We have finally approached the second major of the year, with major storylines having developed. On the men’s side, one player is standing head and shoulders (and chest and torso and legs and feet) above everyone else. The man who has owned clay has slumped to the point that it’s causing a crisis of confidence amongst his fans. On the women’s side, while the Australian Open champion continued her winning streak, it was eventually snapped, and now the clay court season has become a free-for-all as a number of players have crashed the party, creating upheaval in the rankings. Behind the backdrop of these major storylines, the draw for the French Open is critical to helping or hindering players on their quest for the title in Paris. So who benefitted from the draw? And who’s in trouble? In this article, we’ll discuss the ladies singles. The men’s singles will come tomorrow in a separate article.
Seeds: (1) Serena Williams, (15) Venus Williams, (22) Barbora Strycova, (27) Victoria Azarenka
Whichever player comes out of this quarter will have had to earn it the hard way. None of the big names in this area got a particularly easy draw, though you could argue that Serena likely facing two qualifiers en route to the third round is simple enough for her, but beyond that are a number of dangerous players who have all experienced some level of success on clay. Azarenka, a former semifinalist in Paris, nearly beat Serena in Madrid and stands as a third-round roadblock—if she can get past Lucie Hradecka, a very hard-serving and hitting Czech who has rebuilt her ranking based off of strong clay results this spring. Venus Williams is a feel-good story in tennis, but she has a tough first rounder versus Sloane Stephens, who despite all of the disappointment that’s happened since her breakthrough at the Australian Open in 2013, has reached the fourth round of the French Open for the last three years.
Potential Sleeper: Denisa Allertova. The young Czechwoman (there are a lot of them coming up the rankings; be sure you know them) is a relative unknown and doesn’t have much in terms of main draw WTA results we can base her potential French Open results off of, but she did play the event in Prague. There, she reached the quarterfinals, taking out two top 40 players and pushed Karolina Pliskova, who’s knocking on the door of the top ten and was the eventual champion, to three sets. A third round appearance could be in the cards, especially since the closest seed is a career 1-8 at Roland Garros.
Quarterfinalist: Serena Williams.
Seeds: (5) Caroline Wozniacki, (10) Andrea Petkovic, (17) Sara Errani, (25) Jelena Jankovic
It’s somewhat hard to gather who might be the quarterfinalist in this section. Wozaniacki is back to playing excellent tennis, highlighted by a run to the finals in Stuttgart. However, there’s no denying that Wozniacki sometimes struggles on the red dirt, as she’s failed to live up to her seeding numerous times in Paris. Petkovic, a semifinalist from last year, might have been the player to step into any potential void, but she withdrew from the warmup this week in Germany with an injury. For a player as oft-injured as Petkovic, that is a worrying sign. Errani’s a former finalist at Roland Garros, but her ranking is slowly but surely falling, and she’s still prone to being overpowered. Jankovic is a former semifinalist in Paris as well, but she isn’t nearly the same player as she once was when she reached that semifinal in 2008.
Keep an eye out for the Americans. The American women in this section could wreak havoc on the draw if they play like they have. Shelby Rogers could take advantage of a potentially-injured Petkovic in the first round. Christina McHale has had some clay success, including a quarterfinal in Rome (aided by Serena’s withdrawal) this year. Alison Riske has the type of game that could give Errani some difficulty and has a win over the Italian from last year. Coco Vandeweghe was the first player to miss out on a seeding. If she can get past the beautiful and enigmatic Julia Goerges, her power game is just the type that has been known to give Caroline Wozniacki a lot of trouble.
Quarterfinalist: Sara Errani.
Seeds: (4) Petra Kvitova, (16) Madison Keys, (23) Timea Bacsinszky, (30) Irina-Camelia Begu
Everything comes down to how focused and steady the defending Wimbledon champion can be. Petra showcased that strong form with solid consistency en route to the title in Madrid, where she even demolished Serena on the clay. However, the rest of her 2015 has been standard Petra behavior, full of unsteady showings and confusing losses. Kvitova’s draw isn’t that bad to start either. Her first test will come against the thirtieth seed, but even then, the test is more in regard to Petra’s ability to avoid piles of unforced errors. Madison Keys, the new breakthrough American after her run in Melbourne, brackets the other side. It may be too early to expect big things from her on clay this year, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to meekly flame out. However, Timea Bacsinszky is probably your bet to reach the second week in that half of this quarter.
