Sharapova sharp coming into Roland Garros
There’s no clear favorite on the women’s side of the French Open.
It’s easier to find reasons why someone won’t win than why they will.
Simona Halep should be the favorite at any event she enters. But she was trounced in the Rome final, and though she says she’s feeling fine physically, she has a mental mountain to overcome — never winning a slam. If she can finally seal the deal in Paris, she’s set to dominate the game for years.
Elina Svitolina should also be the favorite at Roland Garros. She blew out Halep to win Rome. She’s bouncing around the clay like an acrobat. But like Halep, Svitolina has to overcome nagging doubts that she can’t win at the highest level.
Naomi Francois “Osaka” proved her power winning Indian Wells. But she remains a work in progress on clay, a foreign surface to the slugger born in Japan and raised on the hard courts of New York and Florida. Against Halep in Rome, Naomi couldn’t switch to a lower and safer gear, and she is still developing her consistency and touch, especially lacking on her double-fisted backhand volley. But she can draw inspiration from the sudden rise of Jelena Ostapenko.
Jelena seemingly came out of nowhere last year to win it all in Paris. This year she’s a target, and opponents have had a year to figure out her game and feast on her soft second serve. Jelena seems most likely destined for a spectacular crash this year or yet another drive to the final. In Rome, she battled Sharapova for more than three hours in defeat — a positive sign, if she can interpret it that way.
Sharapova is my favorite to win Roland Garros this year. It’s a good mix of factors for her. She’s an underdog without the pressures and doubts weighing on Halep, Svitolina and others. She looked good in Rome, winning a tussle with Ostapenko before losing to Halep in the semis. And Maria has the maturity and years of experience making her seem like a “woman among the girls”. She’s competing with killer instinct again, and she knows how to win at the highest levels.
If she seemingly enjoyed the life of a pampered athlete for years, Maria has had to overcome a lengthy doping ban and a loss of face and fans. At pressers in Rome, she spoke with a more philosophical tone than previous years, and she seemingly has an expanded awareness of life in general. Though she has a tough draw and a history of injuries, Maria could raise the trophy again, completing her journey back to the summit.
There’s also another player who should never be overlooked: a low-ranked, unseeded mother by the name of Serena Williams.
Much will depend on her movement and stamina. But during practice at Roland Garros on Thursday, the low-ranked, unseeded mother from USA was swatting away returns from a male practice partner who couldn’t hit the ball hard enough to push her from her aggressive perch on the baseline.
(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved.)