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Roland Garros: Day 2 Preview

She's back: In Paris today, Maria Sharapova is set to play her first Grand Slam match since Wimbledon last year.

Published May 25, 2009 12:00

Roland Garros: Day 2 Preview
Maria Sharapova

PARIS, France - Dinara Safina makes her debut as the top seed at a Grand Slam on Monday, against an in-form Brit who probably deserved a less formidable first round task. Venus Williams, still gunning for her first Roland Garros title, opens her campaign against a fellow American, but another former world No.1 may pull the focus: after an encouraging comeback at Warsaw last week, Maria Sharapova returns to Grand Slam action for the first time since Wimbledon last year.

Chatrier
(1) Dinara Safina (RUS) vs. Anne Keothavong (GBR)
First meeting

Far from crumbling under the weight of her new No.1 mantle, Safina has, so far, played like a player ready to embrace her destiny. Having won titles at Rome and Madrid and finished runner-up at Stuttgart, she arrives at Roland Garros with the best winning percentage on clay this year (.933) among the field; she also knows winning a maiden Grand Slam title would be the best way to silence any doubts about her legitimacy, and it's hard to imagine the juggernaut being derailed today. Indeed, the draw has not been kind to Keothavong, who has blossomed into a Top 50 player this season and last week at Warsaw became the first British player in 26 years to reach the semis of a claycourt event on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. She'll put up a fight - after five failed attempts at qualifying in Paris, this is her first main draw appearance - but may have to be content with an early passage back across the English Channel to prepare for the grasscourt swing.

Lenglen
(3) Venus Williams (USA) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
Williams leads 1-0

Making her 13th consecutive appearance at Roland Garros - and 45th in a Grand Slam main draw - Venus owns a 35-12 record at the tournament, the most wins among this year's line-up. She has never won the title, though, and after suffering an early loss to Flavia Pennetta last year, will be extra keen to put things to rights. In the past year the 28-year-old has won both Wimbledon and the Tour Championships, so she can still go the distance, and earlier this season beat none other than Pennetta to win the claycourt trophy at Acapulco, so America's second-ranked player surely remains a contender. On the other side of the net today is the country's No.3, but the gulf between them is great. Mattek-Sands is a feisty competitor who has won three doubles titles this year, but the world No.45 has also struggled with a hip injury and has not won consecutive singles matches in her last seven tournaments. It's probably too much to expect that situation to improve today.

Court 1
Anastasiya Yakimova (BLR) vs. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
First meeting

Among this year's competitors at Roland Garros, Sharapova owns the best career win percentage on clay (55-15, for .786). However, the French Open remains the only Grand Slam she is yet to win, and while conviction has never been a problem, even she must harbor more modest expectations after nine months out. Two encouraging wins at Warsaw last week got the comeback off to a good start, but while the troublesome shoulder seemed to hold up, the 22-year-old's quarterfinal loss to Alona Bondarenko showed there is still work to do. Unseeded and currently ranked No.102, the Russian can at least take solace in the fact her draw could have been worse: Yakimova, the world No.64, has only been to the second round at Roland Garros twice in five main draw efforts. She reached her second Tour quarterfinal at Barcelona in April, but whatever the rankings say, the difference in class dictates Sharapova should prevail.

Court 17
(20) Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) vs. Alona Bondarenko (UKR)
Bondarenko leads 1-0

By virtue of her runner-up finish at Warsaw last week, Bondarenko lifted her ranking from No.39 to No.28 - too late to claim a seeding at Roland Garros and avoid a first round run-in against a seed. However, if the 24-year-old can maintain the focus and disciplined play that produced that fine run, this could be a good opportunity to open her section of the draw rather nicely. The last time these two played, in Berlin a year ago, Bondarenko edged a tight three setter; that, coupled with the fact Cibulkova missed Rome and Madrid with a left thigh injury, probably gives the Ukrainian the mental edge (as long as she has put aside her Warsaw loss to 201st-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru). For her part, Cibulkova may also be feeling the pressure to catch up with young peers like Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, who have both won titles and risen into the Top 10 in recent months. If she's to do that, the diminutive Slovak needs to make a good start this week.

More to watch...
No.13 seed Marion Bartoli and Pauline Parmentier close proceedings on Chatrier, while on Lenglen another Frenchwoman, newly-crowned Strasbourg champion Aravane Rezai, faces a tough first round test against Ai Sugiyama - who is making her 60th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance. Caroline Wozniacki, the No.10 seed, opens her campaign against Vera Dushevina on Court 1. Other seeds in action include No.12 Agnieszka Radwanska and No.15 Zheng Jie, while in an interesting encounter between unseeded players, Sabine Lisicki tackles Lucie Safarova.

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