As we count down the days to Roland Garros, the women's field is full of questions. Can Justine Henin again shine at the tournament she once dominated? Are any of the young players ready to break through? Matt Cronin takes a look at the five biggest issues for the women ahead of the 2010 French Open.
Can Serbia revive?
Three years ago, Serbian women were the talk of the French Open when Ana Ivanovic (pictured) and Jelena Jankovic met in a highly dramatic semifinal. Ivanovic won and went on to take her sole Grand Slam title. A lot has changed since, with Jankovic eventually grabbing the No. 1 ranking and then going into a funk, and Ivanovic dropping from the top spot to No. 58 just a few weeks ago.
Both women have revived as of late, with Jankovic winning Indian Wells and beating the Williams sisters back to back at Rome, and Ivanovic scoring top 10 wins for the first time since late 2008 by reaching the Rome semis. While the headstrong Jankovic is clearly in better form (she knocked Ivanovic out of Madrid), Ivanovic appears to be on the upswing and will be a dangerous floater at the event. But it's “JJ” who finally should be able to calm her nerves and go hard in an attempt to win her first Slam title on a surface that perfectly fits her relentless counterpunching game.
Can Russia get out of its slump?
While Russia still has a phalanx of top 50 players, try to think of one great result for that capable yet careening nation since Svetlana Kuznetsova won last year's Roland Garros? It's almost impossible, because since that time, Kuznetsova and former No. 1 Dinara Safina have gone into tailspins, Maria Sharapova hasn't been able to stay healthy, Elena Dementieva (pictured) keeps falling apart at the big dances, Nadia Petrova and Vera Zvonareva appear to be past their primes and youngsters Alisa Kleybanova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have yet to show that they are big-time players.
With Kuznetsova going into a complete mental funk, Safina just returning from a major back injury and Sharapova no fan of the clay, it looks like only former finalist Dementieva has even a sniff of a chance to do major damage. But she looked unsure of herself in Rome and Madrid and in all probability, Russia will walk away from another major without so much as one player in the semifinals.
Can any young player make a serious move?
The newer generation of WTA players is quickly getting lost in the shuffle and there's not one player 21 or younger who has played consistently enough this season to lead one to believe that she's ready to win a major. Caroline Wozniacki is battling an ankle injury and hasn't put up a fantastic result all year. Victoria Azarenka has fallen out of the top 10, can't stay healthy and seems to be lacking in motivation. Agnieszka Radwanska (pictured) seems forever stuck around a No. 10 ranking. Yanina Wickmayer has a lot of good qualities, but she's hurt, too. Two youngsters who made waves at Roland Garros last year — Dominika Cibulkova and Sorana Cirstea — have largely fallen back to the pack.
In fact, it's been the understated veterans like 26-year-old Sam Stosur (who won Charleston) and 27-year-old Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (who won Rome) who are more likely to make waves in Paris than the Kiddy Corps is.
Can Henin return to win her fifth title?
Justine Henin reigned supreme in Paris from 2003-07, winning four titles in that span. But instead of trying to defend her title in '08, she pulled out of the event just before it started and temporarily retired. Now she's back again and she's shown in spurts (like in reaching the Aussie Open final and winning Stuttgart), that she's capable of yanking her foes around.
The question for Henin is not whether she has the goods to win the crown but whether she can stay healthy enough over two weeks. She's dealing with a fractured left finger and recently caught a virus that left her virtually powerless in an opening-round loss in Madrid. A healthy Henin is always formidable, but there have been numerous times during her career when injury has made her appear very fragile. She owns every significant shot in the book on clay, and if she manages to waltz through the first week, she'll be extremely tough to topple.
Can a Williams sister back up her ranking and win a title?
Serena and Venus will enter Roland Garros as the top two ranked players for the first time in quite awhile. In 2002, Serena bested Venus in the French final, which was the start of her “Serena Slam,” when she won four straight majors, taking out her older sister in all four finals.
Serena has reached the second week in Paris four times since but has only managed to enter one other semifinal. She's capable on clay, but it's the surface that gives her the most trouble. She's had very little match play since winning the Aussie Open in January, but striking tons of balls has never mattered that much to her.
Venus has won more clay court titles than Serena has, but has taken a series of messy losses at the French in recent years, including her last three appearances. It's hard to imagine that she can win the very physical event as she fast approaches the age of 30, but she has always defined enigmatic so can't be completely counted out.