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Tour Embarks On Paris Soil
The clay court season comes to a climax as the stars of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour head to Paris, France this fortnight for the French Open. With so many hungry players fighting for the title, it would be an understatement to say that tennis fans are in for some excitement in the second Grand Slam event of the season, especially after Friday's draw, which produced some stunning potential match-ups. World No.1 Lindsay Davenport is the top seed, and has had an exceptional season thus far, winning titles at Dubai and Amelia Island, and finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, Tokyo [Pan Pacific] and Indian Wells. Her 28-4 record on the season includes 7-1 on clay, losing only to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals at Charleston. The American's best showing at Roland Garros was a 1998 semifinal finish, but she has also reached the quarterfinals two other times, and the round of 16 four times, including last year. This year, she will begin against 48th-ranked Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik.
Second-ranked Maria Sharapova, the No.2 seed, has been chasing the top ranking for most of the clay court season, and will have another chance to claim it in Paris. She has had an incredible beginning to 2005, winning her first Tier I event at Tokyo [Pan Pacific] in addition to her title run at Doha, also finishing runner-up at Miami and reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Rome, which was her career-first clay court semifinal finish. She is 27-5 on the season, including 5-2 on clay, with losses to Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals of Berlin and to Schnyder in Rome. The Russian teenager made her Roland Garros debut in 2003 as a qualifier, losing in the first round, but last year made it all the way to the quarterfinals. The reigning Wimbledon champion will begin against 40th-ranked compatriot Evgenia Linetskaya.
Also in pursuit of her first Roland Garros title is Amelie Mauresmo, the No.3 seed. The third-ranked Frenchwoman has claimed titles this year at Antwerp and most recently at Rome, where she was the first woman in nine years to successfully defend her title. Her impressive 25-6 season record also includes a runner-up finish at Paris [Indoors] and semifinal finishes at Doha and Miami. Her 7-1 clay court record is only marred by a quarterfinal loss in Berlin to Nadia Petrova. Mauresmo has reached the quarterfinals in each of the last two years at Roland Garros. The crowd favourite will open against 113rd-ranked Australian Evie Dominikovic.
2004 finalist Elena Dementieva and champion Anastasia Myskina are the No.4 and No.5 seeds respectively this year.
Dementieva has had a strong start to 2005, reaching the final at Charleston and the semifinals of Sydney and Indian Wells. The Russian made her biggest career breakthrough here last year, reaching her first Grand Slam final with wins over Davenport and Mauresmo before losing to her countrywoman Myskina (pictured). She will begin this year's campaign against 84th-ranked Czech Barbora Strycova.
Myskina has struggled so far this season, her best results being a semifinal finish at Antwerp and reaching the quarterfinals at Dubai. After never having advanced beyond the second round at Roland Garros heading into last year's event, the tricky Russian saved match point in a fourth round marathon against Svetlana Kuznetsova, a victory that propelled her to straight sets wins over tournament favourites Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati to reach her first Grand Slam final, where she routed her compatriot Dementieva to become Russia's first female Grand Slam champion. She will begin her title defense against 111th-ranked Spaniard Maria Sanchez Lorenzo.
Kuznetsova, Petrova and Schnyder, all three runners-up at major clay court events this season, round out the top eight seeds. No.6 seed Kuznetsova and No.7 seed Petrova reached the finals at Warsaw and Berlin respectively, both losing in three sets to Henin-Hardenne, while No.8 seed Schnyder lost to Mauresmo in Rome. Schnyder in particular has had an excellent clay court season, also reaching the semifinals at Charleston and Berlin. On the May 16 rankings, the Swisswoman returned to the Top 10 for the first time in over six years.
Other seeds to keep an eye on include No.10 Henin-Hardenne, No.11 Venus Williams and No.14 Kim Clijsters.
Henin-Hardenne made her season debut at Miami, reaching the quarterfinals before losing in three sets to Sharapova. Since that loss, she has destroyed the competition on clay, going 17-0 and winning titles at Charleston, Warsaw and Berlin. The 12th-ranked Belgian already knows what it takes to win at Roland Garros, hoisting the trophy in 2003, the first of her three career Grand Slam titles. She has arguably the most intriguing first round match-up against Spanish veteran and 2000 French Open runner-up Conchita Martinez, who is currently ranked No.43 in the world.
Williams was one of the hottest players on clay in 2004, winning titles at Charleston and Warsaw, reaching the final at Berlin before having to withdraw with an ankle injury. The same cannot be said for 2005, although she heads to Paris having played in the final this past weekend at the clay court tune-up in Istanbul. The four-time Grand Slam champion and 2002 Roland Garros runner-up will open against 117th-ranked Spaniard Marta Marrero for the second straight week. In Istanbul, she double-bageled the 22-year-old after a first round bye.
Clijsters made her 2005 debut at Antwerp after missing most of the previous 12 months with a left wrist injury, reaching the quarterfinals before a loss to Williams. From there she went on a tear, claiming titles at Indian Wells and Miami with wins over Davenport, Sharapova, Mauresmo, Dementieva and Myskina, and reaching the semifinals at Warsaw, where she lost in three sets to Kuznetsova. Her 17-match win streak was equal-best for the season with compatriot Henin-Hardenne. In her last event, she reached the third round at Berlin and was forced to retire against Schnyder due to a right knee injury. A 2003 runner-up at Roland Garros, Clijsters is still looking for her first Grand Slam title, and will open against a qualifier.
The draw might produce some interesting match-ups in both the early and late rounds.
Intriguing potential second round match-ups include Williams against 38th-ranked 2004 Australian Open semifinalist Fabiola Zuluaga, and recent Rome quarterfinalist and No.22 seed Francesca Schiavone against rising star and recent Istanbul finalist Nicole Vaidisova.
In the third round, Sharapova could face her conqueror from last year's event, No.26 seed Paola Suarez, Mauresmo could face Warsaw semifinalist and No.29 seed Ana Ivanovic, and Myskina could face her 2004 Wimbledon conqueror, No.27 seed Amy Frazier.
If the seeds hold, the fourth round could include some bombshell match-ups, including Davenport against Clijsters, Myskina against Williams and Kuznetsova against Henin-Hardenne.
Scheduled quarterfinal matches are Davenport against Schnyder, Dementieva against Myskina in a rematch of last year's final, Mauresmo against Petrova, and Sharapova against Kuznetsova, with the semifinals being Davenport against Dementieva and Sharapova against Mauresmo.
Other than Myskina and Henin-Hardenne, the only other former champion in action this year is 2000 winner and No.21 seed Mary Pierce, who is in Schnyder's section of the draw. Other former champions who are still active but not playing this event are 2002 champion Serena Williams, who pulled out on Friday due to an ankle injury, and 2001 champion Jennifer Capriati, who continues to rehabilitate from right shoulder surgery. In addition, world No.8 Alicia Molik of Australia withdrew due to an inner ear infection.