Hot on the heels of an eventful and dramatic Australian Open, the Open Gaz de France is one of the WTA Tour’s Premier tournaments, offering total prize money of $690,000 and 470 ranking points for the champion. Although the majority of the elite players are still recovering from their Melbourne exploits, the indoor Paris event still boasts a strong field, with eight top 25 players and two members of the top ten.
It’s not often you’ll see Sara Errani as the number one seed for an event, but the plucky Italian was ranked seventh in the world when the Open Gaz de France draw was made, and therefore receives top billing. Although Errani teamed up with Roberta Vinci to win the women’s doubles in Melbourne – their third Grand Slam title together – she had a disappointing single competition, losing in the first round. Few expect the diminutive Bolognan to match her superb 2012 season, but she will be keen to prove the doubters wrong with a strong showing in Paris this week.
As a top four seed, Errani receives a bye into the second round, and will play a qualifier there. Her task gets a lot tougher in the quarter-finals, however: she is seeded to face the powerful Klara Zakopalova, but could just as easily run into the tricky Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues. Alternatively, Errani could face an intriguing rematch with her Australian Open conqueror, Carla Suarez Navarro.
The seeds in the second quarter of the draw are Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Safarova. Cibulkova has had a characteristically inconsistent start to 2013. She impressed everyone by powering to the final in Sydney, but then suffered a humiliating “double bagel” loss to Agnieszka Radwanska, and was dumped out of Melbourne in the second round. On her best day, the Slovakian can hit scintillating winners from all over the court, but her game still lacks nuance and discipline. Safarova also lost in the second round of the Australian Open, and the world number 17 finds herself in a similar situation to Cibulkova: she has the weapons, but falls down when it comes to shot selection and consistency. Both women are as capable of reaching the semi-finals as they are of losing their opening matches. Should they fall early, Wimbledon quarter-finalist Tamira Paszek could sneak into the last four.
In the bottom half of the draw, Marion Bartoli is the third seed and will be aiming to put on a strong performance in front of her home crowd. France’s best player is one of the busiest competitors on tour, and entered more events than almost anyone else last season. In the second round, Bartoli could face Christina McHale, a once hotly tipped American who has made little noise of late. In the last eight, she is seeded to meet Roberta Vinci, but other possible opponents include Mona Barthel, who needs to rediscover the promising form she showed last season, and the solid but less-celebrated Radwanska sister, Ursula.
The final quarter of the draw is headed by Petra Kvitova, the woman who ended 2012 a whisker away from the top ranking, but who now looks to be in something of a mini-slump. On raw talent alone, Kvitova is the standout player in Paris, and if she produced her best tennis she could dominate the field. But as she showed in her marathon loss to Laura Robson in Melbourne, the Czech is far from her best at the moment. However, her wildcard entry into the Open Gaz de France proves that she’s willing to work her way back to the top, and although her route to the semi-finals is a tough one, she has a good opportunity to do well this week. Kvitova is likely to face former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round, but predicting her last eight opponent is all but impossible. Only six ranking spots separate Julia Georges, Yanina Wickmayer and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, three women who often cause headaches for the top players.
Semi-final predictions: Cibulkova def. Errani; Kvitova def. Bartoli
Champion: Petra Kvitova