There used to be a time when the women’s draw was said to lack depth in the early rounds of a grand slam event. But with a dozen teenagers in the top 100 and a number of former top players who have struggled and fallen out of the top 32 (the seeding cut-off for the slams), this year’s French Open sees a number of potential sizzling first round encounters . Here’s our list of five matches in the ladies draw that should make people sit up and take notice.
(10) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Laura Robson H2H – First Meeting
Former world no. 1 vs. potential future world no. 1; struggling Dane vs. rising Brit; baseliner counterpuncher vs. aggressive baseliner basher. Whichever way you look at it, this first round match features players in contrasting playing styles and fortunes. Wozniacki comes into Paris on a 5-match losing streak, without a single win on clay (the average rank of the players who beat her in this losing streak is 54). Robson has struggled herself this year. After Melbourne, the 19 year old, who is the highest ranked teenager in the game currently, went a poor 2-7 before recovering some form to reach the third round in Madrid and the second round in Rome (wins over Agnieska Radwanska and Venus Wiliams included). Robson has knocked off seeded players in both the previous slams (Clisjters and Li Na at the US Open and Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open) and seems to be the better player when she not the favourite. The problem here is that based on Wozniacki’s recent results, even the bookmakers have Robson as the favourite in this match. If Robson is to rise to the top 10 , then she has to start winning matches that she should. And beating Wozniacki in Paris could just be the right start for that.
Prediction – Robson wins in straight sets
(22) Ekaterina Makrova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova H2H – Kuznetsova leads 2-1
It’s hard to choose who’s more streaky and unpredictable between these two Russians. Kuznetsova is a former world no. 2 and a two-time grand slam champion, including the winner here in 2009. But after a strong start to the season Down Under, the Russian finds herself in one of her usual funks. Makarova reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for a second year in a row but has since gone 5-9 (including six losses in row at one point). Both players can alternate between brilliance and listless on the court but when their game is on, they are a pleasure to watch. Let’s just hope for atleast some part of the match, they’re both playing good tennis at the same time.
Prediction – Makarova wins in straight sets
(18) Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova H2H Jankovic leads 5-3 (3-2 on clay)
Jankovic and Hantuchova are two of the most popular players on the women’s side outside the top 10. 28 year old Jankovic seems to have found some renewed motivation this season. The former world no. 1 is winning matches, smiling on court and charming the press in her interviews once again. The Serb won a low-key event in Bogota on clay, reached the semis in Miami, the finals in Charleston and the quarters in Rome. On the other hand, Hantuchova has dropped to no. 60 in the rankings with a poor 16-13 record this year and at the age of 30, her best days are probably behind her. Jankovic, a three-time semi-finalist in Paris, should win this one but Hantuchova certainly won’t make it easy.
Prediction – Jankovic in three sets
(9) Samantha Stosur vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm H2H – Date-Krumm leads 1-0
On paper, this should be a no-contest. A 29 year old Australian with a kicking serve and a powerful forehand who loves playing on clay against a 42 year old veteran, who relies more on flat groundstrokes and strategy to defeat her opponents. Yet, watch Kimiko Date-Krumm at every opportunity you get because they don’t make them like her anymore. The Japanese veteran is five years into her second career and has no plans to quit yet as she continues to maintain her top 100 ranking. She has proved to be a tough cookie in her comeback for top players, who are not used to playing her style of game. In fact, she even defeated Stosur back in 2010 in a third set tie-breaker. Both players are not match-tough – Stosur recovering from a right calf injury which hampered her clay court preparations while Date-Krumm has not played since late April and has not played a match on clay all year. Stosur should have too much game for the former world no. 4, but if she feels the pressure and gets nervous, Date-Krumm will know how to take advantage of it.
Prediction – Stosur wins in three sets
(6) Li Na vs Anabel Medina Garrigues H2H – Medina Garrigues leads 4-1 (3-0 on clay)
One of these two players is in the Guinness Book of World Records and it’s not the Chinese-born French Open-winning Li Na. 31 year old Medina Garrigues went into the record books last month as the WTA active player with most clay court titles (with ten titles). While most of those have been lower-level WTA events, it should still tell you enough about the Spaniard’s clay court expertise. Li Na is no cow on ice either – having won the title here two years ago. But her 2013 season has been a mixed bag. After reaching the finals of the Auatralian Open, she missed several weeks due to injury. She has since played only four events since then and after reaching the finals in Stuttgart, she won only one match between the Madrid and Rome Premier events. Li Na will be the one dictating play and this match is on her racket. Even Medina Garrigues fluffing some balls on her own racket may not be sufficient to upset the world no. 6.
Prediction – Li Na in straight sets