Youth Movement: There are a lot of youngsters here, highlighted by the aforementioned Keys. If Madison does win her first match, she could face fellow young talent in Belinda Bencic in the second round, and Taylor Townsend lurks as a possible (but unlikely) third round opponent. Ana Konjuh, a young, talented Croat, will also get a fairly good shot at a run in Paris, as she’ll take on a qualifier in the first round before facing off against the Begu/Mattek-Sands winner.
Quarterfinalist: Timea Bacsinszky.
Seeds: (6) Eugenie Bouchard, (12) Karolina Pliskova, (18) Svetlana Kuznetsova, (32) Zarina Diyas
A year ago at the French Open, Eugenie Bouchard was reinforcing her status as a potential major champion for the next decade with a run to the semifinals. What a year makes. Bouchard can barely string together back-to-back wins, and she opens against Kristina Mladenovic, who will have the crowd behind her and has good vibes of Roland Garros after having knocked Li Na out last year. Two former champions who are past their primes lurk in this section, with enigmatic and Madrid finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova and the enjoyable but nearly-retired Francesca Schiavone poised for a potential second round encounter. However, all eyes should be on Karolina Pliskova, one of a pair of twins who has exploded onto the scene in the last year. She’s got a strong game that’s allowed her to win a lot of matches in 2015, and with the rest of this part of the draw not necessarily in form, she’s got to be the favorite.
Upset Alert—Mladenovic over (6) Bouchard. I don’t buy into the hype that Eugenie is putting it back together after her “run” in Rome. She won one match (against Zarina Diyas, who coincidentally could be a third round opponent) and then blew multiple chances to beat eventual finalist Carla Suarez Navarro. Mladenovic, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to build upon her success from last year’s French Open, but she’s done fairly well on clay this year with runs to the semifinals in Marrakech and finals in Strasbourg.
Quarterfinalist: Karolina Pliskova.
Seeds: (7) Ana Ivanovic, (9) Ekaterina Makarova, (24) Peng Shuai, (31) Caroline Garcia
This section of the draw is headed by former French Open champion (from waaaaay back in 2008) in Ana Ivanovic. Unfortunately for Ana, 2015 has not been a good year for her as she’s suffered with injuries and disappointing results. Ekaterina Makarova, who seems to be settling in as a top ten fixture, would appear to be the next favorite, but she’s never made it out of the third round at Roland Garros. Peng Shuai played one clay court match this spring, a lopsided loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Madrid. That leaves Caroline Garcia, the young Frenchwoman who may finally be living up to the potential that she flashed in nearly beating Maria Sharapova in Paris a few years back. She’s been feisty on clay this year–all of her losses on the dirt have been three setters–and she’s collected wins over players like Karolina Pliskova in Madrid and Ana Ivanovic in Stuttgart. In fact, Garcia is 3-0 against the Serb this year alone.
Dark horse: Teliana Pereira. The Brazilian had to qualify for Roland Garros, so she’s already accustomed and warmed up to the competition on the terre battue despite being currently ranked #77 in the world. She also has a claycourt title to her name, having won the event in Bogota, Columbia earlier this year. She opens up with a French wildcard and then could get a shot at Makarova in the second round.
Quarterfinalist: Caroline Garcia.
Seeds: (3) Simona Halep, (14) Agnieszka Radwanska, (19) Elina Svitolina, (29) Alize Cornet
Simona Halep, last year’s finalist here at Roland Garros, hasn’t had a great clay court season this year. Her best result thus far has been a run to the semifinals in Madrid, losing to Carla Suarez Navarro. Despite the fact that she hasn’t won a title on the red clay, Simona should be the favorite to reach the final eight in this section. She’s benefitted by being placed alongside Radwanska, who’s been mired in a season-long slump. Alize Cornet might give trouble to Halep; Cornet beat Halep in Madrid this year. However, Cornet followed that up with a loss in the next round to Roberta Vinci… who is Cornet’s opponent in the first round in Paris.
