Clay-court tennis rewards consistency and conviction, so the concept of an outsider reaching the French Open final may sound as challenging as sneaking into the Louvre to swipe the smile straight off the Mona Lisa's face. Yet consider that the past three women to raise the Roland Garros title -- Li Na, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova -- were each ranked outside the top five when they won.
Favorites don't always triumph on the terre battue. In the past 15 years, only one top-seeded woman -- Justine Henin in 2007 -- prevailed in Paris. The French Open begins on May 27, and with Madrid and Rome scheduled in the coming weeks, here's our list of five women, currently ranked No. 20 or lower, capable of going deep into draws of the upcoming clay tournaments.
No. 20 Julia Goerges: Clay is not her favorite surface, but it might be her best. The 2011 Stuttgart champion and Madrid semifinalist registered an 18-7 record on dirt last season, including four wins over top-five players. Goerges can be alternately imposing and inconsistent. She can serve big and dictate play with her versatile topspin forehand, but that stroke features a lengthy, lasso-style backswing that can sometimes create timing issues. Since her run to the Dubai final in February, Goerges has gone 5-5 (through Monday), but is an explosive player who can heat up in a hurry.
No. 26 Svetlana Kuznetsova: Three months into another predictably unpredictable season, the former No. 2 split with coach Olga Morozova and hired former pro Amos Mansdorf as her new coach. Last month, the two-time Grand Slam champion beat former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic on red clay in the Fed Cup semifinals, and then managed to win just five games versus Jelena Jankovic the next day. Kuznetsova must lift her level against higher-ranked foes to gain traction on dirt. She's 2-4 versus top-20 opponents this season after going 5-10 against top-20 players last season. It's been nearly two years since she won a title. Consistency has eluded her, and she's prone to flakiness and frustration under pressure. But the 2009 French Open champion has reached at least the quarterfinals in five of her past six appearances in Paris; she can alter the spin, speed and height of her shots and owns the variety that plays well on clay.
No. 27 Sara Errani: Standing 5-foot-5, Errani casts a shadow as imposing as a ball kid, but she's been a commanding clay-court presence, producing the best year of her career. Errani has posted an 11-0 mark on dirt (through Monday), sweeping both singles and doubles titles at Acapulco and Barcelona to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2009 to complete two singles-doubles title sweeps in the same season. Errani plays with grunt-aided guile, is skilled at exploring all areas of the court, and competes with an energetic attitude normally found in aerobic instructors and drill sergeants. The baseliner from Bologna owns an abysmal 1-5 career record at Roland Garros and is vulnerable against bigger hitters; however, she's extremely fit, is coming off her first career major quarterfinal appearance in Melbourne, and led the WTA in first-serve percentage (74 percent) and return points won on first serve (47 percent) through mid-April.
No. 31 Mona Barthel: When she's landing her bold serve and timing her groundstrokes, the 21-year-old seems capable of hitting winners at will on any surface. She hit 62 winners versus world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in a 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 loss last week. A year ago, Barthel was an explosive, erratic world No. 196 who qualified for her first major at the French Open. Last week, she swept former French Open champion Ivanovic and 2011 Roland Garros semifinalist Marion Bartoli in succession to reach her fourth quarterfinal of the season, in Stuttgart. The 6-foot German's fearless shot-making and ability to hit all the angles off her authoritative strokes have her on the fast track for the top 10 (her 26 wins are third-most among WTA players this season) if she can tame her tendency to play too close to the lines.
No. 32 Anabel Medina Garrigues: The 29-year-old Spaniard is the WTA's active leader in career clay-court titles with 10. A two-time French Open doubles champion, Medina Garrigues loves to grind long rallies on dirt, and though she's yet to surpass the French Open fourth round in singles, she moves well on dirt and is adept at defending and playing sharp angles to draw opponents out of position. Sustaining her strength in long matches can be a challenge. Medina Garrigues is 7-10 in three-setters over the past two years.