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SerenaSlams
May 26th, 2007, 11:27 AM
Henin will have plenty of competition

Matthew Cronin / FOXSports.com
Posted: 10 hours ago

She is the Rafael Nadal of women's tennis. Or perhaps more accurately, Nadal is the Justine Henin of men's tennis.

Like her male counterpart, Henin will be gunning for a third straight French Open title when the two-week tourney kicks off on Sunday. The Belgian will attempt to garner her fourth crown overall, something Nadal can't claim, as she won titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006. And while she fell to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Berlin, Henin is still a substantial favorite to win the 2007 crown. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's top-ranked player loves the locale, is more comfortable sliding on dirt and is a true shotmaker on the surface, mixing power, touch and precision.

Thankfully, for entertainment's sake, the Roland Garros fortnight won't be a one-filly race. Here are five other women who could steal Henin's thunder:

Serena Williams: If fans are ever going to doubt the eight-time Grand Slam champion, it's on clay. Even though she won the title in 2002, Serena has suffered some ugly losses on the tricky surface and hasn't made an appearance at the event since 2004, when she was clubbed by Jennifer Capriati.

Still, Williams is excited about her chances, perhaps because she outlasted Henin in the 2007 Miami final and wants another crack at her in Paris, the scene of one of Serena's most difficult and emotional defeats.

In 2003, it was Henin who stopped Williams' attempt at five straight Slam crowns in a highly controversial semifinal that saw defending champion Williams accuse Henin of cheating. (In the third set of their semifinal match, Henin held her hand up to indicate she was not ready to receive Williams' serve. The umpire did not see Henin's hand go up, and Henin said nothing to the umpire when Williams' serve hit the net. Williams was forced to play her second serve, and subsequently lost that service game — and the match.) The two have since gotten past the incident, but Serena knows that if she's to win her second French Open, she'll likely have to knock out Henin. But given that Serena is coming in as the No. 8 seed, she's slated to face the Belgian prior to the final.

When asked recently who the favorites were, Serena named herself, Henin and her sister, Venus, a far-out choice considering her older sibling has done little of note on dirt this year.

But if Serena can work her way into the second week of the tournament, she has a terrific shot at the title because her groundstrokes are clean, she has an incredible competitive drve, and has the best closer's instincts out there. Yes, she went down in a third-set tiebreaker to Patty Schnyder in Rome, but she also lost in an Australian Open warmup tournament and went on to win the title.

Now she's in significantly better shape and, more importantly, she's taking dead aim at the calendar year Grand Slam.

"I think it can be done," Serena said. "I play well on all surfaces so I'm a good candidate to do it."

Jelena Jankovic: This incredibly talented Serbian is ready to break through and win her first Slam crown — if she can find a way to dig a little deeper.

She's already won two Tier I clay court titles this quarter (Charleston and Rome), and recently cracked the top five in world rankings. She's incredibyl quick, has deadly groundstrokes and isn't afraid of anyone — save for Henin, who seems to always beat Jankovic 6-4 in the third set of their classic tug-of-wars. But it's not Henin or Serena that the 20-year-old really has to worry about — it's herself. As sound as she can be mentally when she's locked in, she's a flighty person who can get distracted. If Jankovic can avoid fiddling with her ponytail too much in between crucial points, there's little to stop her from giving Henin or Serena hell during the final weekend.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: This superb Russian sprinter finally toppled Henin in Berlin, breaking a long losing streak against the Belgian, but still lost in the final to Ana Ivanovic. She then reached the Rome final the following week with impressive wins over Dinara Safina and Daniela Hantuchova, but fell to Jankovic. She reached the final at Roland Garros last year, only to be crushed by Henin.

Still, Kuznetsova grew up playing on dirt, was trained in Spain and brings a man's inside-out forehand to the table. The breadth of her arsenal is a little bit lacking, as is her inner-self belief, which is why she hasn't won another major since taking the 2004 US Open crown. But this cycling champion's daughter cannot be counted out simply because once she gets on a roll, she can steamroll almost any foe.

Ana Ivanovic: Every few months, this tall, strong Serbian teen busts out like she did in Berlin, where she inched past Kuzenetosova in a third-set tiebreaker. Her physical attributes combine with a carefree attitude, and it all complements a gorgeous all-around game — when she's clicking. Still only 19, Ivanovic may be a year away from fully reaching her potential, but she's a No. 7 seed in Paris and is more than comfortable teeing off on the crushed orange brick. The big question for the Serb is whether she can develop the killer instinct necessary to step on her foes at crunch time during a Grand Slam. As one of the main contenders, that's a question will be put to the test during the fortnight.

Nadia Petrova: The clock is ticking for this daughter of two athlete parents who had a great clay court season last year prior to Roland Garros and then got injured in practice before her first match. She'll turn 25 at the end of the tournament, a great age for a player to peak, but Petrova is hurt again and is unsure whether her body will hold up for the full two weeks. The Russian is way overdue though, and should she catch fire the first week, the rest of the field must be very wary of her.


The Others
With injuries still plaguing the tour, it's hard to get a definitive read on how many of the WTA's standout players might perform, but here are 10 other women with quarterfinal potential:

Tall Czech banger Nicole Vaidisova reached the semifinals last year but is contending with a wrist injury. She may not have enough staying power to last deep into the tournament;

Venus Williams may still be shedding rust after a nearly worthless 2006, but the chronically-injured five-time Slam champ still has the experience and will to clay her way deep;

Teen icon Maria Sharapova is just back from a shoulder injury, but even on her least favorite surface, she'll fight like a demon;

Talented Russian kids Dinara Safina and Anna Chakvetadze are clamoring for the spotlight;

Israeli Shahar Peer is gritty enough to exhaust tons of foes;

Slovak Daniela Hantuchova still loves three-set battles;

Czech lefty Lucie Safarova showed Down Under that she's capable of taking big cuts at the elite.

Three notable veterans who haven't been mentioned will likely fall in the first week.

French hopeful and two-time Slam champ Amelie Mauresmo chokes horribly in Paris; 2004 finalist Elena Dementieva is struggling to come back from the first significant injury of her career, though she is playing well in the Istanbul Cup; and Switzerland's Patty Schnyder loves the dirt, but doesn't seem to have her head in the sport this year.

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