LONDON, England (CNN) -- Defending champion Justine Henin's retirement came as a sad shock to the tennis world -- but there is little time for sentiment amongst the women battling to take her crown at the French Open.
Maria Sharapova needs to win in Paris to achieve a career grand slam and hold on to the number one spot.
The diminutive Belgian fought hard to dominate her loftier rivals. Now all their energies will be focused on each other in a tournament that is wide open.
The slow-playing, red clay courts at Roland Garros are generally considered to be the most demanding in the world. Add to this the string of injuries that plagued the Rome Masters and we can expect an interesting battle for the "Coupe Suzanne Lenglen."
CNN takes a look at the top five WTA ranked women, plus a couple of outsiders worth noting.
Maria Sharapova, Russia
Better suited to fast surfaces, Sharapova has described her movement on clay as like a "cow on ice." Indeed, the semifinals are the best she has achieved in Paris. For the newly crowned number one seed, there is everything to fight for. Fresh from Australian victory, only the Paris title stands between her and a career grand slam.
She has shown determination by challenging herself on clay this season, a determination which paid off when she won her first clay title at Amelia Island. It has certainly paid off mentally. "Every day that I was working," Sharapova told AP, "I was like 'This is for the French. This is for my third round. This is for my fourth. This is for my quarters.' It's a mental thing."
A left calf injury caused the 21-year old to pull out of her semi final against Jelena Jankovic in the Rome Masters but she predicted a full recovery in time for Paris.
Ana Ivanovic, Serbia
The world number two made a convincing start to the season -- reaching the finals at the Australian Open and lifting the trophy at Indian Wells -- only to be crushed by then 64th seed Tsventana Pironkova in the second round of the Rome Masters.
Nonetheless, the 20-year old must feel she can almost taste her first grand slam title. Her journey through the Paris Open 2007 included a semi-final straight set victory over Sharapova, but nerves got the better of her when she faced Henin in the final.
Ivanovic's training has focused on improving her movement on clay and building core strength -- what remains to be seen is whether she has the mental toughness required to go the distance in this grueling competition.
Jelena Jankovic, Serbia
It was Jankovic's performance on clay in 2007 that fueled her rise in the rankings to number three seed. She showed that she still has what it takes, comfortably defending her title against Alize Cornet this year at the Italian Masters. The 23-year old has been earning good results all season, making it to the final in Miami, and the semifinals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Dubai.
However the furthest she has got in Paris is the semifinals and she is yet to win a grand slam. She has cut back on her schedule in 2008 in order to address just that. Jankovic's mix of physical fitness and mental resilience may just be what is needed to make it through the two weeks.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
Kuznetsova's extensive experience on clay was not enough in Rome, where she was knocked out by France's Alize Cornet in the earlier rounds. It hasn't all been bad -- the 22-year old finished runner up in Berlin, beating Henin along the way.
An unimpressive start to 2008 makes her grand slam victory at the 2004 U.S. Open seem a lifetime away, and a win in Paris would come as a surprise to most.
Serena Williams, U.S.A.
Despite pulling out of Rome with a back problem, the number five seed has notched up more pre-Paris experience on clay in 2008 than in any other season. Serena Williams is the only one of the top five who has triumphed at the French Open, and will miss the Henin backhand the least.
Her "power game" suffers on the slow clay surface and recent seasons have shown that she is prone to "off" days. However, the 26-year old can be expected to start with enthusiasm. There is real potential for Serena's return; she is a player who could win anything she puts her mind to.
Ones to Watch
French qualifier Alize Cornet surprised everyone by making it to the finals in Rome. True, this can in part be put down to injured opponents, but she has also made the semifinals in Charleston and posted some great results in other matches.
Dinara Safina is fresh from winning the German Open after beating Henin, Serena Williams and Dementieva along the way. Marat's younger sister will be one to watch -- even if it is just for her fiery outbursts on court.
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