May 27, 2010

The Skies Are Clearing

It's not unusual for bad weather to foul up action at the French Open. And this year the last two days have been filled with starts and stops, playing a bit with schedules in the early rounds. But the forecast for tomorrow claims it will be seventy and sunny in Paris, and a couple women will be hoping to show that the rain on their own parades has also stopped.

After making the fourth round of the Australian Open, Alona Bondarenko lost five matches in a row. She's gotten a couple wins since then, but she began to fall from her career high #24 ranking through the spring. While still seeded in the twenties in France, I wasn't sure how she'd do, and as I'd feared, the Ukraine found herself down a set to Vera Dushevina to kick off her campaign. But the older sister of Kateryna found a way to pull through and won her next four sets, making it to the third round of Roland Garros for the first time.

She has a tough road ahead of her, though, and faces fourth seeded Jelena Jankovic next. Alona should take heart though -- after losing to the former #1 nine times, she finally broke that trend with a straight-set win over the Serb in Melbourne. If she can recapture that form, she might be able to pull off an upset, but I have a feeling Jankovic will have a thing or two to say about that.

Elena Dementieva too had been having a rough couple months, most recently losing her opening match to Tsevtana Pironkova in Warsaw. In Paris she's had a pretty intimidating draw, facing a feisty Petra Martic and veteran Anabel Medina Guarrigues on her road to the third round. Though she seemed to stumble a bit when trying to close out her last match, I was encouraged to see her stay steady. Next up she faces Aleksandra Wozniak who she simply dismantled a few weeks back in Madrid, so she should like her chances. It would be great -- if not a bit of a long shot -- to see her back in a Major final.

Caroline Wozniacki played for her first Grand Slam championship less than a year ago, and although she's now ranked higher than she was back in September few are talking about her getting back this time around. Thanks to a devastating tumble in the Charleston semis, she hasn't been much of a force in the last month or so. But she's still been a trooper -- hopefully not to her own detriment -- playing every week since and winning her first two matches in Paris in straight sets.

Unfortunately for Caro, she'll run into red-hot Alexandra Dulgheru on Friday, the twenty-year-old -- her birthday is Sunday -- who repeated as champion in Poland last week, beating three seeds to do so. The Romanian has caused quite a few upsets this season, and she should be able to take advantage of a slower-moving Wozniacki to advance in her French Open debut. I'm just hoping Caroline doesn't do her body any more damage.

Serena Williams hasn't exactly been having a bad clay court run -- she did make the semis in Rome before losing a three-setter to Jankovic. But I'm sure she would have liked a few more "W"s by her name coming into France. She didn't have the best first round, needing a first round tiebreak before ousting world #76 Stefanie Voegele. Next up she'll face Julia Goerges who's never gotten past the second round of any Major. It should be a fairly routine day for the top women's player, but with such a stacked draw, she could use a few easy days at the office.

Then there's last year's champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who stopped Serena's Paris run last year in the quarterfinals. The Russian had been playing some ugly tennis over the last few weeks, failing to repeat the success she had last year on the clay by losing her opening matches in Rome and Madrid. She started her defense strategy by getting down a break to Sorana Cirstea in the first round and then faced four match points against a strong Andrea Petkovic in the second before somehow finding a way to pull out the win.

But like the other ladies, her road to the title only gets more rocky from here. Maria Kirilenko, who most recently beat Svets in Italy, looms next and we've seen what kind of damage the fellow Russian can do. If Kuznetsova is going to make her seventh straight fourth round at the French, she will need to up her game to an even higher level.

So as the clouds part over the grounds these ladies will look to continue the runs they've had in the earlier part of the week. The prospects for some are brighter than for others, but whatever the case, it's reassuring to see them all playing like the champions we've known them to be!

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