PARIS (Reuters) - The French Open is guaranteed a new women’s champion next Saturday, and triple-winner Mats Wilander thinks that’s fantastic for the tournament -- and fantastic for tennis.
The Swede told Reuters in an interview that it was the best thing that could have happened to a tournament missing the pregnant Serena Williams and the not-invited Maria Sharapova.
“It is great that it didn’t just fall to one of the obvious candidates,” Wilander said, as groundsmen watered the courts at Stade Roland Garros.
“Exciting, new faces are great for the tournament... and great for the sport,” added the Swede, who invigorated tennis in 1982 when he won here as a 17-year-old.
The departures of 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and reigning champion Garbine Muguruza on Sunday ensured there would be a new winner.
And nothing would electrify Paris more than a French victory -- they are flying high after Kristina “Kiki” Mladenovic ousted Muguruza.
Court Suzanne Lenglen was gripped by Kiki-fever for that match. The febrile crowd roared her to such an extent that Spaniard Muguruza broke down in tears in her post-match news conference.
”Well that’s tough... the crowd here can be really tough,“ Wilander said. ”And it is harder for the women because with best-of-three sets you don’t have so much time to settle.
“Mladenovic knows how to use the power of the crowd... (Alize) Cornet knows how to use it... so why not a French champion?”
If not a Frenchwoman, the champion could well be Caroline Wozniacki, conqueror of Kuznetsova, and possessor of an unwanted asterisk on her list of career achievements.
The Dane is a twice year-end world number one who has never won a grand slam crown.
There have been others but none who reigned so long at world number one -- 67 weeks -- without success on the grand slam stage.
“This could be time for her to step up,” said Wilander, in Paris as a presenter for broadcaster Eurosport’s daily flagship show ‘Game, Set and Mats’.
”I think she will win a grand slam one day. She was so good so young... she has had an unbelievable career already.
”But she was up against Serena and Maria (Sharapova) all that time. You can’t really judge her against that.
“We know she can run with being number one, so this is maybe as good an opportunity as she will get to win her first. She needs to take this momentum into her match.”
The Dane plays Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar