Former doubles world no. 1 Rennae Stubbs has said about Serena Williams,
“Until Serena is gone, no one else is a favourite.”
True, the 33-year-old has arrived in Paris with no claycourt title this season. Her 27-match winning streak was ended by a stupendous Petra Kvitova in Madrid and she had to withdraw from the Italian Open with a sore elbow. But the numero uno player can never be written off.
The second-ranked Maria Sharapova too has underlined her ambitions of a third French Open crown with her 11th career claycourt title in Rome. Shall we see a repeat of the 2013 final between the world’s two best players? Or are there players confident enough to upset the applecart? We take a look at the French Open women’s draw –
It’s not a smooth passage for the top seed and two-time French Open winner Serena Williams. She faces a stern test as early as the third round in the form of two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. The 27th seed who is still in re-building mode after an injury-marred 2014, has been showing her old flashes of brilliance. At Madrid, Azarenka had multiple match points but failed to close out against Serena.
Her next couple of potential opponents are very familiar – sister Venus awaits in the fourth round while best friend Caroline Wozniacki is slated to meet her in the quarters.
There are a few other experienced claycourters in this part of the draw each of whom can look to upset the conventional scheme of things. 2012 runner-up Sara Errani, 2014 semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic, former world no. 1 Jelena Jankovic all are capable of doing some damage.
But if Serena can withstand the early round pressure, she can emerge from this section with flying colours. Having lost in a lopsided second round match last year, the American will perhaps be more determined to set things right this time.
Semi-finalist: Serena Williams
First round matches to watch: Venus Williams v Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki v Karin Knapp
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova heads this section of the draw. The fourth-seeded Czech played some fabulous tennis to reign supreme at the Spanish capital. But Petra’s inconsistencies have always been a bane and only time will tell if the 2012 semi-finalist can repeat her feat.
However, she needs to be at her best against the likes of 23rd seed Timea Bacsinszky who has won a couple of titles this year. The Swiss can pose a threat in the fourth round and so can the fast-rising 16th seed Madison Keys.
The next highest seed in this part is the sixth-seeded Eugenie Bouchard. The 2014 semi-finalist has been struggling off late and her draw also does not appear to help her cause much.
Bouchard opens against a dangerous customer – Kristina Mladenovic who reached the final of WTA Strasbourg this week. 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova who reached the Madrid final and 2010 winner Francesca Schiavone all lurk in her quarter. Add to that, there is also the 12th-seeded Karolina Pliskova who is having a breakthrough season this year.
Semi-finalist: Petra Kvitova
First round matches to watch: Eugenie Bouchard v Kristina Mladenovic, Taylor Townsend v Tereza Smitkova, Belinda Bencic v Daniela Hantuchova
Third seed Simona Halep started her season with a bang, winning three titles on hardcourts. But as the Tour moved on to clay, she stuttered in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. The 2014 French Open runner-up would be keen to make amends. However, she has to encounter the 29th seed Alize Cornet in the third round – the very player who upset her in Madrid this year.
The other big names in her quarter are the slumping Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic.
As far as Ana Ivanovic is concerned, she is probably tired of seeing the name Caroline Garcia in her part of the draw. The Serb and the talented Frenchwoman have met thrice this season and each time Garcia has come out on top. The 31st seed once again looms large as Ana’s French Open third round opponent.
Semi-finalist: Simona Halep
First round matches to watch: Ana Ivanovic v Yaroslava Shvedova, Alize Cornet v Roberta Vinci, Donna Vekic v Caroline Garcia
Defending champion Maria Sharapova’s quarter is perhaps the most loaded section. If the Russian is to add a third French Open crown, she has to wade through the likes of Strasbourg champion Samantha Stosur, Stuttgart and Charleston winner Angelique Kerber, Rome runner-up Carla Suarez Navarro and Rome semi-finalist Daria Gavrilova. Apart from them, there is also Garbine Muguruza who stunned Serena last year as well as the dangerous Lucie Safarova.
Daunting task for the second-seeded Sharapova indeed but if the Russian can summon her fighting spirit, she can come through that part unscathed.
Maria’s tough challenge starts as early as the opening round with the Russian coming up against veteran Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
Semi-finalist: Maria Sharapova
First round matches to watch: Maria Sharapova v Kaia Kanepi, Sabine Lisicki v Monica Puig, Samantha Stosur v Madison Brengle, Lucie Safarova v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Semi-finals: Serena Williams def Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova def Simona Halep
Final: Serena Williams def Maria Sharapova