We’ve finally arrived at the doorstep of the second major of the year. Lower-ranked players have been toiling away for the last few days in the qualifying tournament, hoping for a chance at potential glory, ranking points, and a fat check. And now that the 128 slots have been filled with for the draw at Roland Garros, it’s time to take a look at which portions of the draw might be tricky for the seeds and which might be a walk in the park. The Bad Man Bureau is here to make predictions, breaking the draw down into eighths, giving you a picture for all the quarterfinal matches as well as who will be walking away with the trophy.
Section 1–Serena Williams’s Section
Seeds: (1) Serena Williams, (16) Sabine Lisicki, (17) Roberta Vinci, (29) Venus Williams
The first thing that jumps out at anyone is that there’s the potential for a Williams family reunion in the third round. These matches are always heavily hyped, but they haven’t quite frankly been all that entertaining, usually ending up as one-sided blowouts. In this entire section, there are a number of players located in my Names You Need to Know preview. Serena Williams, of course, sits up top, but so are two of the “Name Before Game” players in Sabine Lisicki and Venus. Darkhorses Garbine Muguruza and Roberta Vinci lurk as potential opponents for Serena in the second and fourth rounds respectively, and the youngest player in the Top 100–and someone I mentioned as a youngster to watch–Belinda Bencic will have to battle both Williams sisters if she hopes to reach the second week.
Upset Alert: Belinda Bencic over (29) Venus Williams–Venus’s Sjogren’s Syndrome makes her an unreliable bet from day-to-day, and she plays her worst on the surface. Coupled with a lack of matches on the crushed brick, and she could be ripe for a first round exit at the hands of the young Swiss, who’s been moving up the rankings with wins and purpose.
The Quarterfinalist: Serena Williams.
Serena is the pre-tournament favorite, and it’s hard to believe that the best female tennis player in the world will suffer a shock defeat this year in the early rounds. Her draw isn’t necessarily easy, with a path that features a number of dangerous youngsters, but with her experience, Serena should be able to advance with not that much difficulty.
Section 2–Maria Sharapova’s Section
Seeds: (7) Maria Sharapova, (9) Dominika Cibulkova, (19) Samantha Stosur, (25) Kaia Kanepi
Poor Maria. The draw gods were not kind to her, placing the 2012 French Open champion in the same quarter as Serena, her nemesis on any surface. But Maria can’t look ahead to the quarterfinals because in her way are a number of landmines she’ll have to navigate carefully through. Kaia Kanepi, mentioned as a Darkhorse in the Names You Need to Know article, is a hard-hitting Estonian who plays her best at the majors and always seems good for an upset. Dominika Cibulkova, who’s beaten Maria Sharapova before at this event, lurks as a fourth round opponent.
First Round Match to Watch: (19) Samantha Stosur vs Monica Puig–Samantha Stosur has great memories of Roland Garros, including wins over Serena Williams and Justine Henin in the same tournament, but her game has decayed in recent years. Monica Puig, who just won her first career title at Strasbourg this week, will come in with confidence that she can play on the red dirt but may also be a bit fatigued.
The Quarterfinalist: Maria Sharapova.
It’s tough to beat Maria on clay these days: in the last two years, she’s lost only four times on the surface (three times to Serena Williams, once to Ana Ivanovic in Rome this year). She will be able to work out any kinks in her serve or game in the first two rounds before having to prepare herself for a potentially brutal run to the title in the third. She’ll be ready to take on Kanepi and then Cibulkova/Stosur and should be looking forward to another tussle with Serena.
Section 3–Agnieszka Radwanska’s Section
Seeds: (3) Agnieszka Radwanska, (14) Carla Suarez Navarro, (20) Alize Cornet, (32) Elena Vesnina
Radwanska gets a pretty comfortable section of the draw here, avoiding any real power players in her portion en route to the second week. There are a lot of youngsters in this section as well: Karolina Pliskova (the higher ranked of the twins), Alja Tomljanovic (mentioned in the Names You Need to Know article as a youngster to watch), Ashleigh Barty (the Australian who’s already half of one of the best doubles teams in the world), and Taylor Townsend (the American tipped as the future of women’s tennis in the States). Former champion Francesca Schiavone also lurks as a potential spoiler if she can rediscover some of that magic that got her that major title.
Upset Alert: Christina McHale over (32) Elena Vesnina–This isn’t so much a knock on Vesnina, who’s played pretty well this spring on clay, but Christina McHale has been on a hot streak over the last few weeks. In Rome, she gave Maria Sharapova all she could handle in a three set loss. In Madrid, she knocked off Sorana Cirstea and Camila Giorgi, two players with potential to have runs at Roland Garros, and this week in Strasbourg, she reached the semifinals. If McHale can stay focused, she might be able to get the upset.
