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French Open Expert Opinions: Volume I

Four of our resident experts share their thoughts on a variety of questions about this year's French Open - who's the favorite, who are the dark horses, favorite memories... don't miss this!

Published May 23, 2014 12:14

PARIS, France - Check in with four of our experts - Mark Hodgkinson, Courtney Nguyen, Nick McCarvel and Ravi Ubha - about a variety of French Open topics. Volumes II and III coming soon...

1) A different player has won the French Open in each of the last seven years. Will Serena Williams break the trend and become the first player to defend her title since Justine Henin three-peated from 2005 to 2007, or will someone else break through at this year's tournament?

Hodgkinson: Just a few years ago, was anyone predicting that Serena Williams would one day be capable of making a champion's speech at Roland Garros in French? Or that she would come to love to Paris so much that she would buy an apartment? Or that she would be motivated by her place in history? Be in no doubt, Serena's challenge at this year's French Open will be inspired by the opportunity to put herself level with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on 18 Grand Slam tiles. While there won't be a home champion in Paris this spring, the address will be in French.

Nguyen: One year later, my Serena mantra remains unchanged: When she plays her best tennis she is the best in the world by a fair mile, even on clay. So while I never bet against her to do anything she puts her mind to, the question remains whether I can count on her to summon her best throughout the fortnight. That's a much tougher question given her injury concerns this season. A back injury contributed to her loss to Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open, fatigue got the best of her in Charleston, and a leg injury forced her out of Madrid. Despite all this she comes into Paris with a tour-leading three titles, most recently romping to her title defense in Rome.

If the conditions in Paris are soggy and cool, I see an upset in the cards. But if the weather remains hot and dry, allowing her big weapons to flourish, I think she'll get her hands on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

McCarvel: Serena is obviously the favorite going into the French Open again this year, but not in the overwhelming way she was a year ago in my opinion. I don't think she defends this title. There is certainly a lot of safety in betting on the defending champion, World No.1 and one of the greatest of all time to walk away the winner on Chatrier, but I think we're in for another Parisian surprise. Whether it be a Razzano-like crash out from Serena in the first round or a dramatic exit to someone like Jankovic in the quarterfinals, I don't think this is Serena's year.

Ubha: I'd go with Serena Williams repeating as champ, so long as her leg - and the rest of her body - holds up. Aside from getting to 18 majors, here's more motivation for Williams: The French is the lone major she's never won in back-to-back years.

2) Other than Williams against the rest of the field, which storyline is most intriguing this year?

Ubha: Apart from 'Can anyone stop Serena?' for me it's Simona Halep's quest to claim a first major. She'll be hoping that her abdominal injury has sufficiently healed.

McCarvel: To me what is so interesting this year is that we have a handful of women's contenders, even without the injured Victoria Azarenka. Maria Sharapova has looked solid on clay again this year, as has Simona Halep, who is now a full year into her breakthrough in Rome last May. It feels like 2008 again with the successes of Serbians Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, too. Oh right, and Li Na just may peak again in Paris. I expect one of these five women to win the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen.

Hodgkinson: This is going to be Simona Halep's first major as one of the alphas of women's tennis; let's see how it plays out.

Nguyen: Li Na is trying to become the first woman to complete the Australian Open-French Open double since Jennifer Capriati in 2001. Clay isn't her best surface - yes, that's a weird fact considering she won Paris in 2011 - but she's been remarkably consistent over the last year. This would be an incredible achievement.

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