American Women in Paris
May 26, 2009 -- There's a total of eight American women in the singles draw this year at The French Open. Compared to years past, and certainly decades past, this number is low.
Here are the eight listed by seeding: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Bethany Mattek-Sands, Jill Craybas, Varvara Lepchenko, Alexa Glatch, Carly Gulikson, and Lauren Embree.
Lauren Embree, a wildcard entrant, bowed to Nadia Petrova, the #11 seed, in her first-round match. Petrova is having a good year on tour, is 27 years old and turned pro in 1996, which spells 'experience.' Lauren was defeated 61 62, by the towering Russian.
Carly Gullikson qualified for her spot in the main draw, but Sorana Cirstea, a young pro from Romania, defeated the American 64 62. Cirstea hugs the baseline and blasts groundstrokes deep to the corners. Carly isn't foreign to Grand Slam pressure, though. On her debut at Wimbledon, where she qualified in 2003 at 16, she played her first-round match on center court, and it was televised by ESPN worldwide. Experiences like that are necessary unless, of course, she doesn't want to advance her tennis career. But, from Carly's resume that's not the case. In fact, she will play doubles in Paris with American Jill Craybas. (More on Jill below.)
Varvara Lepchenko is another member of the eight; however, she is not a household name. She turned pro in 2001 and hasn't made it past the second round of any Grand Slam. She was defeated yesterday by Alla Kudryavtseva in straight sets.
Bethany Mattek-Sands played Venus Williams yesterday, falling in three sets to the #3 seed. However, Bethany and Nadia Petrova have teamed up to play doubles here, too. They won the title at The Family Circle Cup this year, so don't count Mattek-Sands out completely as a hopeful American title winner.
The oldest American woman in Paris is Jill Craybas, at 35. She was a stalwart member of the US Fed Cup Team from 2004-2006, and has made a fine career for herself on the tour. In 2005, she defeated Serena Williams in the fourth round at Wimbledon before losing in the next round to big sister Venus. Craybas, currently ranked 96 in the world, remains a threat at Roland Garros having defeated Tsvetana Pironkova, a woman who can play brilliantly and hurt anyone in the top ten or who can fall apart without any apparent cause.
In her debut at The French Open yesterday, Alexa Glatch shocked the #14 seed Flavia Pennetta and fans with a 61 61 drubbing. Alexa likes the sense of a center court performance stage. She likes her serve and forehand. She likes to surf, too, which she has done all her life. Watch her in Paris, as she tries to move through the draw. She is a dark horse.
And then there are the Williams sisters -- America's trump suit.
Serena scrambled today to advance past a petite and powerful Klara Zakopalova who wasn't about to hand the match over to the #2 seed in straight sets. Instead, she stretched it to three thrilling sets saving eight match points along the way. After two-and-a-half hours, she finally succumbed 63 67 (5) 64.
Zakopalova shocked Serena at the Andalucia Tennis Experience tournament earlier this spring when she defeated the American 64 36 61. The five-foot-five-inch Czech weighs 110 pounds, but wields a compact forehand with racquet-head speed and precise timing that certainly make up for any deficit in size. We all remember Justine Henin.
A couple of times during her match, Serena looked as if she would burst out in tears before reversing engines and winning four of the last six games of the match.
The French Open title was the first Grand Slam Serena Williams won in 2002.
Venus has not been as lucky on the terre battue. She looks uncomfortable on the red clay, as she struggles for balance and tricky timing. This is not to say she couldn't win the title. Awaiting in her quarter of the draw, though, is Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and Nadia Petrova. It's never easy to make it to the second week of a slam.
Williams/Williams are in the doubles draw, too, seeded #5. Their powerful game and close relationship unnerves any team in a competition. Together they hold eight Grand Slam doubles titles, the most recent from the 2009 Australian Open. And if that's not enough, they earned two gold medals in doubles, one in 2008 and one in 2000.
The Williams sisters lead the way for women tennis players worldwide. As the elite two sitting at #2 and #3 in the rankings, they energize any field of play, any tournament, and any category in a tournament.
Serena probably has the best service motion on tour. Venus is the consummate all-court player who maneuvers with ease and grace, which isn't easy for a woman six-feet-two. When either Williams' sister is in the zone, no one player can predictably come close to their capabilities and skills.
The men chase Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. They are the players to beat. On the women's side Venus and Serena Williams are the players to beat, even if Dinara Safina is currently at the top of the rankings heap and more people than not predict she will be the champion.
Although the American contingency of women in Paris is small, the quality of the tennis looms large. Many consider Serena as the probable champion here at Roland Garros. She made it past a tough first-round battle. Who knows what kind of confidence that will give her? She can kick it up a gear when she has to… the true sign of a champion. If she makes it past the first week, place your bets.
Tomorrow American men… what's left of them.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
May 25, 2009 French Open Coverage: Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris