REUTERS - Veteran Venus Williams could blast through the huge holes in the women’s draw and win her first French Open at the age of 36 next month, according to former world number three Pam Shriver.
With Williams’ pregnant sister and three times French champion Serena absent, Russia’s twice winner Maria Sharapova failing to gain a wildcard after returning from a doping ban and Belarusian Victoria Azarenka still not back after becoming a mother, the biggest names in the women’s game are missing.
Add in the poor form of German world number one Angelique Kerber and Spain’s defending champion Garbine Muguruza and an ankle injury for new title favourite Simona Halep of Romania and the often unpredictable claycourt slam looks wide open.
Shriver feels Venus could be the one to take advantage despite only having two quarter-final runs in Paris since losing to Serena in her only French Open final in 2002.
“I think there are so many possibilities in the works,” Shriver told a conference call hosted by broadcaster ESPN, who she will be working for during the Roland Garros fortnight.
”I’ve seen some draws that are wide open on the women’s side but I’ve never seen a situation like this.
”Venus coming off what she did at the Australian Open getting to her first grand slam final since she knew she had the auto-immune syndrome (Sjogren’s Syndrome) and now knowing that her sister is not in the draw. Can she win it? Why not?
“She is a more capable claycourt player than most people think and when you consider the big hitters that have won in the women’s game, Sharapova twice in the last few years and Muguruza last year, Venus is definitely one of the possibilities.”
Seven-times French Open champion Chris Evert agreed that Venus, who has won seven grand slam titles but none for nearly a decade, stands out as a player who has been there and done it in a field low on proven quality.
“Venus is a very capable claycourt player, she’s won grand slams before and the mental part of the game is going to be very important this year,” Evert said.
With 23-times grand slam champion Serena vowing to return next year following her pregnancy, there is a window for a new face to establish a grip on the women’s game.
But Shriver says few candidates spring to mind.
“Right now, honestly there is no heir apparent, a teenager who seems to have it all,” she said. “I don’t think we are going to have a dominant player after Serena goes.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris