Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is Maria Sharapova the new French Open favorite?

In a tournament this wide open and unpredictable, being named the new favorite is probably the last thing Maria Sharapova wants. After all, she was on the brink of disaster on Thursday, down a set and two breaks to a 17-year-old wild card before rattling off 11 straight games to advance to the third round. Her serve, though improved, is still a mess. Now she's favored to win four more matches and take home the lone Grand Slam that's eluded her during her career?

That's what the oddsmakers say. With losses to Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur, they've installed Sharapova as the co-favorite, along with Victoria Azarenka, to hoist the trophy next Saturday.

If it sounds like wishful thinking, perhaps it is. Sharapova's status as favorite has every bit as much to do with her star power than it does her game. She's playing her best tennis in years, but there's been a slight overvaluation of her recent clay court exploits considering that her biggest wins in Rome, a tournament she won, were over the aforementioned Wozniacki and Stosur. In Madrid, Sharapova struggled to beat Arantxa Rus and Ekaterina Makarova. She only beat Victoria Azarenka in Rome after Azarenka retired from the match. This is the new favorite?

Why not? The main question regarding Sharapova's Grand Slam chances were whether she could keep her serve from going off the rails in seven straight matches. And, if she couldn't, would she survive it? Against Caroline Garcia, the answer was yes. Maybe she got it out of her system. Maybe the comeback, in addition to the win in Rome, gave Sharapova the subtle confidence boost she needed to have confidence while standing on the baseline. Possible upcoming opponents like Agnieszka Radwanska, Yanina Wickmayer or Maria Kirilenko won't be as forgiving as Garcia, but they have flaws too. So do Azarenka, Francesca Schiavone, Vera Zvonareva and Petra Kvitova, for that matter.

The tournament is up for grabs. It's Maria Sharapova's for the taking.

Alecia Elliott Kat Von D Ana Paula Lemes Vanessa Simmons Chyler Leigh

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