Saturday, May 24, 2008

A career Slam in the cards?

She's only won one clay-court title in her career (on Har-Tru, no less), but Maria Sharapova (above) has to be thanking the draw gods heading into the French Open this year. If there's a shot for her to add the only Slam missing from her collection, it's this year. Now, I know Jelena Jankovic is the popular pick, but the bottom half of the draw is ridiculously difficult: the Williams sisters, Ana Ivanovic and a couple of players that have been hot over the clay-court season—Alize Cornet and Agniesza Radwanska—are all down there. I just can't see a winner emerging from down there, due to the fact of whoever reaches the finals will be dead to the world by the time she gets there. So I'm going out on a limb with my Sharapova pick. But first, I'm going to do my quarterfinal predictions:

Maria Sharapova (1) vs. Vera Zvonareva (11): Maria's run really starts here. She has some tough players in her quarter of the draw, such as Maria Kirilenko and Dinara Safina (provided she even gets past her first-round match against Kateryna Bondarenko). But she should still come through. Zvonareva has had a great year so far, and I'm expecting her to beat Elena Dementieva in the fourth round. She just won't be able to stand up to Sharapova's firepower.

Victoria Azarenka (16) vs. Agnes Szavay (12): Huh vs. who? This really should be Svetlana Kuznetsova's section to dominate. However, she hasn't done anything this clay-court swing. If she gets past Francesca Schiavone in the third round, I still see her falling to Azarenka, provided Victoria's healthy (she retired in her last match before the tournament). Szavay is the second-highest-ranked player in her quarter after Anna Chakvetadze, but sometimes you just have to go with the in-form player, which in this case is Agnes (left).

Venus Williams (8) vs. Jelena Jankovic (3): See what I mean? Now doesn't this sound like a more difficult prospect than anything in the top half of the draw? IF Jelena gets past the winner of that slugfest between Alize Cornet and Agnieszka Radwanska, she still has to play Venus, who should be cruising at this point. It only gets rougher for whoever after this one.

Serena Williams (5) vs. Ana Ivanovic (2): Ditto for these two, except I think you'll see both of them pretty well-rested, with few tests on the paths to the quarters. I'm sure they're both thinking, "Whew!" up until this point.

For the semis:
Sharapova vs. Szavay: A possible walk in the park for Maria.

Jankovic vs. S. Williams: Team Serbia and Team Williams have split their matches. I think Jankovic has a little more going for her on the dirt right now.

For the final:
Sharapova over Jankovic: It's crazy to think, I know, but the bottom half of the draw is just too loaded and whoever comes through will have won a tournament within a tournament, and could possibly be easy pickings for Maria.

(Photos: Serena: AFP; Sharapova, Jankovic: Getty Images; Szavay: AP)

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