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Sharapova, Clijsters among French Open favourites

india Updated: May 21, 2011 18:49 IST

AFP
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Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters will start the French Open as favourites while world number one Caroline Wozniacki will be desperate to translate her undoubted talents into a Grand Slam title run.

The 24-year-old Sharapova last won a major at the 2008 Australian Open after which she was wracked by a succession of injuries that left her wondering if her career would come to an abrupt end.

But she has stuck with it and has been gradually climbing back up the rankings with her first claycourt title win in Rome last week lifting her up to seventh, her best placing since she stood at sixth in November 2008.

The Russian, however, believes that Clijsters, the reigning US and Australian Open champion, is the woman to beat despite the Belgian not having played in Paris since 2006.

"You can never count her out. She's a great champion, has won the last couple of Grand Slams and is number two in the world. She's certainly the one to beat here."

Clay has never been a major problem for Clijsters, who was brought up playing on the surface and who has twice reached the final in Paris.

But her participation in Paris was in doubt when she damaged her right ankle while dancing at a friend's wedding.

"I was dancing barefoot, not in high heels, and I landed on another girl's foot and twisted my ankle," said the 27-year-old.

"I limped off the floor and then someone else stood on my small toe. I was having a good time until then."

Despite the injury, the Belgian insists that her fitness and movement should not be affected when the French Open starts on Sunday.

"I still have the heavy strapping on the ankle," she said. "I will keep it on until after Wimbledon and then see if I am able to play without it."

The women's event could be one of the most open in years with both Williams sisters out injured and four-times winner Justine Henin now definitively retired.

2010's surprise winner Francesca Schiavone of Italy and the woman she beat in the final, Samantha Stosur of Australia, will be amongst the contenders again.

Stosur, too, sees Clijsters as a major threat.

"I think even though she has been out for a little while, you can't discount anything that she might be able to do," said the Australian.

"Obviously she was able to win the US Open without too much preparation, so you have to think of her as a threat. She's a great player and a great champion. People like that don't play the tournament unless they're feeling ready."

Also worth a look will be powerful Belarussian Victoria Azarenka who is up to a career-best fourth in the world after tournament wins at Miami and Marbella.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, will once again be assailed with questions over how she can accept being the number one ranked player in the world despite having never won a Grand Slam title.

The 20-year-old Dane has consolidated her top ranking this year with tournament wins at Dubai, Indian Wells and Charleston but she has still to prove she has the big game to win a Grand Slam title.

Latest indications are that Wozniacki might be considering taking on as coach the legendary Martina Navratilova in a bid to harness her mastery of attacking skills to go with her own defensive prowess.

That partnership could work well according to tennis analyst Mary Carillo, a former US Tour player and a mixed doubles champion in Paris in 1977 with John McEnroe.

"Caroline's a lover of the long point, and she doesn't have to be," she said.

"There are many times when you're thinking, 'Just pull the trigger, already.'

"She's heard from any number of people that she needs to add aggression to her game - maybe it would take somebody like Martina to have it kick in."

It will be an emotional tournament for French fans with Virginie Razzano opting to play on despite the death on Monday of her fiance and former coach Stephane Vidal after a long battle with a brain tumour.