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Women’s favorite uncertain at Roland Garros

Howard Fendrich Associated Press

PARIS – Asked if there’s a real favorite for this year’s French Open, Serena Williams shot back a quick answer.

“Yeah,” she replied, “I definitely think Nadal is probably a big-time favorite.”

Well, yes, Serena, you’re right, four-time champion Rafael Nadal surely is the man to beat. But what about the women’s field?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just here to play and go for it.”

As the year’s second Grand Slam tournament begins today, no one seems to know which woman is the likeliest to hoist the trophy in two weeks.

“It’s very hard to pick one,” said Ana Ivanovic, the defending champion.

If a fourth consecutive men’s final between Nadal and Roger Federer seems like a possibility, the women’s event appears less predictable.

Williams and Ivanovic each has struggled recently with a bothersome knee. Maria Sharapova returned to the tour this week after missing nearly 10 months, and she was wearing white tape on her surgically repaired right shoulder as she practiced at Roland Garros on Saturday.

Top-seeded Dinara Safina is playing better than anyone on clay lately, but she never has won a major title, nor has Jelena Jankovic. Williams’ older sister Venus loses power on the slow, red surface. Up-and-comers Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland are still untested at the late stages of a major.

“They just need a little bit more experience in the Grand Slams and playing at this level,” Ivanovic said. “But I think definitely in the future they have very good potential.”

Ivanovic opens today’s schedule on center court against Sara Errani of Italy. Others slated to play include Amelie Mauresmo, Andy Murray, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt.

Serena Williams’ most recent match, at the Madrid Open this month, ended when she stopped after dropping the first set, citing her bum knee – her fourth loss in a row.

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