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Roland Garros 2020: Women's singles draw analysis, preview and predictions

Simona Halep (L) and Garbine Muguruza
Simona Halep (L) and Garbine Muguruza
Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 25 Sep 2020, 12:04 IST
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After the sometimes-exhilarating, sometimes-bizarre experience that was the US Open, the tennis caravan has arrived at Roland Garros in its bid to continue defying the pandemic.

There will be no 'bubble' in Paris the way there was in New York, but that doesn't mean the City of Lights isn't being haunted by the shadow of COVID-19. Just a couple of days ago, six players from the qualifiers were withdrawn from the tournament over coronavirus concerns - and one of them plans to sue.

We don't know whether there will be 5000 spectators allowed into the grounds everyday, or 1000, or none at all. We don't even know that all the top players will reach the second week in one piece; two out of the three biggest WTA tournaments since the restart have been decided via retirement or walkover.

There is massive uncertainty over the safety protocols, the spread of the virus, the government regulations, and most importantly the fitness of the players. But the French Federation, just like the USTA last month, is sprinting forward come what may.

And maybe there's something to be said about their determination to bring back some semblance of normalcy to the world.

On that note, here's a look at the French Open women's singles draw, which is as close to 'normal' as you could hope for in the middle of a crippling global crisis.

1st quarter: Simona Halep, the woman who would be Queen

Simona Halep with the 2018 Roland Garros trophy
Simona Halep with the 2018 Roland Garros trophy

Rafael Nadal is the undisputed King of Clay, but is there anyone worthy of being called the 'Queen of Clay'? That title hasn't had a long-time holder since Justine Henin retired. Maria Sharapova threatened to make it her own for a while, and so did Serena Williams, but neither could extend their dominance long enough for it to be called a 'reign'.

Can Simona Halep do what Sharapova and Williams failed to? She has reached the Roland Garros final thrice in the last six editions, winning once, but this year she seems even closer to making clay her personal fiefdom.

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Halep is coming into the French Open on the back of a seriously sizzling claycourt run. She is unbeaten since the resumption of the tour, winning titles in Prague and Rome, and is as close to an overwhelming Roland Garros favorite as any WTA player has been at a Slam since 2015.

There are, however, a couple of things that could work against Halep. For one thing, she's always been a little vulnerable to big hitters, even on clay. And for another, she's never really warmed to the idea of being the favorite; Halep tends to play her best when she's the underdog.

Take for instance her astonishing win over Serena Williams at Wimbledon last year, coupled with her limp showing against Jelena Ostapenkoa at Roland Garros three years ago. The Romanian thrives when there are no expectations, but not so much when there is a mountain of them.

What does her draw look like though? Halep starts against Sara Sorribes Tormo, and could face the in-form Jil Teichmann in the second round. After that she could meet the woman who destroyed her at last year's French Open, Amanda Anisimova, but given the American's recent struggles it will be a surprise if she gets that far.

Admittedly, a fourth-rounder against 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova looks tough for Halep on paper. But Vondrousova hasn't been in the greatest touch lately, and she will likely have her hands full anyway with teenage phenom Iga Swiatek in the first round and hard-hitting Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska in the third.

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At the other end of this quarter is fifth seed Kiki Bertens, who has a seemingly innocuous opener against Katarina Zavatska. The Dutchwoman's troubles will likely start in the third round against one of Katerina Siniakova, Svetlana Kuznetsova (a former champion here) or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

If Bertens manages to get out of that minefield unscathed (and I'm betting she won't), she'll have to battle Maria Sakkari, Johanna Konta or Coco Gauff next. Don't look now, but Gauff can more than hold her own on clay.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Simona Halep def. Maria Sakkari

Dark horse: Katerina Siniakova

1st round match(es) to watch: Johanna Konta vs Coco Gauff, Marketa Vondrousova vs Iga Swiatek

2nd quarter: Elina Svitolina looks to halt the charge of the mothers

Serena Williams (L) and Victoria Azarenka (R)
Serena Williams (L) and Victoria Azarenka (R)

It seems like just yesterday that there was a whole lot of brouhaha over three mothers making it to the US Open quarterfinals. As luck would have it, only one of those three can get that far at Roland Garros - since they are all grouped in the same quarter.

