Paris: Maria Sharapova`s victory in Rome last week has marked her out as a serious title contender at the French Open but the Russian former world number one says Kim Clijsters is the player to beat.
Belgian Clijsters was a major doubt for the tournament after injuring her ankle while stumbling at her cousin`s wedding two months ago but has recovered in the nick of time.
"It`s always difficult to not play for a few weeks and come back at a grand slam being your first tournament," the 24-year-old Sharapova, who could possibly have to beat Clijsters in the quarter-finals if she is to win the only slam to elude her, told reporters at Roland Garros after Friday`s draw.
"But, you know, she has a tremendous amount of experience behind her. I don`t think this is the first time that she`s come back after having a long lay-off.
"She`s been able to do really well when she`s taken time off, so you can never count her out. It might take her a few matches to get into form. That`s normal when you haven`t played for a while. But she`s a great champion, she`s won the last couple of grand slams, is number two in the world.
"She`s certainly the one to beat here."
Sharapova has never prospered on the Parisian clay, her best run coming in 2007 when she reached the semi-final, losing heavily to Serbia`s Ana Ivanovic, but the signs are that her power game is beginning to adapt to the unique surface.
"I was really happy with the way last week turned out," world number seven Sharapova, who beat Samantha Stosur in Rome last week, said.
"I played great tennis. I had some great matches and wins over good players, especially on clay. So it`s definitely a confidence booster. Just hoping to take this form and bring it over to Roland Garros."