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Will the real contenders please stand up…

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:11

The French Open is a fortnight away and we’re no wiser as to who’ll be left embracing the singles trophies over the final weekend at Roland Garros. Maybe things will be a little clearer after this week…

The world’s leading men and women swap countries, with the guys moving from the Rome Masters Series to the Masters Series Hamburg, while the women go from Berlin to Rome for the second of back-to-back Tier 1 events.

Despite Hamburg’s often chilly, slow conditions, it’s become a happy hunting ground for Roger Federer, who’s won four times at the Rothenbaum Tennis Center in the last six years.

Whether he can make it a high five is anyone’s guess. The talk on the men’s tour is all about the calendar, punishing scheduling, too many events… and after major retirements and withdrawals played a part at the last two Masters events (Novak Djokovic pulling out in Monaco and Rafa Nadal’s blisters in Rome), Hamburg could be a case of the last man standing goes home with the silverware.

Rome winner Djokovic will be tough to beat after his first big clay title at the Foro Italico on Sunday and says the victory has given his belief on clay a big boost. I have more confidence approaching the big events on this surface, and on other surfaces as well, the world No.3 said. So this year has been like a dream for me, but I want to continue. I want to finish the year as the No.1 on the race.”

He’s been drawn in the same half as second seed Nadal, while Federer shares the top half with Nikolay Davydenko. Federer’s first real test is likely to be a quarter-final meeting with David Ferrer, while Davydenko is expected to take on Richard Gasquet in his quarter, depending on whether the real Gasquet actually turns up this week.

Djokovic is seeded to meet James Blake in the last eight, while Nadal should take on ninth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych in the bottom quarter. World No.6 Andy Roddick is missing after he pulled out of the semis in Rome with back problems.

Dinara Safina is the talk of the women’s tour after she beat three top ten players (world No.1 Justine Henin, world No.6 Serena Williams and world No.9 Elena Dementieva) to win her biggest title yet last week, the Tier 1 German Open.

“I hope I won’t wake up tomorrow and realise that this was just a dream, the Russian said. Obviously, this has been the biggest success in my career and I still can’t believe I actually won Berlin and beat three top ten players in one week. Right now I am the happiest person on Earth but I don’t have much time to enjoy it.”

Most of the rest of the women’s top 10 will also be hoping it’s just a dream after they all missed out on a big title in Germany, but they immediately have a chance to get their clay court seasons back on track in Rome.

While Henin gives Rome a miss due to fatigue, seven of the world’s top 10 players, including reigning champion Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, top-seeded compatriot Ana Ivanovic, and second seed Maria Sharapova of Russia line up in the Italian capital. The Williams sisters are also in town, with Venus making her first appearance since Miami.

Ivanovic will be favourite and says she’s beginning to find her feet on the surface this season after making the last four in Berlin. “Playing the first time [this year] on clay is difficult, so I am happy that I came through to the semis, because I had a tough week,” she said.

Ivanovic is on a collision course with Safina in the last 16, though, which will be a mouth-watering clash. The winner is likely to face Russian sixth seed Anna Chakvetadze in the last eight. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams are also seeded to clash in the quarters in the top half. Venus, Jankovic, Marion Bartoli and Sharapova are the big names in the bottom half.

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