2015 French Open Week 1 Women’s Preview and Predictions (@RolandGarros)
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
It’s finally time for the pinnacle tournament of the clay court season, the second grand slam of the year, The French Open.
First held in 1881, the French Open was originally held in Paris’ Stade Francais club, and only accepted French club members. It was until 1925 that the French Tennis Federation allowed overseas entrants. In 1928, it was decided that the tournament needed a new site and thus it moved to the Porte d’Auteuil, where it has stayed ever since. 40 years a later after seeing victors from across the world, the French Open became the first Grand Slam to embrace professionalism.
From then a whole host a champions lifted La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, with the likes of Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and Chris Evert winning multiple titles in the following years. In the following decades, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Justine Henin and Serena Williams captured multiple French Open titles. Most recently Maria Sharapova lifted La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for the second time in 2014, defeating Simona Halep in a classic final. Her previous triumph came two years earlier. Serena Williams won the title in 2013.
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: Paris, France
Prize Money: $15,980,135
Date: May 24th- June 7th 2015
Top 8 seeded players (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Petra Kvitova (4)
5. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
6. Eugenie Bouchard (6)
7. Ana Ivanovic (7)
8. Carla Suarez Navarro (8)
The only main draw player out of the tournament is Kateryna Kozlova. All the top players are entered into the main draw.
First Round matches to watch:
(15) Venus Williams vs Sloane Stephens:
I am sure this stood out to everyone who has looked at the full draw. Venus vs Sloane, with a potential round four with Serena at stake? That is quite the Hollywood blockbuster.
Venus Williams has only played one clay court tournament leading up to the French Open, and that was Rome two weeks ago. The world number 15 made the round of sixteen before slumping to a 6-2, 6-1 defeat at the hands of Simona Halep. Clay has traditionally been the weakest surface for Venus, but she is a former finalist at Roland Garros 13 years ago. On that occasion she lost to her sister Serena in straight sets. The 34 year old lost to Anna Schmiedlova in a crazy second round last year, which also saw her sister lose that same day.
Sloane Stephens is still going strong in Strasbourg as I write this. The American is currently in the semi-finals with potential to go all the way and win it. The 22 year old was once touted the future of women’s tennis, but she has failed to live up to them expectations, and now finds herself ranked 41 in the world. After a good run in Strasbourg, Stephens will be full of confidence heading into this match. Stephens has made the fourth round in her past three French Open appearances, so she knows her way around Roland Garros.
These two have never met before even though they were touted to face each other in Miami two years ago. The match should be very forehand orientated, with both players looking to dictate from that wing. In an extremely packed section, this is the round one highlight and should produce a very interesting and potentially great match that could go either way.
(6) Eugenie Bouchard vs Kristina Mladenovic:
2014 semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard has failed to bring her 2014 form into this season, and as a result, the Canadian is in a mini slump. With semi-final points to defend it’s time for Genie to kick into gear, but unfortunately for the sixth seed she has drawn home crowd favourite Kristina Mladenovic in the opening round.
Bouchard’s performances in the biggest tournaments earned the Canadian a top eight seeding, but this year has thus far been a poor one for Genie. Starting from Indian Wells, Bouchard lost six straight matches. The losing streak was finally snapped in Rome, where Bouchard managed to defeat Zarina Diyas in straight sets. The Canadian lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in the following round, but she took the inform Spaniard to three sets, which was encouraging signs for the Genie army. Bouchard’s impressive run to the semi-finals was halted by eventual champion Maria Sharapova last year.
Kristina Mladenovic is still going strong in Strasbourg, as she guns for her first career title. The 22 year old is in good form, and in front of a home crowd when she faces Genie Bouchard, and that is why this match is so interesting. The Frenchwoman is no stranger to upsetting top players at Roland Garros as she dumped former champion Li Na out last year in the opening round. Mladenovic’s run to the third round last year is her best result at her home grand slam. If she is to go one further, she must upset Bouchard in the opening round.
This match is a must watch because of the sheer upset potential. Bouchard is not in great form, and Mladenovic is in good form. Couple that with the French crowd being completely behind the world number 54, Mladenovic could easily upset Bouchard like she upset Li Na last year.
(7) Ana Ivanovic vs Yaroslava Shvedova:
To continue the upset trend, Ivanovic has been dealt a round one clash against the enigma known as Yaroslava Shvedova.
Ivanovic’s resurgence towards to the top of the rankings has stagnated in recent weeks. The Serbian has found herself 2-3 so far in the clay season, which is a poor record for a top eight player. Most recently, the former world number one lost to Daria Gavrilova in three sets in Rome. Despite the recent form, one would be a fool to count Ivanovic out. She is a former champion at Roland Garros, so she knows what it takes to go the distance. With a top eight seeding, the Serbian will look to go further than the round of 32 where she fell last year.
Shvedova fell a round earlier in 2014 to Pauline Parmentier, and the Kazakh’s recent form is not encouraging. However, Shvedova is a former two time quarter finalist at this event and with her known talents, she can beat almost anybody in the world on her day. The 27 year old has lost three straight matches on the clay, but she can peak at any time as shown by her 2012 run from qualifying all the way to the quarter finals. That run included a three sets win over then defending champion Li Na.
The potential of Shvedova to randomly peak against an out of a form Ivanovic makes this match very intriguing. The Kazakh has the talent to blast her opponent off the court, but of course she has to find some good form for that to happen. The head to head reads 1-1, so both players know how to beat the other. Look out for this one because it could be interesting.
Where do I start with this one? The world number one Serena Williams has been dealt with a tough section, which could see her play Victoria Azarenka and sister Venus before the quarterfinals. The path to round three looks relatively simple for the top seed, but when the round of sixteen beckons things will get very interesting. Only a few weeks ago in Madrid, Victoria Azarenka came within millimetres of defeating the world number one. Three match points on serve came and went, and soon a deflated Azarenka fell in the tiebreak. With a potential rematch on the horizon, the Roland Garros crowd will be relishing the opportunity to see the rematch.
The winner of that epic round three encounter could face either Sloane Stephens or Venus Williams In the round of sixteen. The American pair will compete in the pick of the opening round matches. The winner might be favourite to make the fourth round against Serena or Vika, but Barbora Strycova might have something to say about it. The 22nd seed has a crafty game, and could easily catch Venus or Sloane off guard. First, the Czech must defeat Tsvetana Pironkova and the winner of qualifier/Allertova in round two. Either way, Williams or Azarenka will have a difficult round four opponent.
Caroline Wozniacki comes into Roland Garros with no points to defend after around one defeat to Yania Wickmayer last year. However the fifth seed has shown improvements on her worst surface under the tutelage of Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, making the final of Stuttgart and the quarter finals in Madrid. Dangerous Italian Karin Knapp is the round one opponent, and then the Dane will be tested by a big serve in round two as she will face either Coco Vandeweghe or Julia Goerges. The projected round three is Jelena Jankovic, but the Serb pulled out of Strasbourg in the build up to Roland Garros so her condition is unknown. That could open the door for a qualifier or Irina Falconi to make the third round. With Wozniacki’s improvements on clay it’s difficult to see her not making the fourth round unless a Vandeweghe or Goerges zone in.
As well as Jankovic, Andrea Petkovic pulled out of Nurnberg this week citing injury, so the German’s condition is also unknown. Susan Rogers in round one or Cristina McHale in round two will look to take advantage of any potential injuries to the world number ten, but the biggest beneficiary will be former finalist Sara Errani. The Italian was runner up in 2012, and has proven hugely difficult to hit through on the clay. Alison Riske will test the defence of Errani in round one, as will Carina Witthoeft in round two, but the world number 17 should grind her way through. Petkovic’s unknown injury status will make Errani the favourite to make the fourth round and potentially face Caroline Wozniacki in a match between two of the best movers on tour.
After triumphing in Madrid, many people put Petra Kvitova as one of the favourites for the French Open title. But with Petra you never know, and with some dangerous seeds in her section such as Timea Bacsinszky, Irina Begu and Madison Keys, there’s potential upset in the early rounds. Kvitova opens against Marina Erakovic, before moving on to either Sylvia Soler Espinosa or Pauline Parmentier. Irina Begu’s recent good form was highlighted by a straight sets victory over Angelique Kerber in Rome, and a quarter final run in Madrid. Her great run in the Spanish capital was halted by her projected round three opponent Petra Kvitova. The Czech was successful in straight sets that time around, and you would expect the word number four to repeat that success here.
Round four will be interesting choose which way it goes. Bacsinszky vs Keys will be the projected and likely round three, but there are plenty of players who could spoil that party by defeating the American and the Swiss in the opening rounds. Belina Bencic, or Daniela Hantuchova could face Keys in round two providing she defeats Vavara Lepchenko in round one. Bacsinszky faces tough opposition in the form of Lara Arruabarrena whose good form as earned her a semi-final position in Nurnberg. The Swiss’ good form has somewhat faded, making her more prone to an upset. Despite that, she should at least make round three and potentially round four. Kvitova will rightfully be favourite to advance from this section, but there will be potential banana skins in there.
Section four is wide open for a surprise quarter finalist. The top seed in this section is Eugenie Bouchard, whose recent form and first round opponent makes her prone to an upset. If Mladenovic can capitalise on the Canadian’s poor form and the home crowd advantage, the section will open up hugely. A Mladenovic, Schmiedlova or Diyas could find themselves in the fourth round if they can successfully get through the opening rounds.
Perhaps the favourite to advance from this section is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who re-discovered her grand slam winning form with a final run in Madrid. A leg injury that hampered her against Kvitova forced the Russian to withdraw from Rome, but with two weeks rest behind her Kuznetsova will be prime and ready for the French Open. An interesting round three against Karolina Pliskova stands out as one of the better potential third round clashes. The big hitting Czech is having her best season to date as she continues her climb towards the top ten. Kuznetsova on clay is a difficult task, but with the Russian’s known inconsistencies there is a good chance that Pliskova could make a quarter final run.
Simona Halep’s bid for her first grand slam title continues as she reaches the place where she made her first grand slam final. Maria Sharapova proved too much last year, but with that experience can the world number three take that final step towards Grand Slam success? To do so she may need to face the woman who spectacularly knocked her out of Madrid a few weeks ago, Alize Cornet. Providing Halep gets past Rodina and then the winner of Lucic Baroni/Davis, the Frenchwoman could be staring at a rematch, only this time in front of a home crowd. Cornet has a difficult round one against Roberta Vinci, and then Alexandra Dulgheru will provide a tough test in round two. With this being a grand slam you would expect Halep to have that extra motivation to get her through to round four.
Her opponent at this stage is projected to be Agnieszka Radwanska, but the Pole’s decline in form this year has seen her fall outside the top 10 for the first time in years. Radwanska could face a succession of Germans in round one and two with Annika Beck and Mona Barthel waiting in the wings. Things will get interesting for the Pole in the third round where Elina Svitolina could be waiting. The Ukrainian has Yania Wickmayer in round one, who upset Li Na at this stage last year. If Svitolina can get past the Belgian and her round two opponent, we could be treated to an intriguing round three match between two consistent baseliners. The winner will have a round four match against Simona Halep, who should prove too strong.
Ana Ivanovic hasn’t had the best of clay seasons so far, and drawing one of the WTA tours most erratic yet dangerous unseeded players may just make it worse. Former quarter finalist, Slava Shvedova will be gunning for the upset, and even if Ivanovic overcomes that test, she’ll have an even bigger one in round three. Caroline Garcia defeated the Serbian three times in a row in Mexico and Stuttgart. With that in mind, the Frenchwoman upsetting Ivanovic for the fourth straight time doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The recent good form of Carla Suarez Navarro saw Ekaterina Makarova lose her top eight seeding, but despite being the number nine seed the Russian has a good draw to possibly make the quarter finals. The first two rounds should provide no problem for Makarova, but the third round might give the world number nine her first real test. Shuai Peng is the projected opponent, but the Chinese player has struggled with injuries that have seen her not have much clay practice leading in to the tournament. That could open the door for Elena Vesnina or Kirsten Flipkens to make the third round. It would be surprising to see Makarova not make the fourth round, and with Ivanovic prone to an upset in the first three rounds, she could find herself the favourite to make the last eight. Makarova and Vesnina are frequent doubles partners.
