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At the Net: Serena title a foregone conclusion in Paris?

May 20, 2014 at 9:24 AM   |   Comments

It would appear Serena Williams is the odds-on favorite for the upcoming French Open. But is she a slam dunk (or an overhead smash)?

The powerful American just nailed down her latest championship at the clay court event in Rome, beating gritty Italian crowd favorite Sara Errani in the final for her 60th career title. It marked the world No. 1 star's third title of the year, but only her first on the dirt and her second straight in the Italian capital.

Serena boasts 17 Grand Slam singles titles over her career, but only two of them have come in Paris. She captured her first-ever title there back in 2002 and didn't win it again until last year, when she beat former No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the marquee final. As a matter of fact, Serena has reached only two finals in 12 trips to Roland Garros.

The two previous times Serena titled in Rome -- 2002 and 2013 -- she went on to win her only championships at the French. And the last two champions in Rome have gone on to capture Roland Garros crowns.

Serena should expect a run from her fellow career Grand Slam champion Sharapova. The Russian great is a four-time major titlist who captured her lone French Open title two years ago before falling at the hands of the American in last year's sexy final in the French capital.

Unfortunately for Sharapova, she hasn't beaten Serena anywhere in 10 years and is a dismal 2-16 lifetime against the American stalwart.

Sharapova never claimed to be a big fan of playing on clay, once saying that she felt like a "cow on ice," but she's proven to be more than adequate on the surface in recent years, reaching at least the semifinals in each of the previous three years at the French and going 48-4 on the surface overall since 2012 and losing to only two players during that time -- Serena on three occasions and Ana Ivanovic last week in Rome.

Sharapova is 12-1 on clay this year, with back-to-back titles coming in Stuttgart and Madrid at one point.

Can she reach a third straight French final in a couple weeks?

On the injury front, former world No. 1 star and two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka has announced she will miss the 2014 French Open due to a nagging foot injury that has kept her sidelined since early March.

Aside from Serena and Maria, another threat to go all the way in Paris will be Li Na. The Chinese star is the most-recent major champ, having run the table at January's Aussie Open, and was a French Open champion in 2011. Serena, Sharapova and Na account for the last three winners in the "City of Light."

Na is currently ranked No. 2 in the world and is a three-time major finalist, Her results have been steady this season and expect her to trek deep into the second week at RG.

Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska is ranked third in the world and is a former Wimbledon runner-up, but Roland Garros has never been her gig. She's yet to advance beyond the quarterfinals there, with her best-ever showing coming in the round of eight a year ago.

So is she a serious threat in a couple weeks? I say no.

Then there's quiet Romanian Simona Halep, who's played as well as anyone over the last several months but has not yet fared very well at the Slams. The world No. 4 has never gotten past the second round at RG and has flamed out in the opening round there three times in four trips. She did, however, reach her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at this year's Aussie, this after a fourth- round showing at the final major of 2013, the U.S. Open. So she's definitely trending up.

Note: Over the last 12 months, the 22-year-old Halep has piled up the first seven WTA titles of her career en route to a spot in the Top 5.

Some others figuring in the mix could be former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, Aussie Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, former French Open finalist and last week's Rome runner-up to Serena, Sara Errani, and the former top-ranked and former Roland Garros champion Ivanovic.

Jankovic has been a resurgent star over the last year, getting herself back into the Top 10 and posing as a threat in every outing. She's a former U.S. Open runner-up and a three-time French Open semifinalist, but hasn't reached a French semi (or any Grand Slam semi for that matter) since 2010.

The scrappy Cibulkova found herself in the Top 10 for the first time in her career by making a surprise trip into this year's Aussie final and can compete at a high level on any surface, having reached at least the quarterfinals at every Grand Slam event in her career.

Errani was a French Open finalist just two years ago and was a surprise finalist at last week's Italian Open, where she was unable to get past the mighty Serena after becoming the first Italian Rome finalist in 29 years.

And Ivanovic has been playing some of the best tennis of her career this season. She was a clay court semifinalist last week in Rome (lost to Serena), reached a clay quarter in Madrid two weeks ago (lost to Halep), reached a final recently in Stuttgart (lost to Sharapova), and captured a title in Mexico in March. And her latest Grand Slam showing resulted in a trip into the quarters at this year's Aussie, where she shocked Serena in the fourth round in Oz.

Safe to say the former world No. 1 Ivanovic could be primed for a run in Paris.

Did I forget to mention former Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova as a contender? I don't think so. The big Czech has just been too inconsistent for me.

There will be six former champions in the 2014 French Open draw, which will be revealed on Friday, two days before matches commence. There hasn't been a repeat winner in Paris since Justine Henin in 2006-07, with seven different women claiming the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in as many years.

But look for that to change in a couple weeks, as I'm goin' with the reigning French and U.S. Open champion Serena to repeat at RG for the first time in her brilliant career.

Where have you gone, Dinara Safina?

[SportsNetwork.com]

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