French Open 2011: Williams sisters have made Paris an open goal for Maria Sharapova, says Martina Hingis
This French Open is a great opportunity for Maria Sharapova to complete a career grand slam.
By Martina Hingis
Maria Sharapova’s greatest strength has always been her mental toughness – she gives opponents nothing – and she will believe in herself even more after winning her first title for a year with victory at Rome’s Foro Italico last weekend.
Sharapova is undoubtedly a great competitor, so strong in the mind, and that is often key in Paris, as it is the most mentally draining of the grand slam tournaments. When Sharapova is playing well, she just never lets go. I suppose that could be seen as being mean on the court, but I have always viewed it as professionalism.
From the very first time I saw Sharapova play, which would have been when she was 14 or 15 and she was still in the juniors, I have always thought how professional she is. You always know what you were going to get with her. She is pretty straightforward. It has not always been good enough, but she has always given everything.
It is fantastic for Sharapova, and for women’s tennis, that she is winning again. With the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, both missing the French Open, the women’s game needs some big names and faces.
Sharapova exploded on to the scene when she won the 2004 Wimbledon title at 17, and she went on to win the 2006 US Open and the 2008 Australian Open.
Completing the career grand slam would show everyone just what she is capable of. No one can ever say after you have done the career slam that you cannot play on one particular surface. I came close to completing the career grand slam, as I won three Australian Open titles and Wimbledon and the US Open once each, and for me it is a great pity that I threw away the second of my French Open finals, when I played Steffi Graf in 1999.
It would mean a lot to Sharapova to have won all four grand slams, though at this stage of her tennis life, after coming back from a serious shoulder injury that could have ended her career, I would imagine she is motivated simply by the possibility of winning any sort of tournaments and titles again.
Winning matches and titles tends to be even more satisfying after returning from an injury, than it was before, as you have had to deal with so many obstacles to get back to where you were.
The clay courts at Roland Garros almost play like hard courts, as the sand on them is very fine. The surface in Paris is much faster and has a much truer bounce than at the other clay-court tournaments around Europe, and that is to Sharapova’s advantage, as her game is better suited to quick conditions.
Much could depend on the weather, though. If it stays hot and dry in Paris, that will help her. But if it is cold and rainy, and the balls and the clay both become heavy and wet, that could harm her chances.
There is no real reason, though, why Sharapova, whose victory in the Italian Open in Rome came against last year’s French Open runner-up Sam Stosur, cannot also win this year’s title at Roland Garros.
The key with Sharapova has always been whether she stays healthy or not. She is still young, just 24, so she has many more years left in her if she can avoid injury, and her shoulder is OK.
I was also very pleased to hear that Kim Clijsters will be in the draw in Paris. She has missed the entire clay-court season so far after damaging her ankle while dancing at a cousin’s wedding, but she can come from nowhere to win the title.
The courts suit her game. When she plays, it is usually all about her. She does not wait for her opponent to come to her as she is the one going for her shots. I imagine that a lot could depend on whether she serves well.
One advantage she does have is that she will be completely fresh. I remember when I was preparing for the French Open, and playing a number of tournaments, that you had to try to ensure that you were not tired when you arrived in Paris. That will not be a problem for Clijsters.
It has been unfortunate for women’s tennis that Serena Williams has not played for almost a year because of two foot operations and then emergency treatment for a blood clot on her lung, and her sister, Venus, has not competed much either because of injuries – her last tournament was January’s Australian Open.
This is the first time for eight years that a grand slam tournament is missing both the sisters. It would be premature to say with any certainty that the Williams era is over and they will never win any more slams, but of course it all depends on whether they can regain their health and fitness and start playing again. If they are fit and well, of course they can win more slams, because they are great champions.
It is a great story, how the sisters started from nothing to achieve so much in tennis, and if they can return to the court – they have always been stronger on the Wimbledon grass than on the Paris clay – they could add to their collections. The sisters are so strong mentally, especially Serena, that they can win tournaments when they are not quite at their best physically.
But really I would love to see Caroline Wozniacki win in Paris, especially as some would argue that until the world No1 wins a grand slam event she will struggle to have the respect of everyone in tennis. Until she does, some people will think she does not deserve or live up to that number.
She has already achieved so much and has done a lot for the sport but until she wins a slam, there will always be a lot of discussions that Wozniacki has somehow not established herself as the No 1. It would be helpful for the sport, as well as for her, if the No 1 was also a grand slam champion.
I hope that Wozniacki, a tough cookie, can make an impression this coming fortnight. Perhaps Francesca Schiavone, last year’s surprise champion here, can win again, though we have not heard so much from her recently.
Every girl finds one tournament where she immediately feels comfortable and I am sure Schiavone will be at home again in Paris when she walks on court to start the defence of her title. However I think this just might be Sharapova’s year.
Martina Hingis, a former world No1 who won five grand slam titles, was twice a runner-up at the French Open