Mixed results from Maria Sharapova
With title in Madrid, Russian star enters the French Open with some confidence
It's always about the drama with Serena Williams.
Just when it looked as if her French was fried, she took the court last week in Rome as if nothing had happened -- as if she had never pulled out of the Madrid quarterfinals with a tender left thigh. Williams, wearing no trainer's tape around the offending limb, came out and broke Andrea Petkovic in the very first game, at love. The final was 6-2, 6-2, and, after rolling through the Italian field, Williams once again became the favorite to repeat in Paris.
Maria Sharapova took advantage of Williams' dismissal by winning Madrid and lining herself up to once again be a legitimate contender in Paris.
Heading into the festivities at Roland Garros, here is our up-or-down look at how the WTA's top players are trending:
No. 1 Serena Williams: Thigh injury? What thigh injury? She breezed through her first three matches in Rome, dropping a total of only 11 games, then faced down a game Ana Ivanovic, winning in three sets -- the last one 6-1. Sara Errani was erased 6-3, 6-0 in the final.
No. 2 Li Na: Yes, she's the reigning Australian Open champion, but she failed to get to the final four in Madrid or Rome. The most successful Chinese tennis player ever fell to Maria Sharapova in a three-set quarterfinal in Spain. Last week, she lost to Errani playing in her home country, also in three sets.
No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska: The crafty one from Poland usually beats the players she's supposed to beat -- and loses to the ones ranked among the elite. Radwanska fell to Sharapova in Stuttgart (quarterfinals) and Madrid (semifinals), but she was upended by Jelena Jankovic, a fellow top-10 player, in the Rome quarterfinals.
No. 4 Victoria Azarenka: We've only seen her once since she lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. And we won't see her in Paris. Azarenka pulled out of the French Open with a foot injury she suffered three days before the Aussie started, which also restricted her to a one-and-done appearance at Indian Wells.
No. 5 Simona Halep: After a bobble in Stuttgart, Halep raced into the finals at Madrid, only to lose to Sharapova in three sets. In Rome, she dropped the first set to young American Madison Keys, then lost only one game over the next two sets. But ... not long after the match, she withdrew from her third-round encounter with Carla Suarez Navarro, citing an abdominal injury.
No. 6 Petra Kvitova: It's been nearly three years since she won her first and only major, at Wimbledon, and Kvitova is still struggling to regain that form. She played well in Madrid, losing to Halep in the semifinals, but was stunned in her first match at Rome by Zhang Shuai in three sets.
No. 7 Maria Sharapova: After she won the titles in Stuttgart and Madrid (beating Li, Radwanska and Halep), you wondered whether Sharapova would check out early in Rome. Sure enough, she won her first match but fell to Ivanovic in the second. This actually bodes well for her French effort.
No. 16 Sloane Stephens: The clay season -- the entire 2014 season, really -- isn't going well for the 21-year-old Floridian. She fell, respectably, to Li in the third round at Madrid but was upended by fellow American Varvara Lepchenko in the second round at Rome, 6-2, 6-2.
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