tennis

Williams and Sharapova lead women contenders for French Open title

Serena Williams is the top seed at the French Open
Serena Williams is the top seed at the French Open Reuters/Issei Kato

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have been rivals for the top prizes in tennis for more than a decade. Williams is the top seed for the French Open while Sharapova, the defending champion, is the second seed.

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They’ve been the big noises on the women’s tour for the last decade. And if all goes according to plan, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will square up for the women’s final on 6 June.

Williams is the undisputed queen of the women's game and hunting a third Roland Garros crown to make it grand slam number 20.

Sharapova, who has just moved up to number two in the world, is the defending. She’s stunned herself by winning two out of the last three titles in Paris.

Slideshow: Roland Garros 2014 opens

However while Sharapova has the local bragging rights, if the two do line up against each other, it’s the American who will stand taller.

Williams has not lost to Sharapova since 2004 and leads their head-to-heads 17-2. The last of the victories came in the Australian Open final at the start of the year. 

The outcome was the same in 2013 when the pair met for the first, and to date only time, in the French Open final. 

Essentially Sharapova has to pray that someone can do her a huge favour by eliminating Williams in the early rounds. Garbine Muguruza from Spain did the trick last year.

"I think for many, including myself, the transition I've made on the clay courts to become a two-time French Open champion has been a big surprise and a really incredible achievement personally for me," she said.

Years ago, Sharapova likened her movement on clay to that of a cow on ice. But grace and guile have replaced bovine ineptitude. She's mastered her demons and become a fearsome foe on the surface. It’s a source of immense personal pride.

"Because I was able to take something that was a big weakness of mine and make it into one of my strengths," she added.

An upset early on for Williams is not out of the question as she has been vulnerable in the past on the Paris clay. After losing her 27-match unbeaten run in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open earlier this month, she pulled out of the Italian Open with a sore elbow.

Click here for our coverage of Roland Garros 2014

“I was worried about it,” said the world number one. “But lately I have been really getting some really good treatment that has been able to alleviate it and make the symptoms go down substantially.”

Williams and Sharapova will start the tournament as favourites to reach the final. But the other contenders include last year’s beaten finalist Simona Halep - seeded third - and the big-hitting Czech Petra Kvitova, who is the fourth seed.

Kvitova won the Madrid Open in devastating fashion. She crushed the former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 6-2 in a 66-minute display of brutal baseline power. It was her second title in Madrid, following her 2011 crown and it was notable as she dispatched Williams en route to the championship.

She’s on Williams’ side of the draw, while Halep is seeded to meet Sharapova in the semis.

At the outset of the competition it’s impossible to know whether the four will be in the semis at all. But if they do follow the preordained route, a couple of things are for sure: it will be loud and fierce. Finesse won’t be a frequent visitor to the proceedings.

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