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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: May 20, 2009

5/20/2009 12:00:00 AM

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May 20, 2009

The French Open kicks off Sunday, and Tennis Channel is going on the assault with tres magnifique 'round the clock coverage of all the action. Its centerpiece, of course, is my daily blog (that's what they tell me anyway), so be sure to check in every day for all the sights, sounds and slides of the dirtiest little slam in tennis (Roland Garros, you minx!).

Rather than make any bold predictions - I've been burned before, opening my trap before the draw comes out - I'm going to take this opportunity to highlight some burning questions that will all be answered over the next two weeks. Such as...

Can Rafael Nadal go 5 for 5? The man is unbeaten in Paris. Unbeaten. That's ridiculous. He's got to have a bad day someday, right? A cold? A stubbed toe? He's got to be exhausted after his clay court season, right? Isn't this what we say every year? And every year he shoves opponent after opponent's face in the dirt. But could a tag-team do the deed?

What will happen in Paris?

Can Roger Federer tie Pete Sampras (and become the sixth man ever to win all four Slams to boot)?
Poor Roger's finished runner up in Paris three years running. Last year was particularly crushing to body and soul, being pantsed 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Fans can get a little worked up over the Madrid final over the weekend, but really, didn't Novak Djokovic strike the death blow? Still, Roger seems to have recovered some of that sheen, some of that drive. His only hope is for Rafa to get Novak in his half and not the other way around. But if it can happen onceā€¦

Can anyone stop Dinara Safina? As little as a month ago, the WTA was a wide open playground of possible title grabbers. Somewhere along the way, Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka and defending champ Ana Ivanovic crashed and burned. Enter Dinara Safina, who's playing like a true #1 (how do you say "eat it" in Russian?). Her only real competition could come from Venus Williams, and if that's your worry coming into the French Open, you're in pretty good shape. Someone was up on her last year, someone just as hungry...

What role will Maria Sharapova play, spoiler or cannon fodder? Sidelined for 10 months, Maria's back this week in Warsaw, advancing to the quarterfinals as of Wed. Which is good. But she hasn't been truly tested, with Caroline Wozniacki stepping out of her way with whatever that injury is called that gets you rested for a slam. It would be easy to write Maria off as rusty, and she coined herself a "cow on ice" when it comes to clay. Still, there are few players with her fight, and she's ridden that fight to the semis in Paris, losing to the eventual champion. Can you say dangerous floater?

Will we be digging up a fossil from the dirt? Speaking of dangerous floaters, how about the recent near-return to form of Amelie Mauresmo? Could the first year no one is even looking at her in Paris be the year she makes a deep run? How about Patty Schnyder, who took out both Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in the last couple weeks? Where did she come from all of the sudden, and will she stick around for a couple more weeks? Juan Monaco, who so fantastically scratched and clawed his way back to the top 50, is looking like that top 15 player of old. And Ivan Ljubicic is not only showing that old form, he's showing fight we haven't seen from him in years. Expect a Night at the Museum as one or more of these relics comes to life.

Which American will be the last man (or woman) standing? And will they make it to the second week? Serena looks rough. James Blake looks rougher. Andy Roddick could surprise. But unless Venus runs into herself or a Pennetta, my money is on Mardy Fish. There was mojo in that there Deal or No Deal briefcase. Plus he's rocking that cool headband thing. They give style points in Paris, right?

Has my fuzzy yellow friend Dunlop adjusted to his meds? Okay that one I can answer: no. Which is good for you because he really has a much fouler mouth than I do. He's already warming up his shame stick and grumbling names like Monfils and Cornet.

See you Sunday. Viva La France!

James