Roland Garros 2021: Women's draw analysis, preview and prediction

Iga Swiatek with the 2020 French Open trophy
Iga Swiatek with the 2020 French Open trophy
Namit Kumar

In just seven months from the end of Roland Garros 2020, the tennis tour has returned to Paris for another edition of the historic claycourt Slam.

The women's draw this year is led by World No. 1 and 2019 champion Asheligh Barty. The Aussie will be looking to punctuate an already strong clay season with the ultimate prize on dirt.

Defending champion and eighth seed Iga Swiatek, meanwhile, will try to prove that her 2020 heroics were not a one-off. And the in-form Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Barty for the Madrid title earlier this month, will be on the hunt for the first Major title of her career.

Seventh seed Serena Williams is also present, as is World No. 2 Naomi Osaka. Williams will be launching yet another bid - possibly her last in Paris - for the elusive 24th Grand Slam title that would draw her level with all-time record holder Margaret Court.

On that note, here's a look at how the women's draw for Roland Garros 2021 is expected to unfold.

1st quarter: World No. 1 Asleigh Barty has a tough road to the final

Asleigh Barty with the 2019 French Open trophy
Asleigh Barty with the 2019 French Open trophy

Top seeds: [1] Ashleigh Barty, [5] Elina Svitolina, [9] Karolina Pliskova, [13] Jennifer Brady

Ashleigh Barty comes into Roland Garros as one of the favorites to go all the way. The World No. 1 has had a strong clay season, perhaps the best on the WTA tour, which includes winning the title in Stuttgart and reaching the final in Madrid. That said, there could be a few questions around the arm injury that forced her to retire from the Italian Open quarterfinals.

Barty has been handed a tricky draw too. She faces Bernarda Pera in the first round and could face Ons Jabeur in the third round, followed by a possible fourth-round encounter against Coco Gauff or 2021 Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady.

Gauff, in particular, could prove to be a dangerous opponent for Barty. The American teenager has proven her ability on clay, reaching the final in Rome and picking up the title in Parma.

The other side of the quarter is set to be highlighted by fifth seed and 2020 quarterfinalist Elina Svitolina.

Elina Svitolina
Elina Svitolina

Svitolina comes into Paris on the back of a solid first half of 2021, and particularly good results on clay. The Ukrainian reached the semifinals in Stuttgart and the quarterfinals in Rome, losing to the eventual champion each time.

Svitolina has a relatively straightforward path to the quarterfinal. She takes on unseeded players until the third round, where she could clash against 2002 finalist Venus Williams or Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova - the two of whom face each other in the first round.

Svitolina is projected to meet Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round as per the seedings. Pliskova has fallen to 10th in the world rankings due to her poor run since the resumption of the tour. She did reach the final in Rome this month, but fell to a disheartening 6-0 6-0 loss against Iga Swiatek.

The Czech faces a testing first-round encounter against Donna Vekic, after which she could meet 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens or Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round. Suarez Navarro's inspirational comeback will garner a lot of attention in Paris; the Spaniard will be playing her first match since February 2020, after having successfully fought off Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Ashleigh Barty def. Elina Svitolina

Dark horse: Coco Gauff

1st round match(es) to watch: Karolina Pliskova vs Donna Vekic, Ekaterina Alexandrova vs Venus Williams

2nd quarter: Defending champion Iga Swiatek looks to do a repeat of 2020

Iga Swiatek with the 2021 Italian Open trophy
Iga Swiatek with the 2021 Italian Open trophy

Top seeds: [4] Sofia Kenin, [8] Iga Swiatek, [12] Garbine Muguruza, [14] Elise Mertens

Defending champion Iga Swiatek headlines the second quarter of the Roland Grros draw after an explosive performance at Rome earlier this month. The Pole will be eager to put on a show at this year's French Open and prove that her shock triumph in 2020 was no accident.

Swiatek takes on a couple of unseeded players prior to the third round, where she is scheduled to face Anett Kontaveit. The 19-year-old is then likely to come up against 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round.

Swiatek could be on course to set up a repeat of the 2020 final in the quarterfinal, as the other half of the quarter is highlighted by fourth seed Sofia Kenin.

Sofia Kenin after losing the 2020 French Open final
Sofia Kenin after losing the 2020 French Open final

Kenin, the 2020 WTA Player of the Year, has had a serious dip in form in 2021. The American failed to defend her Australian Open title in February, and hasn't won a single match on clay so far this season.

Kenin also faces a tricky first-round encounter, against 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. After that she could be on course to meet Elise Mertens in the fourth round.

