With just a few days to go until the French Open, players are scrambling for last-minute preparations on the red dirt.
The Internationaux de Strasbourg — a WTA 250 event — will give Roland Garros title contenders a glorious opportunity to hone their skills on the grueling surface and gain some much-needed confidence ahead of their campaign in Paris.
2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who headlines the field, returns to action for the first time since her run to the final at Miami in early April. Jessica Pegula will continue her hunt for her first title of the season as the second seed at this tournament.
Main draw action kicks off on 23 May, with the final scheduled for 29 May. On that note, here's an in-depth look at how the draw might pan out:
Top half: Bianca Andreescu, Yulia Putintseva, Sorana Cirstea packed in the same section
Seeded players: (1) Bianca Andreescu, (4) Yulia Putintseva, (6) Zhang Shuai, (8) Magda Linette
Expected semifinal: Bianca Andreescu vs Yulia Putintseva
Dark horse: Sorana Cirstea
A positive test for COVID-19 disrupted what has been a spectacular return to form for Bianca Andreescu. The 20-year-old was barred from playing at Madrid and protocols didn't allow her to participate in Rome either. The Canadian will thus be eager to make the most of her only opportunity to play on clay before heading to the French capital.
The top seed should have a relatively comfortable opener against a qualifier with yet another qualifier waiting for her in the second round. But things could get tricky from the quarterfinal stage.
Andreescu could come face to face with Sorana Cirstea, who is a dangerous prospect on this surface if she finds her rhythm. The former French Open quarterfinalist showed she is still very much a force to be reckoned with by winning her first title in 13 years, at Istanbul last month.
The Romanian will first need to tackle Venus Williams and struggling sixth seed Zhang Shuai before a potential showdown with Andreescu.
Fourth seed Yulia Putintseva is another player who could pose a challenge to Andreescu if the draw pans out according to the seedings. The Kazakh has been to the quarterfinals of the French Open twice before and knows her way around a claycourt.
She made the last eight on the green clay at Charleston this season, but failed to repeat that run in the tournaments that followed. Nevertheless, the volatile Putintseva will prove a tough nut to crack.
The 26-year-old will need to channel every ounce of her fighting spirit because she doesn't have a straightforward draw. Putintseva may to overcome the likes of Rebecca Peterson, Jil Teichmann and former champion Alize Cornet to have a shot at a potential semifinal clash with Andreescu.
Semifinal prediction: Sorana Cirstea vs Yulia Putintseva
Bottom half: Jessica Pegula, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Barbora Krejcikova battle for supremacy
Seeded players: (2) Jessica Pegula (3) Ekaterina Alexandrova, (5) Barbora Krejcikova, (7) Shelby Rogers
Expected semifinal: Jessica Pegula vs Ekaterina Alexandrova
Dark horse: Barbora Krejcikova
Fresh off a spirited run to the quarterfinals of the Italian Open, World No. 28 Jessica Pegula will hope to carry that momentum to Strasbourg. The American is in the midst of a fabulous season, having made four quarterfinals in eight events. A fifth last-eight appearance this season looks likely, given the section of the draw she has been placed in.
After starting off her campaign against Arantxa Rus, the American could then face Alison Van Uytvanck. Both matches are winnable for a player high on confidence having upset Naomi Osaka in Rome just a few days ago.
Seventh seed Shelby Rogers is on a three-match losing streak and shouldn't pose much of a threat to Pegula, should the two meet in the quarterfinals.
Pegula's biggest test is expected to come in the semifinals, where she could face either third seed Ekaterina Alexandrova or fifth seed Barbora Krejcikova. Both players are not natural claycourters but do have the ability to cause an upset.
Alexandrova met Pegula in the Italian capital, with the American winning in straight sets. However, the Russian did make the quarterfinals at Stuttgart earlier this year and could be a tricky customer.
Barbora Krecikova, primarily a doubles player, has made rapid strides in singles this year, which is evident from her runner-up finish in Dubai. She also knocked out 2020 French Open runner-up Sofia Kenin in Rome before going down to eventual champion Iga Swiatek in a marathon three-setter, where she held match points.
Krejcikova will look to make amends in Strasbourg by making a deep run at the WTA 250 event. However, for that to happen, the Czech needs to bring her A-game as she has to potentially contend with former champion Caroline Garcia as early as the second round.
Semifinal prediction: Jessica Pegula vs Barbora Krejcikova
Prediction for the final
Sorana Cirstea vs Jessica Pegula