By Lewis Davies
The 2012 French Open begins on Sunday, and in the women’s draw, there are three clear favourites to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. They read as: current world number one Victoria Azarenka, three-time major winner Maria Sharapova and 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. However, as we’ve seen in the past with Li Na and Francesca Schiavone, the clay courts of Roland Garros can produce some unlikely heroes. So is there a case for an outsider such as Samantha Stosur to claim glory in Paris this time around?
Well, yes. The 28-year-old Australian is, after all, the reigning US Open champion having beaten Williams in a controversial final last September. Her record at the French Open is also better than both Sharapova and Azarenka. Neither player has ever made the final whilst Stosur finished runner-up in 2010. With the experience of winning a maiden major coupled with her big kick serve weapon, she could see her natural clay court ability finally reaping rewards.
When analysing the draw, the case looks stronger too. Stosur has been drawn in a half which avoids the best players until the final round. The other title favourites are Petra Kvitova and current holder Li, who sit in one quarter while Sharapova and Williams lie in another. Only one of those four can make the final so the draw has been kind to Stosur.
But while this may be true, the case against Stosur also, seemingly, lies in the draw. It’s not the toughest but contains a potential third round banana skin against two-time Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Petrova and a quarter-final clash with Azarenka. However, with Petrova falling at the first round stage to Anastasia Rodionova last year and the Russian now approaching 30 years of age, a lengthy run could be beyond her. And although Stosur has never beaten Azarenka in six meetings, they’ve also never played on any other surface but hard court. A first meeting on the red stuff could prove memorable.
The form of Stosur heading into the French is also a concern. Compared to Sharapova, who claimed the titles at Stuttgart and Rome recently, and Azarenka, who reached the finals of the former and Madrid, Stosur could be far behind in terms of self-confidence and belief. Pre-tournament titles don’t always breed success at the slams though, as Li learned last year. The Chinese player had never won a clay court event prior to the French Open, which was the same story for Stosur when she made the last four in 2009.
The doubters will say one of the three favourites are nailed on to succeed this year. Williams is touted as the front-runner due to her current clay court hot streak but this has mostly been on green and blue varieties of the surface. Given her first and only triumph at Roland Garros came in 2002, can she really win it again 10 years on? She’s never reached the final since and has surprisingly not reached another final on red clay since that victorious day over sister Venus. Meanwhile, it feels a stretch too far for Azarenka to win back-to-back majors or Sharapova to complete her career grand slam at this stage.
Not many people will give Stosur a chance of winning the French Open. But she can draw inspiration from the likes of Schiavone, Li and herself at Flushing Meadows, as not many people gave them a chance either.