May 25, 2018 / 11:09 AM / 24 days ago

Tennis: Plot thickens as danger lurks everywhere for Halep

(Reuters) - Even Agatha Christie would have struggled to hatch a plot as thick as this year’s French Open women’s singles with world number one Simona Halep attempting to finally win a grand slam with danger lurking everywhere.

Tennis - WTA Premier 5 - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 19, 2018 Romania's Simona Halep celebrates during her semi final match against Russia's Maria Sharapova REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The Romanian twice Roland Garros runner-up may be the number one seed but predicting who will be last woman standing in a wide-open draw is akin to Russian Roulette.

Right from the off the drama will unfold with a first-round clash between 2016 champion and third seed Garbine Muguruza and 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova — a match that will set the tone for what promises to be a compelling women’s tournament.

Experienced duo Petra Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon champion, and second seed Caroline Wozniacki, who claimed her maiden grand slam in Australia at the start of the year, will both see this as an opportunity to make a mark on clay.

Then there is in-form Rome champion Elina Svitolina, big-hitting Karolina Pliskova and fearless young Russian Daria Kasatkina, not forgetting reigning champion Jelena Ostapenko who blazed to a shock title a year ago and is in menacing form.

But that is just part of the story.

What of Russian former champion Maria Sharapova, playing at her first French Open since returning from a doping ban.

And, of course, there is 23-times grand slam champion Serena Williams lurking unseeded in the draw with a ranking of 453 and playing her first slam tournament since returning from giving birth to her daughter last September.

She has not played a competitive match since March so victory for the 36-year-old American would surely crown anything she has achieved so far in her incredible career.

“You wouldn’t think (she can win title) with no claycourt matches, you wouldn’t think so on paper, what with giving birth and not playing many matches,” seven-times Roland Garros champion Chris Evert told Reuters in an interview.

“But she has those intangibles that a champion has. Once a champion always a champion. She has the mentality and the head. It’s just a matter of can she get the body back. It would be miraculous but if anybody can pull it off it’s her.”

SHARAPOVA RETURNS

Sharapova has endured a rocky road since coming back a year ago. The French Open declined to give her a wildcard, she missed Wimbledon with injury and made the last 16 at the U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.

She failed to win a match between January and May but after a run to the Rome semi-finals the 31-year-old arrives in Paris looking a little more like her old self.

“She has a shot for sure,” said Evert. “She knows she can win it and knows she is mentally tougher than most.”

A Halep triumph would be the popular choice for many.

She looked poised to get her hands on the Suzanne Lenglen Cup a year ago when she led Latvian firebrand Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 but her dream faded under a barrage of winners.

This year the 26-year-old slogged her way to the Australian Open final but ran out of gas on a steamy Melbourne night — losing to Wozniacki.

Evert fears their might be more heartache in store.

“I think if she can keep it together mentally she would be my favourite but the problem with Halep is that because of her build and style she has to work so hard for every point,” Evert said.

“She needs to have some easy matches for her to be able to win the tournament I think.”

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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