Elina Svitolina is the highest seed here, but most of the attention will likely be on the section opposite her - which is headlined by Serena Williams. The 23-time Slam champion starts against Kristie Ahn, and could meet fellow mother Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round. But that's assuming Pironkova gets past Andrea Petkovic, which is far from guaranteed given their respective comfort levels on clay.

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Victoria Azarenka, the third member of the Marauding Mom Club from Flushing Meadows, could meet Serena in the fourth round - which most would agree is far too early.

Azarenka has extended her purple patch from the American hardcourts to the European claycourts, and will likely not have much trouble if she faces - as she is slated to - Venus Williams in the second round. But a potential third-rounder against Yulia Putintseva could pose a few problems; the Kazakh has become an annoyingly difficult player to put away in recent times.

Svitolina, meanwhile, has a seemingly bump-free ride until the fourth round - where she could face Elise Mertens or Anett Kontaveit. Mertens is somehow seeded as low as No. 16 despite her string of strong performances over the last one month, and Svitolina might end up being the biggest loser of that anomaly.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Elise Mertens def. Victoria Azarenka

Dark horse: Yulia Putintseva

1st round match to watch: Anett Kontaveit vs Caroline Garcia

Also check out: The Complete French Open 2020 Schedule 


3rd quarter: Sofia Kenin, Aryna Sabalenka and the bid to rediscover Early Season Success

Sofia Kenin
Sofia Kenin
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Sofia Kenin and Aryna Sabalenka, the two highest seeds here, seemed on the cusp of something special just before the pandemic hit. Kenin won the Australian Open and backed that up with a title in Lyon, while Sabalenka beat a host of world-class payers to lift the trophy in Doha.

Since the restart, however, both Kenin and Sabalenka have carried the burden of that 'Early Season Success' exactly as the word sounds: like a burden. Kenin lost her opening matches at the Western & Southern Open as well as the Italian Open, while Sabalenka failed to win more than two matches in a row until this week in Strasbourg.

Fortunately for the two of them, their draws seem fairly kind. The first big name Kenin could face is Donna Vekic in the third round, while for Sabalenka it is Ons Jabeur at the same stage. The real fun could start after that: Kenin could meet Elena Rybakina in the fourth round, while Sabalenka might have to stare down the might of Garbine Muguruza.

What to make of Muguruza? She hasn't quite gone off the rails after her Australian Open runner-up finish (the way she did in the past after a good result), but hasn't set the court on fire either. Her spirited fight against Simona Halep in the Rome semis last week was a good sign though, so she could well do some damage here in Paris.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Garbine Muguruza def. Elena Rybakina

Dark horse: Donna Vekic

1st round match to watch: Elena Rybakina vs Sorana Cirstea

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4th quarter: Karolina Pliskova tries to hold off a slew of former Slam champions

Petra Kvitova (L) and Karolina Pliskova
Petra Kvitova (L) and Karolina Pliskova

Second seed Karolina Pliskova reached the final of the Italian Open last week, but had to retire after the first set due to a lower back injury. Is she fit enough to live up to her seeding at Roland Garros? Her draw would have made that difficult even if she didn't have any injury concerns.

Pliskova starts against a qualifier, but might have to face the recently resurgent (and former Roland Garros winner) Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. More former Slam champions could lie in wait if she gets past that obstacle: Sloane Stephens in the third round, and possibly Angelique Kerber or Petra Kvitova in the quarters.

Admittedly, none of those last three names have been tearing up the courts lately. But you count a Slam champion out at your own peril, and Kvitova in particular seems due for a big result - even if this is her least preferred surface.

Also in this quarter are talented teenagers Leylah Fernandez, Clara Burel and Kaja Juvan, as well as current or former claycourt threats Petra Martic, Madison Keys, Julia Goerges, Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet. It would be a minor miracle if Pliskova manages to outlive all of these names and make it to the semis.

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Predicted quarterfinal result: Petra Kvitova def. Petra Martic

Dark horse: Jelena Ostapenko

1st round match to watch: Angelique Kerber vs Kaja Juvan

Semifinal predictions: Simona Halep def. Elise Mertens, Garbine Muguruza def. Petra Kvitova

Final prediction: Garbine Muguruza def. Simona Halep


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Published 25 Sep 2020, 00:34 IST
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