The Quarterfinalist: Agnieszka Radwanska.
The draw is simply full of too many youngsters who won’t have the experience to win a big match against a top player, especially at a major. Radwanska has the skill and the experience to get through this draw unscathed. She’ll likely play the winner of the Suarez Navarro/Cornet match in the fourth round, both of whom I believe will not be steady enough to beat the world number 3.
Section 4–Angelique Kerber’s Section
Seeds: (8) Angelique Kerber, (12) Flavia Pennetta, (18) Eugenie Bouchard, (31) Daniela Hantuchova
If you’re looking for a potential surprise, look no further than this part of the draw. Kerber headlines, but she’s a disappointing 2-4 on the dirt. Eugenie Bouchard struggled at the big events in Madrid and Rome, but she did walk away with a title this week in Nurnberg. Potentially dangerous floaters in Maria Kirilenko (former world #10), Julia Goerges (plays her best on clay), Petra Cetkovska (a hard hitter who’s been to the fourth round at Roland Garros), and Varvara Lepchenko (a lefty American who reached the fourth round in 2012) lurk in this part of the field as well.
First Round Match to Watch: Petra Cetkovska vs Varvara Lepchenko–The winner of this match gets to take on Angelique Kerber (potentially) in the second round, and this could be a match full of swings in momentum. Cetkovska can hit the ball with power, but she can be prone to bouts of streakiness. Lepchenko isn’t much of a power player, but her lefty spins do give players trouble, particularly on clay. This match will be under the radar, but it could very easily go three sets.
The Quarterfinalist: Flavia Pennetta.
No offense to Eugenie Bouchard, who has come on as of late to make my prediction of her being a “Name Before Game” player look foolish, but I think I have to go with Pennetta being able to navigate the section of the draw more capably. This French Open will be Bouchard’s first major where she’s become part of the hunted, and I’m not yet sure if she can handle that. Pennetta meanwhile sits in the part of the draw where she manages to avoid most of the dangerous floaters. If this section falls into chaos, I see her emerging from it.
Section 5–Petra Kvitova’s Section
Seeds: (5) Petra Kvitova, (11) Ana Ivanovic, (23) Lucie Safarova, (27) Svetlana Kuznetsova
I’m willing to call this part of the draw the “Group of Death”. Kvitova can–if she’s on–beat anyone soundly. Ivanovic is a contender after a fantastic clay court season. Kuznetsova’s a former champion and has won many matches on the clay this year, and Safarova’s able to battle with anyone. Throw in unseeded players like Caroline Garcia and Camila Giorgi, both of whom were mentioned in our Players to Watch article, and this section has a lot of potential deep-run threats lumped into one area.
First Round Match to Watch: (11) Ana Ivanovic vs Caroline Garcia–Both of these players could potentially have made second week appearances if the draw had worked out another way. Alas, these two players are going to have to clash in the first round, making it a very early (and one could even say unfair) short Roland Garros campaign for one of them. Garcia will be favored by the Parisian crowds, but only slightly; Ana Ivanovic is a former champion here and is universally liked among tennis fans.
The Quarterfinalist: Ana Ivanovic.
Ana has been absolutely great on the clay this spring. Though she hasn’t won a title, she has reached the finals of Stuttgart (lost to Maria Sharapova), the quarterfinals of Madrid (lost to Simona Halep), and the semifinals of Rome (lost to Serena Williams). There is no shame in any of the losses she’s incurred. Ivanovic is a confidence player; she plays poorly when she’s questioning herself. She’s not questioning herself now, and I think she’s going to make a strong statement at the French Open this year.
Section 6–Simona Halep’s Section
Seeds: (4) Simona Halep, (15) Sloane Stephens, (22) Ekaterina Makarova, (30) Klara Koukalova
Simona Halep is the player in the top ten who probably has the most to prove at this year’s French Open. She’s seen a meteoric rise in her ranking in the last year and now sits at number four in the world. People question whether she’s really going to live up to her seeding, but she’s had a strong European clay campaign which was capped with a run to the Madrid final. This part of the draw is pretty soft too. Her biggest competition will come in the form of the enigmatic Sloane Stephens in the fourth round (if Sloane gets there). Simona’s first round opponent might also trouble her. Alisa Kleybanova could certainly use everyone’s support; she was off the tour for some time while battling cancer.
