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Bonjour Paris! Sharapova, Kvitova, Kerber Target Indoor Title

Jan 26th 2014

Most tennis fans associate Paris with springtime, red dirt, and Rafael Nadal—in short, with Roland Garros.  But the City of Light also hosts two indoor events, one at the ATP Masters 1000 level and one at the WTA Premier level overseen by two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo.  Half of the top 10 women arrive in Paris for the second of those events, in most cases seeking to atone for early exits at the Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova

Top half:  Down to No. 5 after the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova still needs to scrape off some rust after her injury absence.  The former Roland Garros champion did not enjoy her previous visit to the other Paris tournament, winning just one match.  Fast indoor conditions suit Sharapova’s game, but they may be less forgiving for a player looking to regain her rhythm.  Her section has some notable sleepers who could trouble a rusty shot-maker, including Daniela Hantuchova.  Although Sharapova has dominated her throughout their careers, Hantuchova has played her close in more than one hard-court meeting.  Last year’s Wimbledon semifinalist, Kirsten Flipkens, won only one game from Sharapova at the 2013 Australian Open.  But her forecourt skills and groundstroke variety can keep straightforward sluggers like the Russian out of their comfort zones.

Much weaker is the section featuring fourth seed Angelique Kerber, who halted Sharapova’s only previous campaign here.  Slow-court specialists abound from Klara Zakopalova to Carla Suarez Navarro, battered off the court at both the US Open and the Australian Open.  A name to note here is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who took a set from Radwanska in Melbourne this month.  Pavlyuchenkova has been either very good or very bad since the start of 2013, so we should find out which version shows up in Paris from the outset.  Home wildcard Caroline Garcia has not come close to fulfilling her potential but still has plenty of time.

Bottom half:  Landing in the same quarter, the two reigning Australian Open doubles champions could square off against each other.  Neither Sara Errani nor Roberta Vinci escaped the first round at the Australian Open, and this surface is the polar opposite of the clay where they thrive.  Look out for Karin Knapp to test her fellow Italian, Errani, in the second round.  After dueling with Sharapova deep into a final set at the Australian Open, Knapp should bring confidence to Paris.  So might Elina Svitolina, able to reach the third round at the season’s first major after a solid victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Unlike many of the WTA’s teenage phenoms, Svitolina already owns a title.

Both Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova made headlines in Melbourne, but for opposite reasons.  While the Romanian charged into her first major quarterfinal and cracked the top 10, the former Wimbledon champion suffered one of her most embarrassing exits at a major when she fell in the first round.  The two women met in a Premier final at New Haven last August, Halep winning handily.  But they are not the only obstacles barring each other’s paths.  Fresh from winning the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open, home hope Kristina Mladenovic aims to unleash her huge weapons on courts that should mask her erratic patches.  The charismatic Andrea Petkovic eyes one of the most intriguing first-round matches against someone from her native region, Serbian firecracker Bojana Jovanovski.

Stay tuned for Davis Cup previews later in a quiet week for the ATP