The Road to Roland Garros is now over. The winners have been chosen by virtue of their performances over the last few weeks. Over the next few days the Spin will attempt to categorise those ladies who we believe will raise the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.
When Serena Williams lost in her opening round match at Charleston to the relatively unknown Jana Cepelova the usual cries went up. It did not help that Serena stated that she needed a break as her body and mind was tired. Going into the European clay swing, Maria Sharapova stepped up her game and won her first title. Li Na, who had herself taken a break after the Sony Open returned in Madrid. Alarms were again raised when Serena withdrew from Madrid citing a left leg injury and her participation in Rome became of concern to everyone, including Serena.
While the top ladies were raising eyebrows, there were a lot of women who were beginning to show signs of life. Carla Suarez-Navarro became a first title titlist in Portugal.
Today though the Spin will look at those women who we think will raise the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen 3 weeks from today.
2014 Clay Wins - 7
Titles - 1
First up is reigning World No. 1 and defending champion, Serena Williams. Serena provided a master class during her final today against Sara Errani. While some will say that Errani was injured, I doubt if there was anything that Errani could have done even if she were at 100%. After all the head to head was 6-0 for a reason and let us not forget the humiliating defeat that Errani suffered at the hands of Williams last year in the semifinals of the French Open, when she beat Errani 0 and 1 in 46 minutes.
While Serena has not been at her dominant self during this year's clay court, she has come up with the wins when it matters most. Rome has always been a harbinger of things to come and both times that Serena has won Roland Garros she has won Rome.
2014 clay wins - 13
Titles - 2
Next up is Maria Sharapova, currently sitting at No. 7 in the rankings and last year's beaten finalist. Sharapova's clay court credentials are some of the best. For someone who has previously expressed a relative fear of the surface she has grown into the surface and is now only second to Serena and Medina Garrigues in terms of clay titles. She is the current 3 time champion at Stuttgart, a tournament that seems to kick start her season each year. She followed up that victory by winning her first title in Madrid but got beaten by Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. A former champion at Roland Garros, Sharapova went through 2013 without a Grand Slam to her name and the French Open is her best chance to get another Slam title under her belt.
Unless you were a diehard fan of women's tennis or a regular reader of this blog, you knew little or nothing about Simona Halep. I confess that I knew nothing about her as well and had to do a little bit of digging when her name kept coming up on one of my favourite blogs, Women who Serve. The reason why I was interested is not now important, what was important was the narrative that was being written about this young woman. It was alleged that she had a great game, was fiery and all her love for tennis was all consuming. She hit all the right notes with me and so I was intrigued and wanted to know more. That was 3 or 4 years ago and I have never stopped liking her.
Halep has made subtle improvements in her game. She is one of the few players of Generation Next who does not use on court coaching. That for me shows her mentality. She is not very demonstrative on court but she can be feisty when she needs to be. She is a true athlete. A former French Open junior champion, her goals are set on winning her first Grand Slam title and her Slam of choice is the French Open. I think she is a serious contender in the event that Serena and Maria falter before the second week.
Her clay court season has been hampered by an Achilles and stomach injury but I think she will be fit and ready for the French Open come 25 May.
Our final contender for the Roland Garros trophy is none other than our 2008 champion and a player who many, including the Spin had written off. When a player has taken her career into her own hands and fought tooth and nail to get her career back on track, we should all lift our hat to her and give her the props that she deserves. Ana Ivanovic is that young woman. From living and dying by Wildcards, to exiting tournaments to players that some of us have never heard of, to changing coaches as often as you can say Ana has a new coach, Ana Ivanovic now seems to have found purpose in her life and in her career.
She has reached the semis, quarters or semis of every single clay tournament that she has played this year and she has pushed the top 2 contenders for Roland Garros to third sets. She had the match on her racquet in Stuttgart but Sharapova as she does competed much better. Same thing in Rome, her opponent in the semifinals, Serena Williams just competed that much better and on both occasions Ivanovic seemed to run out of gas. Here's hoping with the day of rest at the French Open she can manage her time there to at least the second week.