Friday May 20th, 2011

Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds at the French Open. Read on for the top first-round matchups, dark horses, and his predicted winners.

1. Caroline Wozniacki: Particularly with so many absences and injuries, here's another golden opportunity for Wozniacki to win her first major, adding heft to her ranking and ending the annoying asterisk question. Yet her counterpunching game has been ineffective on clay this spring. Failed to do much at the tune-ups and you wonder: Has the rest of the field figured out how to beat her?

2. Kim Clijsters: Injury, schminjury. With Henin, Dementieva and the Williams sisters out, she's among the few who knows how to win big Slam matches. As such, it's hard not to consider her the favorite. Potential quarterfinal against Sharapova might be de facto final.

3. Vera Zvonareva: Credit her with playing deep into majors with reliability. But she lacks bread-and-butter weapon and still -- reports to contrary -- can be undone by her withering self-criticism. Nice draw and potential semifinalist, but does she have seven solid matches in her?

4. Victoria Azarenka: The game is there. The self-belief is there. (Yes, the larynx is there too.) At some point it's up to her: Is she going take that final step and win a major? Or not? This is as good an opportunity as any.

5. Francesca Schiavone: The defending champ deserves props-issimo for remaining in the upper ranks. Especially given the context, she's definitely among the contenders. You can't escape feeling as though lightning ain't striking twice, but she's a better candidate this year than she was last year. And look how that turned out.

6. Li Na: Like a female Andy Murray, she has regressed badly after reaching the final in Melbourne -- but has lately shown signs of life. Recently replaced her snoring husband as coach. Tends to raise game at majors, so she's always good to have in the office pool.

7. Maria Sharapova: Credit Sharapova with a return to the top 10. And after winning Rome she has a real chance to complete the majors box set, the Career Slam. Still cringe at the combination of her footwork and clay. And she has the misfortune of landing in Clijsters' quadrant. But she has as good a chance as anyone.

8. Sam Stosur: Has she yet to recover from last year's squandered opportunity? The game is there. But the GPS on her head is often in "recalculate" mode. Nice to see her beat Schiavone in Rome and reach the finals. Maybe the exorcism is coming along.

9. Petra Kvitova: After initial skepticism, we're becoming believers. A monstrous forehand, a lefty look, and, now a new and shiny top 10 ranking. Lot to like here.

10. Jelena Jankovic: Hammering Jank is like the Alicia Silverstone of tennis. She came out of the box strong, faltered, made some iffy choices and has now retreated. There's simply too many things that go wrong with her game, not least a physical breakdown. She's fun to have around. Her game has aesthetic appeal. She is not, sadly, a diminishing at this stage.

11. Marion Bartoli: A fun and funky player but there's a randomness to her results, especially at her home Slam.

12. Agnieszka Radwanska: The A-Rad cut-and-paste: A cunning, tactical player whom purists ought to appreciate. But does she have the weapons to win majors? Sadly, no.

13. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Great disappointment. Could be gobbling up points and money Ms. Pac-Man style given her attributes and relative softness of the field. We're talking about a two-time Slam winner. Alas, she's in a severe slump. Always mercurial (which means that, inevitably, there's a rebound) but right now she's in no form to win a major.

14. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Following sensational junior career, her climb has been gradual rather than meteoric. But here she is.

15. Andrea Petkovic: Fraulein Fun adding personality to the cast. There's the fear that her charisma and aura might outstrip her game, but she continues making strides. Still not quite in the "contender" tier, but she could certainly string together four or five matches.

16. Kaia Kanepi: Rolling Estonian tends to post strong Slam results.

17. Julia Goerges: Nice uptick in the stock this spring, including a pair of wins over Wozniacki. How will she play now that there's some ambient buzz? Definitely player to watch.

19. Shahar Peer: Tends to play well at the Open but, like so many players, it's been a blah year.

20. Ana Ivanovic: On the plus side, she's a former champ. On the other side of the ledger, that was back in the day she knew how to close out matches.

23. Alisa Kleybanova: Movement is questionable but dangerous on hitting prowess alone.

27. Alexandra Dulgheru: Bucharested development? Romanian has an aesthetically appealing game but appears stuck in 20-30 zone.

Elena Dementieva: We can dream, can't we?

Justine Henin: We can dream, can't we?

Serena Williams: We can dream, can't we?

Dinara Safina: Two-time finalist is ... what? She's out, too? We can dream can't we?

Aravene Rezai: Slipped since this time last year. But a talented, athletic player. And win or lose, you can bet on some drama.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands: The clothes get the publicity, but she's playing as well as ever.

Sloane Stephens: 16-4 on the clay this spring!

Wozniacki v. Kimiko Date Krumm: Big chance for the fortysomething.

Pavlyuchenkova v. Yaroslava Shvedova: Two of the better players you may never have seen play.

Schiavone v. Melanie Oudin: Good role model material for Oudin.

Alona Bondarenko def. Jelena Jankovic

The openness of the singles field is mirrored here. We'll take Pennetta-Dulko.: They of the tandem Twitter feed.

Zvonareva def. Total Surprise (Goerges?) Clijsters def. Azarenka


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