Wide open field at this year's French
By Mary Joe Fernandez
Special to ESPN.com
The French Open field is more wide open than it has ever been. I have as many as seven different players who I think could win this year's French, but I also have my reasons why I think they won't.
The player who's in top form right now is Russia's Nadia Petrova. She has four wins in 2006 -- including three on clay -- and she just beat Justine Henin-Hardenne to win the Berlin Open.
But Petrova has never won a Grand Slam.
Nadia Petrova leads the WTA Tour with 33 match wins and four titles in 2006.
The Belgians have defending champion Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. To me, Henin-Hardenne is the best clay-court player. She has all the tools and the best game for the surface.
But she doesn't seem as dominant as in years past.
Clijsters always says clay is not her favorite surface, yet she's been to the finals twice and I think she has a great game for clay.
But the key for her is her health.
Martina Hingis is coming off her first title of 2006 at Rome and she's second on the WTA Tour with 31 wins.
But Roland Garros could be Hingis' toughest surface because of the strength factor. She doesn't have the power to hurt players, and after one or one and a half sets, it's that much harder for her to generate the pace. On clay, you need to be strong to put away balls.
But on the other hand, she is very consistent, and that should play in her favor.
And then there's Amelie Mauresmo, who won the Australian Open.
But I'm concerned because she pulled out of Rome two weeks ago and hasn't played a lot on clay this year. Her game is most suited for clay, but she has to do something she's never done: play well at the French. She's played well in Paris before (she won the Open Gaz de France in February).
I felt winning the Australian Open was going to help her a ton because once you win a Grand Slam you have that belief that wasn't there before. I hope that's going to help her deal with the pressure of winning in her home country.
Women's tennis has been open for a while now, but we still kind of knew who the favorites were heading into Grand Slams. Whereas this year, it's a little tougher because players haven't been playing as much or as consistently.
As for the Americans …
Venus Williams needed to play well at Rome last week and did, losing in the final to Hingis. It will have a lot to do with the draw and who she faces, but if Venus gets to the second week, she becomes dangerous -- there's no question about it. She knows what it takes and likes the challenge of playing on clay, but she's played so few matches this year (6-3).
I can't remember the last time there weren't top Americans on the women's side. Perhaps we might go through a spell where we don't have one, but it's very cyclical. We've been really blessed in this country because we've had so many superstars, decade after decade, and now we've hit the first little patch where we don't see anybody behind these great champions. I'm sure they are there and I can't imagine they won't pop up eventually.
But this is what we focus on in America: Where's the next great American? Our ratings go up when Americans are playing, but we have to focus on the great players, and right now they are from other countries. On the men's side, we are lucky with James Blake and Andy Roddick in the top 10, but how long did we talk about who was going to follow Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi? We just have to wait for that to happen on the women's side and be a little patient, which is hard because we want success right away.
One American who won't be in Paris is Lindsay Davenport. She's ranked No. 7 on the WTA Tour, but hasn't played since Indian Wells in March.
Davenport missing the French, to me, is not as big of a deal. It's like Agassi missing it; I don't think either of them is going to win it this year. They could win it, but I don't think they would because it's such a tough Grand Slam with their style of game to win seven straight matches.
I'm hoping she's getting healthy and stronger and comes back at Wimbledon, even though her favorite time of the year is the summer circuit on the hard courts. But I know from experience the longer you are off, the harder it is to come back.
Mary Joe Fernandez won 7 singles and 17 doubles titles during her 15-year career on the WTA Tour. She is providing ESPN.com with analysis throughout the Australian Open.