More than ever, the French Open on the Women’s side looks completely wide open with a whole host of contenders. Three of the game’s top stars will not be there with Victoria Azarenka not quite back from maternity leave, Serena Williams now pregnant and Maria Sharapova controversially not being offered a wildcard into the event from the French Tennis Federation. Last year’s champion Garbine Muguruza is amongst possible winners while the top 2 seeds in Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova seem more vulnerable than ever. Simona Halep is the bookmakers favourite in the field and along with Kerber and Pliskova can end the tournament as World No.1 depending on how results go elsewhere.
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Angelique Kerber had an outstanding year at the grand slams last year but the one mark on her record was in Paris where she suffered a first round exit and there is absolutely a chance that history could repeat itself. She only has a 19-12 record on the year and is 1-8 when playing top 30 players this year. Her opening round match is against an opponent who thrives more on hard courts but is still more than good enough to cause a shock against the World No.1. Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova already has two top 10 wins on clay this year, beating Agnieszka Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova in Stuttgart and Rome respectively. “Everybody knows it’s not my favorite surface, but, yeah, we have to play on clay. I try my best. Last year as well, these were not the best weeks for me. I mean, it was my best year, but when I played tournaments on clay, I was not performing so well. This year it’s the same,” Kerber said. “It can be better. I try my best to make the best preparations I can to be ready for the first round, and then we will see how far I can go… But first of all, I am just aiming to go step by step and try to get in love a little bit with the clay.”
It’s unlikely that she will be a contender but it is amazing news to see Petra Kvitova once more in the draw of a tournament after the horrific attack she suffered at the start of the year. If the hand injury she suffered is fully healed, she has a couple of early winnable rounds. Already a winner in 2009, Svetlana Kuznetsova is being tipped by many as a potential winner. The 9th seed’s results on clay don’t scream that of a champion’s but the case has always been with Kuznetsova that there are weeks where she puts everything together and looks like a world beater. She had always been one of the few with a game fit for clay and her quarter of the draw has few stand out players that could cause a shock before a matchup with Kerber or others. The other top seed in that section is Caroline Wozniacki, who has only made it past the third round in Paris once.
Between Garbine Muguruza and Kristina Mladenovic, it’s fair to say that the second quarter of the draw could produce the winner if both are on their game. Unfortunately for both, they will meet at the fourth round stage if they both make it there when this match would be much more suited for one of the later rounds of the tournament. Muguruza has not had the greatest of years, currently sitting at 12th in the race rankings. More of a concern will be that she has retired three times in three months, including her very last match against Svitolina in Rome – just when she was getting into a good run of form on her way to the semi finals. Just 3-3 on clay this year, the question will be whether she can find the form that saw her announce her name on the biggest stage or will she just continue to disappoint since winning that title.
Despite being one of the form players on tour, Mladenovic is not getting complacent.“Frankly, to me, all the girls in the draw can be dangerous on the courts during a match,” said this year’s No.13 seed. “For us, it means we always have to open our eyes. It’s the best tennis you have to play. Otherwise, there’s going to be a nasty surprise.” Before a disappointing first round exit in Rome, Mladenovic had made back to back finals in Stuttgart and Madrid. Despite losing both, she picked up a number of notable scalps – most impressively that of Maria Sharapova in a three set win.
In the bottom half, Pliskova is another who is backed by some but not really seen as a clear favourite. “I’m going to do my best, but I think the title and even talking about title is really far for me.” she said. The No.2 seed was expected to seize the opportunity of taking over the tour with Serena’s absence and Kerber’s struggles but hasn’t yet managed to do so. Wimbledon will probably be her true coming out party has one but even still, she could negotiate one of the easier routes to the quarter finals with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova looking her strongest rival there. The other quarter finalist would be expected to be Agnieszka Radwanska or Johanna Konta if the seedings followed but it’s fair to say that few have confidence in Radwanska performing well at a tournament she has always found tough. The Pole is only 9-8 on the year and played just one clay match, a loss to Ekaterina Makarova in Stuttgart. Meanwhile, Konta hasn’t fared much better. Her last outing was a three set loss to Venus Williams, who has never been comfortable on clay to the extent she is a contender while she won just two other matches in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome combined.
Simona Halep is currently the bookmaker’s favourite for the tournament although that assumes she is fully recovered from the injury that hampered her in the Rome final loss. A finalist against Sharapova in 2014, there is no doubt that she has the physical attributes and game to become champion but her mental toughness has always been in question – especially in situations where she is expected to thrive. Jana Cepelova is first up and memorably beat Halep in the first round of Wimbledon a few years back but such a shock should not be repeated here. While they probably won’t go far, it will be interesting to see how some of the top youngsters go in this draw. Darya Kasatkina and Marketa Vondrousova should clash in round two with the winner likely playing Halep. Vondrousova dropped just 7 games on her way to qualifying and looked right at home on the tour in winning Biel last month – although that was not on clay.
The other favourite in this quarter of the draw is Rome champion Elena Svitolina. The Ukranian currently leads the race rankings this year and can thank her recent 10-1 run on the clay for much of that. A shock loss in Madrid sandwiched between titles in Istanbul and Rome, her 3rd and 4th titles of the year, leave Svitolina in good stead coming into the tournament. She is 6-2 against the top 10 this year although given Kerber’s struggles, the value of those 3 wins against the German in particular should probably be reduced. Despite that, her recent win over Halep should give her confidence should they meet in the quarter finals as projected. Injury hampered Halep in set 3 but the Ukranian was solid and professional in that set, winning it 6-1 and taking the title home.
SF: Garbine Muguruza def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
SF: Simona Halep def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
F: Simona Halep def. Garbine Muguruza