Maria Sharapova will open her defence against Kaia Kanepi in what could be a tough first round match-up for the second seed. Kanepi is a former top 20 player, so if the Estonian can channel that form she will provide the defending champion a difficult test. From there, the Russain shouldn’t have a difficult test until round three where she could face Sam Stosur. Sharapova has a commanding head to head of 14-2 over Stosur, but the Aussie pushed the second seed to three sets last year.
Lucie Safarova is the likely fourth round opponent of Sharapova. The Czech faces the inconsistent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round, and then likely faces Kurumi Nara in round two. Sabine Lisicki is touted for the third round, but the German aggressive style leaves her prone to errors, especially against her first round opponent Monica Puig. The Puerto Rican has struggled this year, but if she can stay consistent she can frustrate an out of for Lisicki. Sharapova vs Safarova will be a good round four clash, which has potential to go three sets, but as Sharapova has shown over the years, she has the fight and determination to get through these difficult three set matches. I expect more of the same there.
Carla Suarez Navarro’s excellent final run in Rome has earned the Spaniard an eighth seed position, but that has not made for an easy draw with the potential of facing Flavia Pennetta, Angelique Kerber and doubles partner Garbine Muguruza. First, Navarro faces crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu. The Spaniard should have too much experience to fall for the spin variation that Niculescu provides. Virginie Razzano in round two could be interesting with the Frenchwoman no stranger to upsets at Roland Garros. In 2012, she knocked out Serena Williams in a dramatic encounter, but I don’t see it repeating against Suarez Navarro. Pennetta will likely await in round three, but with Carla’s recent form, anything less than a round four appearance will be disappointing.
From the round of 16 onwards it will get very interesting for the world number eight. Angelique Kerber vs Garbine Muguruza could be an interesting round three clash providing they can weave their way through some difficult round two clashes. Kerber opens against Timea Babos, before moving onto an Australian clash against either Casey Dellacqua or Alija Tomljanovic. Muguruza on the other hand faces a qualifier in round one and then the winner of the Camila Giorgi vs Tatjana Maria. The Spaniards recent form has been concerning, and it almost feels she needs a good run here with quarter final points to defend. The round two match I feel is key to her tournament, as Muguruza needs momentum and confidence for a good run. She can blast Kerber off the court as proven earlier this year, even though she eventually went on to lose the match. Either way it should be a fascinating round four against Carla Suarez Navarro for either Kerber or Muguruza.
Round of 16:
Serena d. Stephens
Wozniacki d. Errani
Kvitova d. Bacsinszky
Kuznetsova d. Schmiedlova
Garcia d. Makarova
Halep d. Radwanska
Suarez Navarro d. Muguruza
Sharapova d. Safarova
Serena d. Wozniacki
Kvitova d. Kuznetsova
Halep d. Garcia
Sharapova d. Suarez Navarro
Serena d. Kvitova
Halep d. Sharapova
Serena d. Halep
With the tough draw, Serena will be tested early and therefore will be ready when the latter stages come around. I see either Serena losing to Azarenka or going all the way, and I chose the latter because it is the safer bet. That is unless Kvitova repeats her Madrid performance and defeats the world number one for the second straight time
Halep will get revenge of Sharapova for last year’s final defeat, but yet again she will fall at the last hurdle as Serena will be too much to handle.
The draw has opened up for a surprise quarter final run by Garcia, but Halep will prove too difficult to hit through on the clay. Kuznetsova will also have a good run.
So Serena will be the Queen of Roland Garros yet again according to my predictions, but it should be an interesting tournament none the less.