Clay is Mertens' best surface, and the Belgian will look to capitalize on her strengths to put together a deep run in Paris. Mertens takes on a qualifier in the first round and could set up a showdown with Maria Sakkari in the third round.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Iga Swiatek def. Elise Mertens

Dark horse: Jessica Pegula, who could face Kenin in the third round.

1st round match (es) to watch: Sofia Kenin vs Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza vs Marta Kostyuk

3rd quarter: Serena Williams and Aryna Sabalenka on a collision course

Serena Williams
Serena Williams

Serena Williams is on the hunt for a 24th Grand Slam title. But given her dismal form on clay and lack of match practice, doing so at Roland Garros seems unlikely.

The American has, in fact, won only one match on the dirt this year. Her draw does not help either, as Williams is set to take on experienced campaigner Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round, before a potential third-round encounter against 2020 quarterfinalist Danielle Collins or the experienced Angelique Kerber.

If the three-time Roland Garros champion is able to make it past that, she will likely take on 2020 semifinalist Petra Kvitova in the fourth round. Kvitova has gone from strength to strength on clay this year, and her relatively straightforward draw early on in Paris could give her a lot of confidence.

The other half of the third quarter features the red-hot Aryna Sabalenka. Given her recent form, the Belarusian will certainly be fancying her chances in Paris this year.

Aryna Sabalenka with the 2020 Madrid Open trophy
Aryna Sabalenka with the 2020 Madrid Open trophy

After ending 2020 with back-to-back titles, Sabalenka has already picked up two this year - including the Madrid Open triumph on clay. The 23-year-old also reached the final in Stuttgart.

That said, Sabalenka's draw is fairly tricky. The Belarusian is likely to face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round, before a possible fourth-round encounter against compatriot Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka herself will have to get past Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round, before a potentially dangerous second-round tie against Clara Tauson.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Aryna Sabalenka def. Petra Kvitova

Dark horse: Victoria Azarenka

1st round match to watch: Victoria Azarenka vs Svetlana Kuznetsova

4th quarter: Naomi Osaka looks to end poor run of claycourt form

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka's claycourt skills have long been the subject of scrutiny. The Japanese has never made it past the third round at Roland Garros, and comes into Paris this year with only one claycourt match win under her belt.

Osaka has also kicked up a controversy this week by refusing to do press during the course of the tournament.

That said, the 23-year-old's draw is a favovrable one. Osaka will take on Patricia Maria Tig in the first round, and is scheduled to face the out-of-touch Kiki Bertens in the fourth round.

Bertens has played just four matches this year, and only one on clay. She is yet to win consecutive matches in 2021.

Osaka could, however, face problems in a potential third-round encounter with Danka Kovinic or Paula Badosa.

Badosa is one of the most in-form players on clay this year. She won the title in Belgrade last week, and also defeated the likes of Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic earlier in the season. Kovinic, meanwhile, had reached the final and the semifinals at the twin events in Charleston back in April.

Standing in Osaka's way at the quarterfinal stage would likely be 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.

Bianca Andreescu during the 2021 Miami Open final
Bianca Andreescu during the 2021 Miami Open final

Andreescu has had dismal luck with injuries over the last couple of years. The Canadian returned to the tour in February after a full year spent on the sidelines, but hasn't had a continuous stretch of injury-free play even in 2021.

She did make it to the final at Miami, before her match against Ashleigh Barty was again cut short by injury. The 20-year-old started her clay season in Strasbourg last week, but was forced to withdraw from the quarterfinals due to an abdominal issue.

Andrescu takes on Tamara Zidansek in the Roland Garros first round, before a testing potential third-round encounter against Veronika Kudermetova. The Canadian could then face Belinda Bencic in the fourth round, as per the seedings.

Bencic on her part faces a couple of tough tests in the run-up to that match, as she opens her campaign against 2020 semifinalist Nadia Podoroska. If the Swiss gets past that obstacle, a third-round encounter against Johanna Konta or Sorana Cirstea could lie in wait.

Cirstea is currently scheduled to play the semifinal in Strasbourg, after having triumphed in Istanbul earlier this month.

Predicted quarterfinal result: Bianca Andreescu def. Paula Badosa

Dark horse: Sorana Cirstea

1st round match to watch: Belinda Bencic vs Nadia Podoroska

Semifinal predictions

Iga Swiatek def. Ashleigh Barty

Aryna Sabalenka def. Bianca Andreescu

Final prediction

Aryna Sabalenka def. Iga Swiatek

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Edited by Musab Abid
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