Sharapova aims for two in a row
Maria Sharapova heads to Paris seeking to defend her French Open title.
World number two Maria Sharapova heads to the French Open as the defending champion and is bidding for a third title in four years in Paris.
The Russian, a five-time Grand Slam champion, beat Sara Errani in 2012 and Simona Halep last year. Having pushed Serena Williams close in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of this year, she will be keen to go one better and lift the trophy in the French capital for a third time.
Her clay court season in 2015 started poorly with a second round exit to Angelique Kerber in Stuttgart. She was then a semi-finalist in Madrid, losing out to Svetlana Kuznetsova but won her most recent tournament, the Italian Open, coming from a set down to beat Carla Suarez Navarro in the final.
The woman just ahead of her in the world rankings, Williams, withdrew from the Italian Open at the third round stage with an elbow injury. That withdrawal combined with a semi-final defeat to Petra Kvitova at the Madrid Open, means that this will be the first time in five years that she has entered the French Open without having won a clay court warm-up tournament.
Williams, a 19-time Grand Slam winner, has had two titles on the clay of Paris, in 2002 when she beat her sister Venus and then in 2013 when she beat Sharapova in straight sets. Now aged 33, she will be determined to show that she still has the quality that has taken her to the top of the world rankings.
Last year's beaten finalist, Halep, has not reached any Grand Slam finals since. However she has three WTA titles to her name already this year, all on hard courts; the Shenzhen Open, the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Indian Wells Masters.
On clay, she suffered a first round exit at the Madrid Open, but reached the semi-finals both at the Stuttgart Open and, more recently the Italian Open, where she lost out in three sets to Suarez Navarro.
Fourth in the world rankings is Kvitova, who is yet to prove herself at Grand Slams other than Wimbledon. She has twice been a winner in London and is defending champion after convincingly beating Eugenie Bouchard in last year's final.
However, other than on the grass of Wimbledon, she is yet to get beyond the third round of any other Grand Slam since 2012. That was the year she achieved her best finish at the French Open, reaching the semi-finals before losing out to eventual champion Sharapova.
She has a reasonably good warm-up for this year's tournament, winning the Madrid Open on clay and, in her last event, reaching the last eight of the Italian Open, losing out to eventual finalist Suarez Navarro.
Yet another player to lose to Suarez Navarro in Italy was Bouchard who, after climbing up the rankings in 2014, has seen her form disappear so far this year. Her warm-up for the French Open saw a second round exit at the Family Circle Cup, a first round defeat at the Madrid Open and then a third round loss to the Spaniard in Rome.
Suarez Navarro herself is one to watch in Paris. She has twice been a quarter-finalist there, including last year when she lost to Bouchard. As well as being losing finalist in Rome she reached the last eight in Madrid, losing to Williams. She is at a career high of number eight in the world and will hope to justify that ranking with a good run in Paris.