As it was in Australia, the consensus would appear to be that the women’s event in Paris is wide open, with any one of about 10 players in with a chance. But on closer inspection, I would make it between four, or five at best, with one woman standing head and shoulders above the rest.
Li Na is the defending champion and showed signs of a return to form last weekend in reaching the final in Rome. The Chinese is a best-priced 14-1 and I would not be surprised if she has another good run. Whether she can win the title again is another matter altogether, and perhaps a bit beyond her.
Victoria Azarenka is the world No 1 and would have been favourite had it not been for a resurgent Serena Williams, who has won two clay-court titles this year and appears to be right back to her best again. Fully fit after a foot injury and then blood clots on her lungs, she is back to pummelling the opposition and hammering the ball, while her technique is so good that she can get herself out of trouble by serving better than anyone out there.
The one doubt would be that she has not won here since 2002 – her only French Open crown – and clay is still her weakest surface. Occasionally clay can upset her movement and there are other players who are more at home on it. But there is no question she is the one to beat and 13/5 is a fair price.
It is a shame that she and Maria Sharapova are in the same quarter of the draw and should clash in the last eight. The Russian has become a really top clay-court player, helped by her improving physical strength since returning from shoulder surgery a couple of years ago. Title wins in Stuttgart and Rome show she is in great form, but the problem is that she has to play Serena, who has beaten her several times in a row and appears to have her number. That explains why she is as big as 8-1.
Azarenka has been in good form too but I still have doubts about her movement and if there is any weakness, clay will expose it. Until winning in Australia this year, she had made only one grand slam semi-final so it’s not as if she’s dominant. Plus, she may well have to play Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals and I can see the Australian winning that one.
Stosur, in fact, looks the pick of the outsiders, if you can call the US Open champion an outsider. She should have won the title in Paris two years ago when she lost to Francesca Schiavone (who has gone off the boil totally) and is at her best on clay. If she can stay mentally strong – her biggest issue – she could come through from the top half and 12-1 is a good each-way price.
The bottom half of the draw is loaded, with Williams, Sharapova, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Li Na all in there. Angelique Kerber of Germany, who has risen to the top 10 in the space of a year, is in the top half and a danger, at 25-1, but probably is not quite ready to make a final.
In the end, it is all about Serena Williams and Stosur, which would be a repeat of last year’s US Open final, won by the Australian.