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Davenport has tough draw for a top seed

5/21/2005

With Australian Open winner Serena Williams' withdrawal from the French Open, there is no chance of a Grand Slam winner on the women's side this year.

Even though Serena has won the title in Paris before, the French Open has to be the most difficult major for her to win. It makes sense for her to get 100 percent healthy for Wimbledon where she'll probably be the co-favorite with Maria Sharapova.

During the Family Circle Cup, I said former champion Justine Henin-Hardenne was my favorite for the French Open, which begins Monday. It wasn't that long ago that she was the No. 1 player in the world after having won three majors. Back from a difficult illness as the tenth seed, she's proved that she can dominate on clay again by winning three consecutive clay tournaments this season.

She has a difficult first round against Conchita Martinez and is surrounded by Spanish clay-court players early on. Henin-Hardenne should be able to handle them.

No. 1 Lindsay Davenport possibly has the toughest draw of any top seed. In the first round, she faces Katarina Srebotnik, who is capable of winning the match. Davenport needs to be fully adapted to the red clay from the start -- otherwise she could be out. She'll likely find a way, but it's a tough first round. She also faces a good player in the second round.

It's Davenport's least favorite major and the only one she hasn't won.

The only positive for Davenport is that if she can get through the quarters and the semis, the draw grows easier with Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina in her half.

Kim Clijsters, who is in Davenport's round of 16, is an uncertain with her bum knee. Hopefully, she'll be able to start the tournament and be 100 percent. She won the Pacific Life Open and Miami and then had to take time off again. If she's healthy enough, Clijsters has a much easier early path than Davenport.

If either Davenport of Clijsters fails to hit stride in that section of the draw, Patty Schnyder is very tough. She just lost to Amelie Mausemo in a tough final in Rome. She's kind of a dark horse to get through.

There's nothing earth-shattering in Elena Dementieva's draw. A year ago she lost a bruising final at the French Open. Afterward, she cried in front of the world, saying she hated her serve. Will that Achilles' heel hurt her in Paris -- where a strong serve means less -- or will she be able to hold her own?

Considering Venus Williams' year and her record in majors the past couple of seasons, she has a pretty good draw. In the first round, she faces Marta Marrero, whom she just routed 6-0, 6-0 in Turkey. Fabiola Zuluaga will be a test in the second round. Then comes Sesil Karachentieva, one of the most talked about teens alongside Nicole Vaidisova. But Venus should reach the round of 16 where she might face Myskina, who faces the pressure of defending her title.

Venus comes into this major after winning in Istanbul, Turkey. Doing well in a lower-tier tournament can improve confidence. She's a long shot, but you always have to keep your eye on someone who has won four majors.

Myskina hasn't had a good year. Will she regain her confidence or cave under the pressure? She plays Maria Sanchez Lorenzo in the early rounds, so we shouldn't have to wait long to see how comfortable Myskina is out there.

Nadia Petrova was the last player to face Monica Seles on tour almost two years ago (has it been that long already since Seles last played?). Petrova has such a range of play and good mental attitude on the court that if her stars are lined up right, keep an eye on her.

Tatiana Golovin just missed out on a top 16 seed and will go into the French Open this year as a name for the first time. How will she respond? She's a potential third-round opponent for Elena Bovina. They would be fighting to take on Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo in the round of 16.

Mauresmo is the enigma. She's the best player not to win a major on the women's side. She suffocated on the court under the pressure of her home major. Will she break out of that at Paris or does she need to break through someplace else first? If she does well the first week, it will certainly set fire to the French Open.

Vaidisova, the other young teen to watch for, could get through to the round of 16 to face Mauresmo. That would end up being one of the most a hyped up matches of the tournament -- on either side of the draw.

The other thing to look for with Mauresmo is if the mental strain spills over to affect her physically. If she's not all beat up, it might show her mind is healthy, too.

Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, two of the Russians who won majors last year, bookend the final section of the draw.

Clay likely isn't the surface for Sharapova. If she's a little erratic, her big shots don't mean as much, so there's more pressure than on other surfaces.

Kuznetsova would appear to be more comfortable on clay. Natalie Dechy is a floater in this section. Other potentially tough players to watch here are Paola Suarez, whose ranking has slipped but has been good in the past, and Gisela Dulko who has had some good results on clay.

Still, Henin-Hardenne is in this section of the draw. She and Sharapova are the two best roll-up-your-sleeves competitors in women's tennis and could meet in the quarterfinals.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.