented far more entertainment on the clay in terms of survivors—overlooking the shrieking, sliding and assault of injuries.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova enter this year’s French Open as the early favorites according to the latest news centered on the ladies draw for the second grand slam of the season.

Of the two, most look to Serena Williams to conquer the clay this season. The fact remains, however, that Serena Williams has not done so for a decade. The last time the younger Williams sister won the French Open title was in 2002. It turned out to be her only trip to the final, falling short in each of her other nine attempts.

Sharapova, on the other hand, has never yet made a final on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros.

The reason pundits and fans find Williams the most probable champion is because there is no viable clear-cut favorite on clay. Roland Garros has crowned highly improbable champions every season since Belgian Justine Henin first retired for in 2008.

In 2008 Serbian beauty Ana Ivanovic stepped up large to claim the French Open crown and the No. 1 spot for the ladies. She quickly faded after leaving Paris when her game fell apart and her ranking slowly sank of sight.

Next up, Svetlana Kuznetsova skyrocketed from the field in 2009 to steal the championship away from fellow Russian Dinara Safina who also lost the final in 2008. But like Ivanovic before her, Kuznetsova could find no more magic after leaving the grounds of Roland Garros in 2009. Since winning in Paris, Kuznetsova has disappeared, her ranking slowly receding.

The feisty Italian Francesca Schiavone refused to lose in 2010 as she wrestled the championship away from a revitalized Samantha Stosur. The Aussie, after defeating the former French Open winner Justine Henin, followed by Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic, could not quell the determination of Schiavone to seize the championship—her first at age 29.

But in 2011, Schiavone was the one who suffered defeat from an improbable source—Li Na of China who was also winning her first major. Like the three champions preceding her, however, Li Na suffered from post-French Open syndrome. Her game suffered and her ranking fell.

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Women’s Tennis Power Rankings: Li Na Takes the Top Spot After Winning in Paris 3

Posted on June 08, 2011 by Ronger Fengerer

Li Na wins the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in Paris

China is known for its domination in the sport of table-tennis, but in tennis it is a completely different story.

Indeed, tennis has long been dominated by players from Europe, America and Australia. While Asian players like Kimiko Date-Krumm (former world No. 4) and Paradorn Srichaphan (former world No. 9) were able to win a few titles and make some deep runs in Grand Slams, Asia has failed to produce one single major champion. Until now.

Li Na, from Wuhan China, became the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam final at the 2011 Australian Open (l. to Kim Clijsters). And at the 2011 French Open, she went one-step further and became the first Grand Slam champion from her continent by defeating the defending champion from Italy, Francesca Schiavone.

Many claimed this year’s French Open the “most open” Grand Slam in recent years, and so it proved to be. None of the top four seeds were able to make it to the semifinals, and the “favorite” for the crown changed after each passing day. Not many predicted the final line-up of Li and Schiavone, even fewer picked the Chinese woman to win the title. But against all odds, Li conquered the Parisian clay and for ever etched her name in the annals of tennis.

It is hard enough to make it to a major final, and it is even harder to win it. Many players faltered at the last hurdle (one needs to look no further than the dropping out list below). To make it to two consecutive Grand Slam finals is no small feat. And to win the second final after losing the first one takes courage, dedication and enormous self-belief. To be a champion, you must have the heart of a champion.

This installment of our women’s power rankings is a tribute to the 2011 French Open Champion, Li Na from China. Her success will for sure serve as an inspiration to the next generation of young players from China and Asia.

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Maria Sharapova Leads the Field in the Women’s Tennis Power Rankings 11

Posted on May 18, 2011 by JA Allen

Russian Maria Sharapova

As the 2011 French Open gets underway next week, the women’s field remains wide open.  There is no clear cut favorite for the title.

In fact, there has never been a true favorite heading into Paris since Justine Henin announced her first retirement from tennis in 2008.

The champions crowned in Henin’s absence have been great surprises––like Ana Ivanovic in 2008, Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 and Francesca Schiavone in 2010.

The good news for tennis fans is that Kim Clijsters will be returning to action in Paris with her ankle severely taped.  The Belgian, however, will not have the needed warm-up time on the clay to give her adequate preparation for a win in Paris.

In addition to the top 10 women listed in our power ranking, there are other players who merit our attention as we get ready to crown another French Open champion in 2011.  These “also to be watched” players are as follows:

Kim Clijsters can never be discounted at any major tournament regardless of her physical injuries.  As the winner of the last two slams at the 2011 Australia Open and at the 2010 U.S. Open, Clijsters will be looking to win this French Open crown. This remains a title that has eluded her in the past.

Svetlana Kuznetsova won the French Open title in 2009 and has the game to win the title again.  After her campaign in Marbella where the Russian made the semifinals, Kuznetsova has not fared well on the clay.  She will definitely be looking to improve on the grounds at Stade Roland Garros.

Ana Ivanovic has done nothing to suggest that she can win the French Open title again. Still, as a former champion, she has to be considered as a dark horse coming in because she knows exactly what it takes to win it all on clay.  Everyone hopes to see the Serbian beauty win in Paris, but the odds are not in her favor this year.

Andrea Petkovic is another of the surging German women who has been making a name for herself on the World stage in tennis.  Although Petkovic has not done well on the clay, she is a dangerous player with the potential to do well on any surface.

Our top 10 rankings are based on the four most recent tournament results and the WTA ranking points awarded.  The points are aged with the most recent receiving the most points. Following are the top 10 women poised to win at Roland Garros starting Monday in Paris.

JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Ronger Fengerer write the Power Ranking series.

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Previewing the Favorites at the 2011 French Open Championships… 4

Posted on April 27, 2011 by JA Allen

French Open gets underway in less than a month.

Last season the 2010 French Open marked the culmination of a player sweeping the major titles of the entire clay court season––the final act of the Tao of Nadal.

No man has quite dominated the red dirt so completely since Bjorn Borg did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That said, no individual has yet to equal Chris Evert’s record on clay, man or woman by winning 125 consecutive matches on the red dirt, and seven French Open titles in nine final appearances.

Is it possible that Nadal could surpass even the ice maiden?

There are few mysteries abounding about the results on clay in 2011. If Nadal can hobble on to the court, then he will no doubt win, according to the odds-makers.

The only unknowns come on the women’s side of the draw where no one stands out as a favorite to win. In fact the bookies remain fairly clueless.

Past winners like Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova remain mired in unending slumps punctuated by an unexpected win or two along the way.

Francesca Schiavone who won it last year over the woman who was supposed to win, Samantha Stosur, may be the best bet.

The sure thing about watching the French Open is that it is not pretty. Play on the red dirt can be long and ugly on a hot afternoon with unending rallies from the baseline.  It often becomes truly survival of the fittest.

So, selecting who will be standing holding the trophies at the end of the French Open can be a futile exercise but here are the favorites and where they stand at the beginning of May…

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Ranking Tennis in 2010: The Top 10 Performances, Part 1 0

Posted on December 21, 2010 by JA Allen

Rafael Nadal's victory over Roger Federer in Madrid clinched his clay court supremacy in 2010.

2010 proved to be an exceptional year in tennis, as the No. 1 mantle changed owners in the men’s and the women’s game.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams who both entered 2010 ranked No. 1 dropped out of the top spot.

Roger will end the year with the No. 2 ATP ranking while Serena will end her year as No. 4 in the WTA.

But many significant performances––some for a match and some for a season––shaped a very controversial, entertaining year on the tennis courts of the world.

The ranking of these respective performances is subject to interpretation. Perhaps even attempting to put them in any particular order is a waste of time.

Regardless, all 10 are significant in assigning superlatives to the 2010 season.

Preamble: A Toast To the 2010 Tennis Match That Refused To Die

John Isner defeats Nicholas Mahut, first round, 2010 Wimbledon

2010 gave us the longest match in the history of the game of tennis.

Normally a first round match is nothing more than a formality for seeded players during a grand slam––but not always.

A case in point––American John Isner seeded No. 23 had little expectation concerning the full-scope of this match as he met his opponent Frenchman Nicholas Mahut on Court 18 to contest this opening round match.

The match, however, extended over three days lasting 11 hours, five minutes, and ended at 70-68 in the fifth and final set.

Wimbledon, you see, does not allow for a tiebreak to determine a winner if the match extends to five sets.

After this epic, there was a concern expressed regarding this tradition because these two players suffered physically for a long while after the match concluded.

The world became mesmerized by this drama unfolding daily on an obscure outside court at the All-England Club.

In fact, the match drew vast numbers to watch––people who otherwise would not have spent a moment of their busy lives watching tennis.

Therefore, the networks, and in this case ESPN, loved it.

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Caroline Wozniacki Tops the Year-End Power Rankings in Women’s Tennis 0

Posted on November 10, 2010 by Ronger Fengerer

Caroline Wozniacki ended the year ranked No. 1.

With the conclusion of the WTA Championships at Doha and the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions at Bali, 2010 women’s tennis season is officially over.

What a truly eventful season this has been! It began with Justine Henin coming back from her retirement and ended with Elena Dementieva calling it a career.

It saw the young Dane Caroline Wozniacki fulfilling her potential and ending the year as the top ranked player in the world.

It witnessed the magical run of Fancesca Schiavone at Roland Garros and becoming the first Italian Grand Slam winner in tennis history. And now the WTA tour even has a brand-new logo which was unveiled at the year-end championships at Doha.

Not surprisingly, all players from this week’s top-ten list either participated in Doha or Bali. For many, this has been a career-best season. It will be interesting to see whether they will be able to maintain their top form after a two-month lay-off. But before then, a vacation with loved ones is fully deserved.

The Top Ten

1. Caroline Wozniacki (Last Power Ranking: 1; Year-End WTA Ranking: 1)

Last Four Tournaments: YEC [Finalist], Beijing [Winner], Tokyo [Winner], US Open [Semifinalist]

Power Ranking Points: 1340

Wozniacki won the China Open helping her secure her top ranking.

Caroline Wozniacki entered the year-end championships at Doha as the hottest player on the tour, having won two Premier events at Beijing and Tokyo back-to-back.

She became the 20th player to ascend to No.1 on October 11 at Beijing.

But her loss to Kim Clijsters in the final at Doha proved that she still has more work to do before being considered the truly best player in the world.

Having won a tour-leading six titles and finishing the year as the top-ranked player, the 10th player in history to accomplish that, this has indeed been a career-best year for the young Dane.

The only disappointment is that she failed to win a Grand Slam, her best result being a semifinal finish at the US Open. She will for sure be eager to get rid of the title “no. 1 player without a Grand Slam title” in 2011, just ask Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina. With many claiming that she only achieved the no. 1 ranking due to the absence of Williams sisters and the Belgian duo, Wozniacki has a lot to prove next season.

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