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Five WTA stars that could profit from Sharapova ban at 2016 French Open

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 8, 2016

Russian racket star Maria Sharapova recently shocked the world when announcing she had tested positive for a banned substance, previously permitted and part of her medication for long-standing minor health issues, at the Australian Open earlier this year.

Her woeful record against long-time Grand Slam rival Serena Williams apart, Sharapova would probably have dominated women’s tennis if the all-time American great did not share the same era.

While Sharapova’s punishment is yet to be determined by the authorities, it’s certain she will miss the French Open and is highly likely to be absent from all other majors in 2016.

Who will step into Sharapova’s shoes as credible challenger?

Australian Open 2016 - Quarter Final - Williams Vs Sharapova - Melbourne

Every crisis for a top professional in any sport, self-inflicted or otherwise, is an opportunity for others to step up into their shoes, however.

Sharapova is a two-time former champion at Roland Garros and her suspension from the WTA tour has resulted in Serena being shortened into 15/8 favourite with Coral to retain the French Open ladies’ title.

With the younger Williams sister turning 35 later this year and her days of dominance surely numbered now, and the clay court Grand Slam in Paris the next top prize on offer, who can take up the mantle and challenge her?

Belinda Bencic

Mideast Emirates Dubai Tennis

Switzerland’s teenage sensation Bencic saw her winter run Down Under ended by Sharapova in the fourth round, but it was her best Australian Open performance to date. Turning 19 in March, her entire career remains with limitless potential.

A tough draw at Roland Garros last year meant Bencic bowed out in round two when losing to the USA’s Madison Keys, but she will be back and better at the 2016 edition.

Bencic remains a relatively big price at 40/1 to be French Open ladies’ singles champ, but she will not wait for the torch to be passed from Serena and there is now greater space for her to seize opportunities to snatch it.

Eugenie Bouchard

US Open - Women Third Round

Canada’s Bouchard is on the comeback trail after an injury-interrupted 2015 led to a loss of form. Sharapova also stood in her way, defeating her in the 2014 semi in Paris, though she did grace a Grand Slam final subsequently at Wimbledon.

An unfortunate year on the WTA Tour does not make Bouchard into a bad player, and she is expected to return to something like her best from now on.

Reaching the quarter-finals or further of four Grand Slams in her career to date, Bouchard is also a lively 40/1 outsider to grab maiden major glory at Roland Garros.

Simona Halep

Mideast Emirates Dubai Tennis

Seeing Sharapova suspended may give top Romanian tennis export Halep the jolt her own career needs. You will not find a more consistent player on the WTA Tour, despite her recent slide from world number two to sixth.

Halep’s story has been always the bridesmaid so far when it comes to the major tennis honours, yet at 24 now is the time for her to kick on and turn semi-final outings and runners-up spots into Grand Slam titles.

Nobody other than Williams is rated more likely to be French Open champ than handy Halep, who is a 6/1 shot.

Angelique Kerber

Australian Open - Day 13 - Melbourne Park

Germany’s Kerber could be one of those late-bloomers like Stan Wawrinka in the men’s game after her shock Australian Open victory, slaying Serena in the Melbourne final earlier this year.

At 28 she is no spring chicken compared to the other names mentioned here but, although unpopular with British audiences after ending Johanna Konta’s incredible run Down Under in the semis, her determination to land a major has to be commended.

Cunning Kerber now knows she can beat Williams, and is a 14/1 chance to pip her again in Paris.

Garbine Muguruza

Mideast Emirates Dubai Tennis

Forgive us for sounding like a broken-record, but a 6-4 6-4 straight sets loss to Serena in the 2015 Wimbledon final doesn’t tell the full story about Venezuelan-born Spaniard Muguruza.

Had it not been her maiden Grand Slam final outing, the 22-year-old may have been able to keep her composure and punish Williams when she was on the ropes.

Clay courts tend to be a strong suit of Spanish players of both sexes and, with Sharapova who once thwarted her in the Roland Garros quarters out of the game, Murugurza is 12/1 to go one better at this year’s French Open.

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