It's anybody's Open

The women's section of the French Open this year is characterised by UNCERTAINTY, writes NANDITA SRIDHAR.

Unlike the Nadal-Federer clarity that is seemingly present in the men's French Open predictions, the women's draw is blessed with a little more abundance. As much as the men's game thrives on singularity on most surfaces, and duality on clay, the women's game continues to tread on uncertainty.

For World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, this year's French Open throws up a few opportunities. One, a chance to win a Grand Slam in regular winner-smacking or opponent-erring game-set-match routine, hopefully without an injured opponent taking away her moment of glory. Two, this could be her biggest chance to win a Grand Slam at home after failing to get past the quarterfinals in 11 attempts. The very same pressure could bring her down, as it has done in the past, but this is her chance to prove her critics wrong. And finally, a victory at the French Open will automatically unzip expert mouths on the possibilities of Mauresmo winning all four Grand Slam titles. However, judging by the current unpredictability of women's tennis, such talk could prove dangerous, but they are inevitable though.

Mauresmo's current form is far from hot, especially after her sore-throat pull-out from the Rome Masters, and a straight-sets loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Berlin semifinals. Besides, there are more than a handful of contenders breathing down her neck.

Defending champion Justine-Henin Hardenne's single-handed, opponent-thrashing backhand helped her sweep past Mauresmo in Berlin. The Belgian, who has successfully recovered from a back problem, is definitely one of the favourites to win the title. Kim Clijsters will be hoping for a little less of Dinara Safina moments, after losing to her in Rome. Clay is a surface that the Belgian fancies.

Maria Sharapova's foot and ankle problems have made it a quiet WTA week sans her ear-splitting shrieking presence. After pulling out of Istanbul, even if she does play in Paris, the Russian, in search of Grand Slam number two, might have to wait for the red to turn green next month.

The player to watch out for at the Roland Garros will have to be Nadia Petrova, who currently finds the tennis court turning a shade purple after defeating Henin in the Berlin final. Victories this year at Doha, Amelia Island, Charleston and Berlin have pushed Petrova from being the dark horse to a serious contender. Having had problems in keeping her nerve under pressure, despite being an aggressive hitter, the Grand Slam stage will be the right place for Petrova to set the record straight.

A few others, who are not at vertigo-causing height in the rankings, but are threatening nevertheless include Martina Hingis, who is only getting better with each tournament, local woman Mary Pierce, who is only getting older, but still hoping for a happy swansong, Venus Williams, who sizzled in Rome before being sent back by Hingis, Elena Dementieva, whose serves are less of a threat to her than the injuries that have tailed her of late, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The withdrawal of Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams has reduced this edition's power-quotient a little.

Clay court is clearly not the surface best suited for the smash-and-stop brand of tennis that Sania Mirza plays; yet she will look to do better than last year when she suffered a first round loss. This year's French Open, as mentioned earlier, is characterised by uncertainty — not just about who will rule the clay, but whose ankles, pectorals, backs and shoulders would give way first. But this is Grand Slam tennis, a chance for the best to do what they do best — play tennis. May the best woman win.