The fragile joints of Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova are attracting as much interest as the possibility, some would say probability, of the Williams sisters occupying centre stage at the end of two weeks of intriguing women's singles action at Roland Garros. It is easy to overlook the fact that Ivanovic is the defending French Open champion and that Sharapova won the last of her three grand slam titles in the preceding Australian Open last year.
The two glamorous box office attractions have endured a frustrating time since their major triumphs and it will be intriguing to see how much of a career rebuilding job they can carry out over the next couple of weeks. Ivanovic, 21, withdrew from the build-up tournament in Madrid earlier this month because of the knee injury she aggravated in a recent Federation Cup win over Spain but the popular Serbian insists she is ready to make a strong defence of her crown.
Seeded eight, she is in the quarter of the 128-woman draw occupied by world No 1 Dinara Safina, who is yet to win a grand slam and begins her campaign fending off insults about her worthiness to occupy the No 1 ranking. Safina would welcome a quarter-final against Ivanovic that would provide her with a chance to avenge her defeat in last year's final. Sharapova, beaten by Safina at the last 16 stage here a year ago, made a welcome return to action last week in Warsaw after nearly 10 months on the sidelines recovering from a damaged shoulder. She moved on tentatively to Paris not knowing what to expect from her body during the demanding Roland Garros programme.
Sharapova will not strike as much fear into her opponents as she did in her heyday if the observations of last week's Warsaw conqueror Alona Bondarenko are to be believed. "In the past she played without mistakes, and right now she plays with lots of mistakes," said the Ukrainian who had lost in two previous meetings with Sharapova. "Her serve isn't as powerful as before." It would be no great surprise, then, if the rehabilitating Sharapova fell by the wayside as early as she did a year ago, although she has been favoured by a draw which puts her in a fairly moderate section occupied by her seeded Russian compatriots Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova.
Standing at the top of that quarter is Venus Williams, who will be pleased that she has avoided her sister Serena this time. The prospect of a 21st episode in the series of family rivalry - they are currently even at 10 wins each - looms large if the American pair can focus their minds properly on the task ahead. Only one of those previous meetings has been on the clay of Roland Garros - the 2002 final which Serena won in straight sets. If they were to fight out a second final here on Saturday week, Serena would be a clear favourite.
Serena is at her most vulnerable in the early rounds, so those hoping to see the back of her will be looking for a second round upset from Nicole Vaidisova. The principal beneficiaries of an early Serena departure would be Jelena Jankovic, the former world No 1, and Elena Dementieva, the Russian who continues to over-achieve in the world rankings. They are due to meet in the quarter-finals for the right to meet Serena in the semis - if the seedings work out as planned.