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Serena's still the favorite
By Pam Shriver
Special to ESPN.com


Everybody, for the first time in a while, was curious how the Williams sisters would fall in the draw. It's a split with a Williams sister on each side and a Belgian on each side. But at the same time, I think everyone was ready for the impossibility of a Williams final. So take your pick, two schools of thought out there.

Pam's Picks

Shriver
Former WTA Tour pro Pam Shriver is providing ESPN.com with in-depth analysis throughout the French Open. Shriver, a tennis analyst for ESPN, was ranked as high as No. 3 in singles play. She won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.


Because she's lost two tournaments in a row, I think Serena Williams is shakier than she was last year at this time as far as her confidence. More important, the field has a much stronger belief that they can beat Serena. I think Venus' form has shown it will almost be a surprise if she gets to the final. Clay is still the least favorite surface for each of them.

A year ago, the question was could other players raise their game, and Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne have shown they can. Also, all three do well on clay.

Despite that, Serena is still the favorite. She's going for her fifth consecutive Grand Slam title and is clearly the player to beat. Here's a look at some of the top players, as they appear in the bracket, and what to expect.

Serena Williams (1) Pam's Analysis
Serena's first possible test might come against Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion. That's if Pierce gets that far. She plays Clarissa Fernandez, a semifinalist last year, in the first round. Other players of note in Serena's half of the draw are young American Ashley Harkleroad, who's had a good year on clay, and Mauresmo, who would be the quarterfinal matchup.



Amelie Mauresmo (5) Pam's Analysis
Mauresmo brings that French flavor to the women's field along with Pierce. Mauresmo hasn't had a strong French Open yet - her best showing is the fourth round. She's been to the semifinals or beyond in the other three Slams, so clearly she's got an issue with playing at home. But if she can get through that, Mauresmo can cause anyone problems.



Justine Henin-Hardenne (4) Pam's Analysis
She's probably most people's either second or third pick to win. Henin-Hardenne had a nightmare first round last year in Paris. She was sick and looked miserable on the court. She played too much tennis last year. She had a couple of duels in Germany and Italy against Serena. This year, Henin-Hardenne's been much smarter by playing less. By beating Serena at the Family Circle Cup, she set the table at the French for the other players. She came within a couple of games two years ago of getting into the finals. Unless she's below par, I don't see her losing before the semis where she'll likely play Serena.



Daniela Hantuchova (9) Pam's Analysis
A potential contender in the past, Hantuchova is not strong. She's way too thin. She'll be a nonfactor unless she gets something together. Harkleroad would face Hantuchova in the second round.



Chanda Rubin (8) Pam's Analysis
Chanda Rubin is supposed to play Henin-Hardenne in the quarters. Her eighth-seeded placement is her highest since 1996, the year she got through to the semis of the Australian Open. She's had some dramatic wins at the French before coming back in the third set against Jana Novtna 0-5, 0-40 saving nine match points in one of the most famous matches in Paris ever along with Mary Joe Fernandez's comeback against Garbriella Sabatini. The surface is not suited to her big forehand.

Most Americans aren't as comfortable on clay. Three of them, Laura Granville, Lisa Raymond, Alexenandra Stevenson, are all seeded in the lower half of the draw with Rubin, so some nice U.S. representation there.




Jennifer Capriati (7) Pam's Analysis
A familiar name is at the top of the bottom half of the draw -- Jennifer Capriati, champion two years ago. Everybody knows she's not playing like she was in 2001. But she's still very dangerous. I last saw her play in mid-April. But in five weeks she can get in better shape, which she'll need to win the French. If she is in good condition, she will contend.



Monica Seles (12) Pam's Analysis
This will be interesting in the fourth round because Seles is due to meet Capriati. That's the kind of round of 16 match that gets fans fired up. Seles' life lately has been so full of injuries. Her foot's going to be fine but it's been one constant battle with a stress fracture. Clay is more forgiving, so that might give her foot a better chance.



Elena Dementieva (13) Pam's Analysis
The Sydney Olympics silver medalist Dementieva, is someone who stalled up until winning Amelia Island. Countrywoman Vera Zvonerva would be Dementieva's first seeded match. Zvonerva is a dangerous floater.



Venus Williams (3) Pam's Analysis
Venus has a good draw early, which is important for her. She's not full of confidence right now. When her confidence is down, the same things always trouble her: serve, forehand and too many unforced errors. Plus, her competitive desire isn't where it was two years ago and not where it needs to be to win. But the Capriati-Venus quarterfinal will be one of those matches that makes the tournament come to life in the second week.



Lindsay Davenport (6) Pam's Analysis
Newly married, we'll see how she plays. It's a big deal to get married. I know she pulled out of some tournaments saying she had a leg injury, but I don't know whether she was really injured or if she just hadn't gotten her focus back. Davenport is dangerous on any surface when she's striking the ball well.

She's got a tough second round opponent in Iroda Tulyaganova, who almost beat her in Australia. So Davenport's not going to have a chance to come in and warm up. She's going to need to be ready coming into her first match.




Jelena Dokic (10) Pam's Analysis
Dokic is just a shadow of what she was a year ago. That can change in a hurry at a major, but the way she's playing now she's pretty unproven.



Kim Clijsters (2) Pam's Analysis
Clijsters is surrounded by some Americans -- Corina Morariu, Amy Frazier, Lindsay Lee-Waters -- who probably aren't comfortable on clay. Clijsters first test will be against Paola Suarez, who got to the quarterfinals last year. In 2002, Clijsters, like Mauresmo, was tight, tense and never really got into the French after being the runner-up the year before. Based on how she's played in the past six months, there's no reason why she can't uphold her seeding and have another classic match with Serena or Henin-Hardenne in the final.

It's good that Venus and Clijsters are in the same side of the draw because they've been trading the ranking back and forth. Maybe it's justice to show who should be in the final. But I think Clijsters would win that matchup
 

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Jelena Dokic (10) Pam's Analysis
Dokic is just a shadow of what she was a year ago. That can change in a hurry at a major, but the way she's playing now she's pretty unproven.


Pam is always so critical of Dokic, she is more than just a shadow of what she was a year ago... grrrrr
 

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Monica Seles (12) Pam's Analysis
This will be interesting in the fourth round because Seles is due to meet Capriati. That's the kind of round of 16 match that gets fans fired up. Seles' life lately has been so full of injuries. Her foot's going to be fine but it's been one constant battle with a stress fracture. Clay is more forgiving, so that might give her foot a better chance.


I am not sure, but I think I heard that the injury is something that will follow Monica till the end of her career, cause if she wants to cure it 100%, she would have to take a surgery, which at her ages is something she can't afford :sad:
 

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Venus Williams (3) Pam's Analysis
"Plus, her competitive desire isn't where it was two years ago and not where it needs to be to win."

Let's hope Venus' confidence isn't were it was two years ago, because two years ago she got bounced in the first round :rolleyes:
Pam is just mad cause Vee won't talk to her. I say Vee makes the final (unless she is injured)
 
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