It's obvious now, if it hadn't been before, that Martina Hingis deserves to be considered a contender in next week's French Open after hoisting the trophy in Rome on Sunday to celebrate The First Title of The Rest of Her Career.
Hingis, who rose to No. 14 in this week's WTA Tour rankings, shares something important with the majority of top-ranked women expected to make appearances at Roland Garros: She never has found a way to win there. The rejuvenated Swiss star was a finalist twice, losing to Iva Majoli in 1997 and to Steffi Graf in 1999.
Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, who also won in 2003, is the only healthy current top-10 player who has planted her flag in the red dirt.
Henin-Hardenne and surging No. 3 Nadia Petrova of Russia will be the two favorites going in. Petrova, the self-possessed daughter of two track and field Olympians, won a pair of titles on green clay in the United States (Amelia Island and Charleston) earlier this year and is playing, justifiably, with the most confidence of her career. She has split her last two matches with Henin-Hardenne on clay: a loss in the Fed Cup quarterfinals and a victory in the final in Berlin.
Amelie Mauresmo's inability to get past the quarterfinals in Paris in 11 previous tries has been well-chronicled, particularly by the French press corps. The stress of playing in her backyard will only be heightened because she'll be playing there for the first time as the world No. 1. Mauresmo beat Hingis on clay in Berlin in a two-day quarterfinal suspended by darkness, then lost to Henin-Hardenne, her only two significant results on clay this season.
Two-time finalist and current No. 2 Kim Clijsters has played sparingly on clay this season but is 6-2, including a title in Warsaw -- her first on the surface in three years.
No. 7 Lindsay Davenport, who advanced to the semis at Roland Garros once (1998), formally pulled out last week as she continues to nurse a bulging disk. Likely to join her on the list of absentees is No. 6 Mary Pierce, the 2000 French Open winner, who reached the final against Henin-Hardenne last year; a foot injury has idled her since February. No. 4 Maria Sharapova hasn't touched clay this season because of a foot problem, and her presence in Paris is questionable.
A couple of Petrova's fellow Russians are capable of making a racket. No. 8 Elena Dementieva was a finalist at Roland Garros in 2004, and 10th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova has been one of the most consistent players on clay this season.
Switzerland's No. 9 Patty Schnyder is the only top-10 player in action this week; she's the top seed in Strasbourg. Schnyder never has made much of a run in Paris, getting as far as the quarterfinals just once, in 1998.
Dark horses include 2004 champ Anastasia Myskina of Russia; Venus Williams, who lost in the 2002 final to sister Serena; and Dinara Safina, all of whom will try to step into the void left by clay-averse or otherwise missing players.
Another drought ended
Ten-year veteran Meghann Shaughnessy of Scottsdale, Ariz., won her first tournament since 2003, prevailing in Rabat, Morocco. Shaughnessy, who was struggling at 9-11 this season entering the event, jumped from 87th to 59th in the WTA rankings.
Belgian tennis officials last week elected to have the July 15-16 Fed Cup semifinals against the U.S. team played on indoor hard court at a 5,000-seat arena in Ostend. Although this might be widely viewed as a concession to Clijsters -- who strongly implied she might be a no-show if clay had been selected for the competition -- it might be even better news for the Americans, who will be heavy underdogs no matter how their very unsettled roster shakes out.
Yes, the U.S. upset Germany on the road in April on clay. But switching surfaces at that point in the season could be more taxing, especially for anyone who hangs around at Wimbledon (read: Venus Williams). Captain Zina Garrison isn't expected to announce her lineup until the requisite 10 days before.
A matter of Fer-ness
We don't want to take anything away from No. 15 David Ferrer of Spain, who's having a nice season. He cracked the top 10 for the first time in his career earlier this year thanks to a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open and made the semifinals in Miami before running into Roger Federer's buzz saw. But we don't think it's fair when Ferrer plays countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero, which he has done twice in the past month. The small type in brackets is hard enough to read without this kind of visual confusion, especially when both names are followed by the same country code. Ferrer No-O beat 27th-ranked Ferrer-Oh in the round of 16 in Hamburg last week (and in Monte Carlo last month) and owns a lifetime 4-1 advantage over the former world No. 1.
Try the screw-top next time
Today's players might complain about the physical toll of a heavy playing schedule, but at least they're free of the dangers faced a century ago by players simply trying to hydrate. The International Herald Tribune reran last week this 1906 item about Olympic gold medalist and 1905 U.S. Open champion Beals C. Wright:
"[The] famous lawn tennis player met with an extraordinary accident while attempting to open a soda-water bottle at his training quarters, the Crescent Club, Brooklyn. Failing to uncork the bottle, he tried to push the cork in, which resulted in breaking the neck of the bottle and badly cutting his right hand. Mr. Wright dropped the bottle, falling in a faint upon the broken glass, a piece of which inflicted a severe gash above the eye. Mr. Wright's injuries were so serious that a special steamboat was obtained to take him to New York, where he was placed in a hospital. It is impossible to say now whether he will be able to take his place at Wimbledon."