Serbs can shine in Paris

  • By: Andy Schooler
  • Last Updated: May 24 2014, 8:07 BST

Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic can do some damage at the French Open, says Andy Schooler, who is opposing Serena Williams.

Ana Ivanovic: Worth backing at 20/1 to win again at Roland Garros
Ana Ivanovic: Worth backing at 20/1 to win again at Roland Garros

If you've already read by men's verdict for the French Open, apologies - this preview of the women's singles is going to take on a similar theme.

Again it's a case of opposing the short-priced favourite in search of some value.

There's no doubting Serena Williams is the best player in the world. I interviewed Jo Durie earlier this week and wholeheartedly agree with her assessment that when Williams is in top form, there's no-one who can touch her.

The question here is are you convinced she'll do the business and retain her crown at just 6/5?

She's never defended at the French, the clay being her worst surface. Admittedly she's put concerns about her ability to perform on the red dirt to one side in recent years with defeats few and far between but one of those losses is particularly noteworthy.

Williams lost here at Roland Garros in the very first round two years ago, the American's game falling apart in damp conditions which have been widely forecast for this year's tournament.

Serena has some less-than-ideal matches in the first week this time around - playing a friend Alize Lim (her first-round foe) is never easy; neither, as we've seen many times in the past, is facing your sister. Venus is a potential opponent in the last 32. In between could be Gabrine Muguruza, a Spaniard who knows her way around a claycourt.

After that could come her Wimbledon conqueror Sabine Lisicki, then in-form Maria Sharapova. All this before the semi-finals.

Of course, Serena is more than capable of blasting each and every one of these players aside but I'm not prepared to say she will do so at the price.

It's worth reminding you that Williams has gone off favourite for the last nine Grand Slams, several at odds-on, yet she's won 'just' four of those with the five others littered with shock defeats to the likes of Razzano, Sloane Stephens and, earlier this year, Ana Ivanovic.

The injuries which often blighted Williams in her early career have been thankfully absent in the past two years but there are signs her body is creaking again.

Her recent withdrawal in Madrid due to a thigh injury (she did admittedly prove her fitness the following week in Rome) wasn't the first complaint we've heard about this season - her back troubled her in the Australian Open, while fatigue was cited for a shock loss in Charleston.

I will oppose, first of all by backing Sam Stosur to win the first quarter.

Opposing Williams in the quarter betting worked wonders in Australia where Eugenie Bouchard was a 66/1 winner for this column and I'm hopeful Stosur can do something similar here.

The Australia has a good record at Roland Garros where her kick serve causes opponents plenty of problems.

In her last five visits, Stosur has made the semi-finals three times - winning her last-four clash in 2010 before losing the final to Francesca Schiavone.

At first glance, her form isn't great but look into things a little closer and you'll find mitigating circumstances.

First of all, a shock loss in her Stuttgart opener can be written off - she was heavily jet-lagged having had to fly in at short notice following a Fed Cup tie in Australia.

Away from that she lost to the eventual champion Sharapova in Madrid and former Roland Garros winner Li Na in Rome.

These are far from disastrous results and Stosur also has the advantage of power in her game. She crunches the ball on the forehand side so won't be too worried if the balls do get wet and heavy.

I could certainly see her troubling Sharapova in the last 16 were that the case and I just feel she's worth a shot in the quarter market.

In terms of outright bets, I will turn to the weaker bottom half of the draw in a bid to find an alternative to Williams.

Here I find the Serbian pair of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic make appeal.

The duo are enjoying something a renaissance with some fine results so far this season.

Ivanovic in particular looks closer than ever to returning to the sort of form that saw her win at Roland Garros back in 2008 and claim the world number one spot.

She made the final in Stuttgart, losing only to Sharapova, a defeat she has since avenged in Rome where it took Williams to stop her in the semis. There was also a quarter-final appearance in Madrid, while the good results have not been confined to the clay - as mentioned above she beat Williams in the Australian Open where she made the last eight and has also won titles in Auckland and Monterrey.

Simona Halep and Li Na look the biggest threats in this half but neither is unbeatable.

If Ivanovic stays consistent - often her biggest problem - then the 18/1 will look big.

Her compatriot Jankovic has also had a good build-up to the tournament, reaching the last four in both Stuttgart and Rome. She was also a finalist in Bogota.

She's been a semi-finalist here three times before and last year made the last eight.

Sara Errani, who limped through Sunday's Rome final, is in her section, but right now I'd be more concerned about Li Na.

However, Jankovic has won both their previous claycourt meetings so I'm happy to add her to my coupon at 50/1.

Finally I'll head back to the quarter betting, specifically the second quarter which is arguably the weakest of the four.

Agnieszka Radwanska is favourite but a lukewarm one given she's never been at her best on clay - one quarter-final appearance in seven visits isn't a great record.

With the out-of-sorts Angie Kerber the other highly-ranked seed in this quarter, the Pole has a chance to reach her first semi-final but I'd rather back Carla Suarez-Navarro to emerge from this part of the draw.

Sadly she's already been cut but she still looks worthy of support.

It's been a strong clay campaign for the Spaniard, who won her first WTA title in Oeiras, made the semis in Katowice and Rome and the quarters in Stuttgart.

She's usually been undone by one of the elite - Ivanovic, Williams and Errani have all beaten her in recent weeks - but backing her in this quarter eliminates, to some extent, such worries.

There's no-one Suarez-Navarro will be too worried about in this section and having been to the quarters before she'll relish a return to Roland Garros given her current form.

  • Posted at 2140 BST on 23/05/2014.