Errani, Stosur offer value
Wary of a Serena Williams shocker, Andy Schooler is looking elsewhere for value in the French Open women's draw.
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What Serena Williams has achieved in the game, particularly over the past year, is pretty jaw-dropping.
Since the start of April 2012 she's won 85 of her 89 matches and collected titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open, not to mention numerous other stop-offs on the WTA circuit.
It's no wonder she's odds-on to win the French Open when it starts on Sunday. She's proved she's easily the best player in the world and frankly should win.
I spoke earlier this week to British doubles star Ross Hutchins and agree entirely with his assessment that the tournament is hers to lose.
However, lose it she could do - there's good evidence to suggest it may happen.
Williams arrived at Roland Garros this time last year in a similar position as hot favourite and then produced an error-strewn performance and lost to Virginie Razzano in the very first round. It was a defeat of stunning proportions.
The American also looked unopposable heading into this year's Australian Open only to go down to Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals, another huge shock. Injury played its part that day but it should always be remembered that Williams' body has not been particularly reliable over the years.
She arrives on a 24-match winning streak, the best of her career, with her victories in Madrid and Rome belying the fact that clay is the surface she's least at home on. That's borne out by the fact that she's won the French Open only once in her stellar career - and that back in 2002. In fact only twice has she been beyond he quarter-finals, the other occasion seeing her title defence end in the semis.
Last season's triumphs at Wimbledon and the US Open both included some near misses - against Zheng Jie in SW19 and Victoria Azarenka in the Flushing Meadows final. If Williams has a bad day on clay, she's less likely to pull it out of the bag, as was the case against Razzano last year.
I've spent a lot of time knocking the chances of the world's best player there. I still think she's easily the most likely winner but I just don't feel there's any value in the price.
So where to put your money?
Well, in the top half featuring Williams, Sara Errani to win the second quarter is a suggestion.
The Italian is certainly someone totally at home on the clay and you can't say that about too many of the game's top female players.
She was a surprise finalist here last year and scooped up plenty of titles on the red stuff.
In the current claycourt season she's made the semis in both Madrid and Rome with her court craft making up for her lack of power.
The lack of a big serve or forehand can be found out against the likes of Williams or, as was the case in the 2012 final, Maria Sharapova.
But there's no-one of that ilk in the second quarter with Agnieszka Radwanska the player seeded to make the last four. The Pole is not in great form so Errani at 5/2 looks the call.
In the bottom half, Sam Stosur makes some each-way appeal given she's another who likes the clay under her feet.
As I highlighted in my ante-post piece at the start of the clay season, no-one can match Stosur for the number of wins posted at Roland Garros in the last four years during which time she's reached two semi-finals and one final.
She hasn't had the success I'd expected during the clay tournaments so far but she did look pretty good in Rome where she beat Petra Kvitova and then pushed Victoria Azarenka to a deciding set.
Her kick-serve is a serious weapon on this surface, while if she gets her booming forehand firing she'll be a match for anyone in this section, including the player expected to make the final, Sharapova.
At 28/1 each-way (half the odds for a place in the final), the Australian is worth backing.
Finally I'll have a punt on a big-priced outsider in the form of Kaia Kanepi.
The Estonian has been in good form of late and I'm not convinced a player who has twice been to the quarter-finals here, the latest example being last season, should be a 200/1 shot.
She's in the third quarter with Azarenka, never fully at home on clay, and Li Na, the former champion who's had some iffy results in recent weeks.
Kanepi might not be the best mover but she's got plenty of power in her locker, while she's also in decent nick.
In Oeiras she made the last four and then enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals in Madrid.
At time of writing she has also made it through to the semis in Brussels so clearly will come into Roland Garros with confidence high.
All things considered, she's worth throwing some small change at.
- The tournament gets under way at 1000 BST on Sunday and is being televised live in the UK on ITV and British Eurosport.