We’re only a few minutes from the start of play at the second Grand Slam of the year, Roland Garros. It seems such a long time since Serena Williams powered to her seventh Australian Open title back in January and the tension and drama of a Grand Slam fortnight was beginning to feel long overdue.
The main contenders
With Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova all absent, the draw is, excitingly, as wide open as any Grand Slam I can ever remember. Simona Halep surmised this situation perfectly when asked in Rome how she felt about being the favourite by stating that she thinks any of 15 players could win the title. The Romanian had emerged as the leading contender over recent weeks, but her chances could be derailed by an ankle injury sustained in the Rome final. Earlier this week she rated her chances of playing at 50/50, and while she now says she thinks she will make it, it’s impossible to predict how this could affect her both physically and mentally.
Another standout player from the clay court season is home favourite and French number one Kristina Mladenovic. The 24-year-old is having a career best season, having already made four finals this year, including major clay court tournaments in Stuttgart and Madrid. She’s handled home pressure well before, having won the women’s doubles and girls’ singles titles and making the mixed doubles final, though her best performance in the women’s singles is only the third round, so winning the tournament would be a huge leap forward.
The third and final leading contender is Rome champion and leader of the Porsche Road to Singapore Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian has already won a tour-leading four WTA titles this year (also in Taipei, Dubai and Istanbul) and has had six wins over top 10 players this year. With these statistics behind her, Svitolina should be the overwhelming favourite, however her Grand Slam form hasn’t always been great, with a quarter final appearance at Roland Garros in 2015 being the only time she’s made it past the last 16. She also alleges not to be a fan of clay, despite results suggesting that she can absolutely succeed on this surface, and has lost early in some big tournaments already this year, including the Australian Open, Miami and Madrid.
There are plenty of other players who could take the title, including former champions, tournament veterans, clay court wizards and new kids on the block. So, with that in mind, it’s time for me to put my (figurative) money where my mouth is and do the impossible by attempting to predict the unpredictable. The last time I did this, for the Australian Open, I predicted that Pliskova would triumph over Muguruza in the final. Both of those players ended up losing badly in the quarter finals, so that shows how much I know…
What a stinker for Angelique Kerber! For the second year in a row, she’s drawn one of the best unseeded players in the draw in the first round. She lost to Kiki Bertens at this stage last year, and despite her presence as the world number one, it’s difficult to bet against history repeating itself.
The second highest ranked player in this quarter is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian has a decent draw, though a fourth round encounter with Bertens or Caroline Wozniacki could be tricky.
It’s fantastic and emotional to see Petra Kvitova back in the game after missing the entire season so far due to injuries sustained in the horrific assault she sustained at the hands of a burglar at her home at the end of 2016. The Czech waited until Friday to confirm her participation and says she has no expectations going forward. She has a favourable first round draw against America’s Julia Boserup, but even managing to win this match would be a staggering achievement.
The second quarter features three players I’d rank in my top eight favourites for the title. First up is defending champion Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard’s form has been pretty poor since winning her maiden Grand Slam here last year, though she looked to be on the up in reaching the semi finals in Rome last week. Her opponent, in what I think is the match of the first round, is 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. The Italian has been in inspired form of late, winning in Bogota and making the final in Rabat, despite this supposedly being her final season on the tour. Given Muguruza’s inconsistency, I’d rank this as a 50/50 match.
The aforementioned Kristina Mladenovic finds herself in this quarter and with a decent draw. Potential danger lies in the second round, where she could face 2012 runner-up Sara Errani, but if she can battle through, she should make it to the fourth round where she could face Muguruza.
My outside tip for the title is the resurgent Venus Williams. The American has had her best start to a season this decade and looked pretty good in her only European warm-up event in Rome before succumbing to Muguruza. More than any other player in the draw, her competitors idolise her and her form makes her extremely dangerous. Her draw has the potential to be tricky, with a possible third round encounter with in-form Daria Gavrilova and a fourth round that could see her face either Dominika Cibulkova or Timea Bacsinszky.
In my eyes, this quarter is Svitolina and Halep’s to take by the scruff of the neck. Svitolina has a great draw and should make it to the fourth round unscathed. At that point, she’s seeded to play Madison Keys, but the American has struggled in 2017 after returning from surgery and has a nasty first round tie against Ash Barty.
Halep’s draw is theoretically straightforward, but she has a tricky first round opponent in Jana Cepelova, the Slovak who beat her in the first round of Wimbledon in 2015. Given the injury issue, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this one be much tighter than the rankings and form book suggest. If she escapes, the Romanian’s draw should improve. She has Carla Suarez Navarro and Daria Kasatkina in her section, but both players haven’t been anywhere near their best across the European clay court swing.
This is the most open of the four quarters, headlined by two players who dominated on hard courts earlier this year but always struggle to replicate this success on clay – Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta. Konta has a good draw and should make it to at least the third round. At that stage, she could face Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, who is a better clay court player but has struggled to produce the goods in front of a home crowd in the singles tournament here in the past. A fourth round tie against Barbora Strycova or Agnieskza Radwanska could await the victor.
Pliskova’s draw has the potential to be a bit trickier. First round opponent Saisai Zheng is a bit of a giantkiller with victories over Radwanska at the Olympics and Svitolina in Madrid. Possible second round opponent Katerina Siniakova could also give her compatriot a run for her money. And if Pliskova manages to get as far as the fourth round, the in-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova could lie in wait.
Third round predictions
Makarova vs. Ostapenko
Stosur vs. Mattek-Sands
Wozniacki vs. Bertens
Zhang vs. Kuznetsova
Kontaveit vs. Putintseva
Rogers vs. Mladenovic
Venus vs. Gavrilova
Bacsinszky vs. Cibulkova
Svitolina vs. Konjuh
Sevastova vs. Barty
Haddad Maia vs. Peng
Vondrousova vs. Halep
Konta vs. Kr. Pliskova
Strycova vs. Radwanska
Pavlyuchenkova vs. Begu
Witthoeft vs. Ka. Pliskova
Fourth round predictions
Ostapenko vs. Stosur
Bertens vs. Kuznetsova
Kontaveit vs. Mladenovic
Venus vs. Bacsinszky
Svitolina vs. Sevastova
Halep vs. Peng
Konta vs. Strycova
Pavlyuchenkova vs. Ka. Pliskova
Quarter final predictions
Stosur vs. Kuznetsova
Mladenovic vs. Bacsinszky
Svitolina vs. Halep
Strycova vs. Pavlyuchenkova
Semi final predictions
Kuznetsova vs. Bacsinszky
Svitolina vs. Pavlyuchenkova
Kuznetsova vs. Pavlyuchenkova
So there we have it, having gone through the draw a round at a time, I predict that 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova will win her second title at Roland Garros, and third Grand Slam overall, with a victory over compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is a major dark horse for the title.
Whether the tournament goes anything like I’ve predicted remains to be seen, but it’s certainly going to be exciting to watch with plenty of surprises along the way. Enjoy!