Wide-open women's field for French Open
By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com
It's obvious now, if it hadn't been before, that Martina Hingis deserves to be considered a contender in next week's French Open after hoisting the trophy in Rome on Sunday to celebrate The First Title of The Rest of Her Career.
Hingis, who rose to No. 14 in this week's WTA Tour rankings, shares something important with the majority of top-ranked women expected to make appearances at Roland Garros: She never has found a way to win there. The rejuvenated Swiss star was a finalist twice, losing to Iva Majoli in 1997 and to Steffi Graf in 1999.
Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, who also won in 2003, is the only healthy current top-10 player who has planted her flag in the red dirt.
Henin-Hardenne and surging No. 3 Nadia Petrova of Russia will be the two favorites going in. Petrova, the self-possessed daughter of two track and field Olympians, won a pair of titles on green clay in the United States (Amelia Island and Charleston) earlier this year and is playing, justifiably, with the most confidence of her career. She has split her last two matches with Henin-Hardenne on clay: a loss in the Fed Cup quarterfinals and a victory in the final in Berlin.
Amelie Mauresmo's inability to get past the quarterfinals in Paris in 11 previous tries has been well-chronicled, particularly by the French press corps. Le stress of playing in her backyard will only be heightened because she'll be playing there for the first time as the world No. 1. Mauresmo beat Hingis on clay in Berlin in a two-day quarterfinal suspended by darkness, then lost to Henin-Hardenne, her only two significant results on clay this season.
Two-time finalist and current No. 2 Kim Clijsters has played sparingly on clay this season but is 6-2, including a title in Warsaw -- her first on the surface in three years.
No. 7 Lindsay Davenport, who advanced to the semis at Roland Garros only once (1998), formally pulled out last week as she continues to nurse a bulging disk. Likely to join her on the list of absentees is No. 6 Mary Pierce, the 2000 French Open winner, who reached the final against Henin-Hardenne last year; a foot injury has idled her since February. No. 4 Maria Sharapova hasn't touched clay this season because of a foot problem, and her presence in Paris is questionable.
A couple of Petrova's fellow Russians are capable of making a racket. No. 8 Elena Dementieva was a finalist at Roland Garros in 2004, and 10th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova has been one of the most consistent players on clay this season.
Switzerland's No. 9 Patty Schnyder is the only top-10 player in action this week; she's the top seed in Strasbourg. Schnyder never has made much of a run in Paris, getting as far as the quarterfinals just once, in 1998.
Dark horses include 2004 champ Anastasia Myskina of Russia; Venus Williams, who lost in the 2002 final to sister Serena; and Dinara Safina, all of whom will try to step into the void left by clay-averse or otherwise missing players.
Could this be the most open women's field for years? We should be in for quite an exciting and unpredictable tournament (hopefully!).