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French hopes hang on fearless teenager

Latest update : 2008-05-24

At Roland Garros, French hopes hang on 18-year-old Alizé Cornet. For Georges Goven, the Fed Cup captain, “she has the right amount of confidence and skill and is not afraid of anything at the moment.”


Earlier this year, Alizé Cornet was ranked 55th in the world. Six months later, on the eve of the French Open, she has risen to a career-high 20th, thanks to an impressive season on the courts. At 18, the French girl is, for the first time, a seeded player (19th) in Paris.


“She can go far,” says Georges Goven, the captain of the Fed Cup’s female team. “On the one hand, a good start this season and support from the public have boosted her confidence. On the other, she loves challenges. To be crowned the best French hope can only motivate her.” Moreover, this year the tournament will be wide-open since Justine Henin, triple Porte d’Auteuil champion, has called it quits.


Punchy and fresh, the French champion is nicknamed “Alice” by her fans and will hit Paris with her best backhand. Cornet knows the going is good. This will be the fourth time she plays in the tournament and all eyes are upon her. Although she used a wild-card to get into tournament last year, this year things have changed. Alizé has secured 14 victories so far, compared to 10 for the current world champion Maria Sharapova and 9 for world number 3 Jelena Jankovic.


“She is not afraid of anything at the moment”


“Alizé Cornet is comfortable here. She has won the 2007 junior draw and has recovered from her hectic week in Rome. Things are looking good for her,” adds Goven. Over the last six months, Cornet fought two finals in Rome and Acapulco and two semi-finals in Amelia Island and Charleston.


Cornet definitely left her mark on Foro Italico in Rome. She beat two top ten Russians: Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Ana Chadvetadze in the semi-finals. “And she is not afraid of anything at the moment,” adds her captain.


If the French teenager has attracted so much attention, it’s also because French female tennis has hit a low point recently. Tatiana Golovin’s retirement, Amélie Mauresmo’s fragile health and Marion Bartoli’s poor playing have pushed Cornet into the spotlight. She is no longer overshadowed by her idol, the 28-year-old Mauresmo, who clings onto her 28th position in the rankings.


A tough draw


It’s been a difficult time for the former world champion. Mauresmo suffers from intercostal pains and only started training ten days ago. She admits she does not enter the Parisian tournament – which has never been easy for her – with high expectations. “Today, a lot of uncertainty surrounds Amélie,” says Goven. Mauresmo has not been on the courts much over the last year.


World number nine Marion Bartoli has not shined so far on clay. She never got past the second round. “Marion is not lagging behind her 2007 season,” responds the Fed Cup captain. Her rise started last year at the French Open when she went through to the second round. Her entry this year will be less surprising following a wrist injury that forced her to retire from the Strasbourg Open this past week.


Cornet nevertheless faces a tough draw. During the first round, the French teenager will face the Ukrainian Julia Vakuleno. And she might play against Jelena Jankovic, who beat her during the finals in Rome, in the third round. “But she still needs to beware of the Argentine Dulko or the Italian Errani during the second round,” warns Georges Goven.


Jankovic or Ivanovic favoured


The other French players can count on a good draw. “Overall, our fifteen players will not play against any top players during the first round,” comments Georges Doven. Amélie Mauresmo, who could face Nathalie Dechy during the second round, will play against adversaries within her reach. “It gives her time to enter the tournament,” says her captain.


The favourite of the tournament is world number one Maria Sharapova since the Belgian Justine Henin called it quits. “She has her chances but her mobility is still rather limited,” says Goven.


The Serbs Ana Ivanovic, a 2007 finalist, and Jelena Jankovic are best prepared for this type of court, says the French trainer. But the former might have to face the US Serena Williams (2002 winner) in the quarter finals and the latter might face the winner in the semifinals, which does leave much room for a young firebrand French teenager. 

Date created : 2008-05-24