Upset Alert: (15) Sloane Stephens vs Peng Shuai–Sloane Stephens will need to be ready from the first match, because Peng Shuai, the Chinesewoman who hits both a two-handed forehand and backhand, has the game to knock Sloane out early. This could also be a make-or-break tournament for Sloane’s coaching relationship. The famed Paul Annacone has been working with Sloane this year at certain tournaments, including the majors. But if he sees another lackluster performance from his pupil, he may walk away.
The Quarterfinalist: Simona Halep
Simona is riding high on confidence, and her game is solid enough to win matches on any surface. I am not one who’s doubting her ability at all. And with her section of the draw bereft of players that could knock her out prematurely, I think she’ll have a comfortable first week of the tournament en route to a quarterfinal appearance.
Section 7–Jelena Jankovic’s Section
Seeds: (6) Jelena Jankovic, (10) Sara Errani, (21) Kirsten Flipkens, (26) Sorana Cirstea
The seeds in this section can be firmly divided into two camps: those who should do well and those who could easily lose in the first round. Jankovic and Errani have had good springs on clay, making extended runs at multiple events (they actually faced off in the semifinals of Rome against each other). Flipkens and Cirstea, on the other hand, have had terrible clay court results; both are winless on the red dirt this spring. Also here: Donna Vekic, who was mentioned in the Bad Man Bureau’s Players to Watch article as a youngster on the rise. Given the weakness of the lower seeds here, she could be primed for a breakout event.
First Round Match to Watch: (10) Sara Errani vs Madison Keys–Madison Keys enjoyed success on clay this week, reaching the semifinals of the event in Strasbourg. Unfortunately, she’s taking on Errani, a finalist at Roland Garros in 2012 and a far better clay court player than Keys. Errani knows how to play on clay, but she does struggle against power, and Keys is a youngster who has effortless pure power. If Madison wants to pull off the upset, she’s got to overpower the Italian with excellent placement.
The Quarterfinalist: Jelena Jankovic.
There aren’t many threats to Jankovic in her early matches. It’s honestly going to come down to a Round of 16 match between Jankovic and Errani (unless Keys can be smart with her shot selection against Errani), and while Errani did beat Jankovic in that aforementioned semifinal in Rome, I think Jelena gets her revenge in Paris.
Section 8–Li Na’s Section
Seeds: (2) Li Na, (13) Caroline Wozniacki, (24) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, (28) Andrea Petkovic
The former French Open champion doesn’t have any big name threats in this section, but she shouldn’t let down her guard early. There are a few floaters that can play on the terre battue including Li’s potential third round opponent, the quirky Andrea Petkovic. Caroline Wozniacki is also here, but the former world number one comes in with question marks as to her game and emotional state. She hasn’t played much on clay this spring, and when she has been on the court, her results haven’t been great. And with her marriage to Rory McIlroy being called off, there’s no telling how focused Caroline will be on tennis.
Blast from the Past: One player who always gets some support when she plays is Kimiko Date-Krumm, the former world number four, who at age 43 (that’s not a misprint–she was born in 1970), continues to plug along with her joy of the game of tennis. She reached the semifinals here in 1995, and while she’s not likely to win even a single match (she hasn’t played a clay court tournament this year and opens against 24-seed Pavlyuchenkova), she’ll be there to remind everyone that tennis is a sport you can play at any age.
The Quarterfinalist: Li Na.
With Carlos Rodriguez, coach of the last Queen of Clay Justine Henin, in her corner, the former French Open champion has learned how to play with more consistency on clay; she’s utilized better shot selection with her excellent power, and it’s shown in her results this spring. She’s still prone to bouts of streakiness where she can’t keep the ball inside the court, but with no one to trouble her in this part of the draw, she should manage to get through to the Round of 16.
French Open Final Prediction: Serena Williams defeats Li Na in straight sets.
The world number one will defend her title in Paris, taking home her third career Roland Garros trophy. Her half of the draw is set up well for her to advance: Sharapova, Radwanska, and Pennetta–while good players–will not be able to beat Serena when she sees the trophy is within her grasp. On the other side of the draw, I’m not as certain that Li Na can win consecutive matches over Jelena Jankovic and then the winner of the Simona Halep-Ana Ivanovic quarterfinal. However, if the Australian Open champion can focus, avoid the bouts of unforced errors where she piles up double faults and unforced errors quickly, and use her power to her advantage, she should be able to reach the final as she is the best all-around player of the four quarterfinals on that half of the draw. Once we get to the final, though, expect Serena’s superior skills to rush Li Na into those unforced errors.