As one of the favourites to win the French Open title this year, Maria Sharapova has seriously put herself in contention to win the only Grand Slam that has eluded her. After a gutsy victory in Rome, against the reigning French Open champion Li Na, Sharapova yet again displayed the battling spirit that has made her a three-time Grand Slam winner.
It would certainly be a significant step for Sharapova if she were to win this tournament. Even more significant if she could beat Serena Williams on her way to the title. The statistics are greatly stacked against her; Sharapova has never beaten the American on clay and their current head-to-head stands at 8-2 to the 13-time Grand Slam champion.
They are two players that have had a turbulent few years in the game and if one of them looks more likely to stage a comeback it would be the Williams sister. When she is completely focused on playing tennis and free from injury, not many can compete against her power. She appears imperious against most opponents. However, if there was a shock exit for Serena Williams, then Sharapova would have every chance.
She may not have played her best tennis in the Rome final, but coming into the French Open with that title may prove to be significant. Confidence is key. Perhaps, her first round match this week will provide some answers. Her serve is a permanent worry but has not been completely unstable in recent weeks. If she can keep this side of her game consistent along with her groundstrokes and agility on court, Sharapova will progress far into the second week.
There is no doubt about her mental strength. Sharapova and S. Williams are arguably the two greatest battlers in the women's game. A detailed focus on these two women is with no disrespect to the major champions of recent years; there are more than two contenders for the title.
The likes of Sam Stosur and Ana Ivanovic are still contenders for the tournament this year, having won their first round matches.Venus Williams could also surprise her fans in this tournament, it would be a wonderful story if, after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which causes fatigue, she could play well at Roland Garros. However, the world number 2 and 5 respectively know how to win, regardless of whether they are playing their best tennis.
Personally, I feel that if either Sharapova or S.Williams were to win the tournament it would be positive for the women's game. After Justine Henin retired from women's tennis, the great champions have failed to stay consistently at the top of the game. In fact, since Sharapova first became number one in 2005 there have been 11 different world number ones. This is in stark constrast to the men's game where there has been only three different world number ones in the same period of time. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the women's game to a men's game that is arguably at its peak.
Regardless, the stage is set for these two global icons in women's tennis. For sure, it will be an unmissable first week in the women's draw, as we see who wants to stamp their authority on this tournament and who will fail to impress.