Aussies can step out of Serena's shadow in Paris
THERE'S no Serena Williams.
That in itself should have anyone in the women's field at the French Open believing a grand slam title is not beyond them.
Throw in a couple of key injuries to the likes of Simona Halep and defending champion Garbine Muguruza, and the worrying form slump of world No.1 Angelique Kerber, and it spreads the net even wider.
Wide enough to maybe even include a couple of Aussies?
It's not as fancible as it seems.
After all Samantha Stosur, Daria Gavrilova and Ashleigh Barty are all in the quarter-finals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg this week.
While the jump to grand slam glory might just be a little early for Barty at this stage, not so for Stosur or Gavrilova.
Stosur, of course, brings a strong grand slam pedigree to the table. She is, after all, the 2011 US Open champion.
But it's in Paris where she really thrives. The 33-year-old has not failed to get at least to the third round every year since 2009.
Forget that her performances in 15 Australian Open attempts have never matched her billing.
Push aside the frustration of a title drought that has nearly reached two years.
Oh, and try to forget that she had lost more matches than she had won this year (first byes aside) before arriving in Strasbourg.
This is her time of the year.
Three times over a seven-year span she has made the final four in Paris. The latest was last year when she beat Lucie Safarova and Simona Halep before succumbing to Muguruza.
And then there was her appearance in the final in 2010, a chance missed after such a dominant run through the draw.
Stosur beat Justine Henin, Serena and Jelena Jankovic that year but couldn't raise her game one last time to see off plucky underdog Francesca Shiavone.
Gavrilova, who only had five wins all year before her golden quarter-final run in Rome last week, may have left Melbourne crowds enamoured with her grit and determination over the last two years but she has never made it beyond the second round in any other slam.
Indeed in Paris her two performances thus far have yielded exits in the second and first rounds.
But she is rounding into form at the right time and her game is continuing to develop nicely on clay.
At the Italian Open she made it all the way through qualifying before knocking out Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Garcia and Madison Keys in the main draw.
She is proving that form is no fluke either with another quarter-final run in northeastern France this week.
But the player to beat - certainly on current form - is a 22-year-old Ukrainian whose best performance at a grand slam was a quarter-final berth in Paris two years ago.
Elina Svitolina has had quite the year thus far, winning three tiles in Rome, Istanbul and Dubai and rising to No.6 in the world.
Last year only four seeds made the quarter-finals.
It's a scenario that could well be repeated again.
No-one can be discounted.
Not even 36-year-old Venus Williams - who has not won at Roland Garros in 19 attempts.
After all Serena isn't there.