Also here: Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian has had a pretty solid clay court preparation for the French Open. She collected a title in Marrakech and reached the semifinals of Bogota. Oddly enough, all of her matches on clay this year have come against players who are in the main draw of the French Open. With a 12-4 record in those matches, she might be able to sneak into second week appearance.
Quarterfinalist: Simona Halep.
Seeds: (8) Carla Suarez Navarro, (11) Angelique Kerber, (21) Garbine Muguruza, (28) Flavia Pennetta
Suarez Navarro reached a top eight ranking behind her run to the finals of Rome, which had more than a few analysts saying that she had clinched an easier road to a deep run. Looking at the draw, however, shows no respite for the world’s best one-handed backhand player on the WTA. She starts off against Monica Niculescu, a slice-and-dice player who plays a funky style of tennis and most recently known for giving Serena Williams a ton of trouble in her return to Indian Wells. Angelique Kerber, who woke up from her prolonged slump with back-to-back clay titles in Charleston and Stuttgart, sits opposite her here. The German has turned into a fearsome claycourter this year and is never an easy out.
The Youth Movement. There are also a few young talents in this draw that could all have been primed for second-week runs had they all not been placed so closely together. Garbine Muguruza hasn’t used her momentous upset over Serena in Paris last year to springboard her ranking higher, but she’s still a threat on clay. The former Croat, now Australian Ajla Tomljanovic upset Agnieszka Radwanska last year in Paris in the third round. Her results haven’t been solid either, but she comes into Roland Garros with a bit of momentum after a run to the quarterfinals in Strasbourg this week. Finally, hard-hitting Camila Giorgi lurks here. She barely missed out on a seed and could pose trouble for any opponent.
Quarterfinalist: Carla Suarez Navarro.
Seeds: (2) Maria Sharapova, (13) Lucie Safarova, (20) Sabine Lisicki, (26) Samantha Stosur
If Maria Sharapova is going to defend her title this year, she’s going to need to be ready from the first ball. She’s slotted against Kaia Kanepi, an Estonian who hits a hard, flat ball and has pulled off upsets in majors throughout her career. She could also play former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur. Stosur isn’t the same player as when she pulled off multiple upsets of the world’s best on the terre battue, and she does have a lopsided head-to-head in favor of Sharapova, but she might be feeling good after reaching the finals of Strasbourg (the final has not yet been played as of this writing). Lucie Safarova is also here, and she might finally be moving beyond the stage where she’s just happy to live up to her seeding.
Upset Alert–Monica Puig over (20) Sabine Lisicki. Puig has not had good results this year, and she hasn’t beaten anyone inside the top ninety this year on clay, but Lisicki hasn’t fared well on the red dirt this year either. Consider this more of a gut feeling. Lisicki simply has some sort of mental block on the majors outside of Wimbledon, and while Puig certainly hasn’t inspired any confidence this season, there is a chance that the German could already be looking forward to the grass.
Quarterfinalist: Maria Sharapova.
Final: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova.
It’s a tired refrain, but it’s pretty much true: when Serena survives the first week of a major, she pretty much becomes unstoppable. With the potential to see Errani, a player who doesn’t trouble Serena, in the quarterfinals and then a major semifinalist debutante, the younger Williams will have to be extremely excited to have such an easy path to the final, especially after such a tough first week. Maria doesn’t really get a respite as she approaches the final: Suarez Navarro forced her to three sets in the Rome final, and a potential semifinal against Halep would be reminiscent of their great final at this same event last year.
Unfortunately for Maria, she’ll face her nemesis in Serena for the right to defend her title. Maria fell to Serena in the Australian Open final this year, but she made the second set competitive, and by all accounts, Maria has become a better player on clay than she is on hardcourts. She might be able to push Serena to three sets on the terre battue, but expect the American to collect her twentieth major singles trophy in the end.