There are wide-open draws—and then there’s the 2017 French Open women’s draw. (AP)
There are wide-open draws—and then there’s the 2017 French Open women’s draw. The tour’s biggest hitters—Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka—are absent, and the strongest contenders who are in Paris—Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza—may be nursing injuries. Anyone who claims to have any idea who is going to win is lying, but let’s try to do it anyway. One positive aspect of a draw like this: When anyone can win, every match feels a little more significant than it normally would. (Click here for the draw.)
As with Andy Murray on the men’s side, the signs aren’t good for the women’s top seed, Angelique Kerber. In her last two matches, she was dominated by 60th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard and 68th-ranked Anett Kontaveit. While Murray can look to his run to the final at Roland Garros last year for confidence, Kerber can only look back on a dismal first-round defeat 12 months ago
Recent history does say that Kerber, who injured her hamstring in Madrid, will snap out of it at some point. If she finds her confidence, she could win the whole thing; if she doesn’t, she could lose to anyone. Kerber starts against a former Grand Slam semifinalist in Ekaterina Makarova. The first seed she could face is Roberta Vinci. And the second-highest seed in this section is Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Also in this quarter: 2011 finalist Sam Stosur, 2016 semifinalist Kiki Bertens, Caroline Wozniacki
First-round matches to watch:
-Kerber vs. Makarova
-Vinci vs. Monica Puig
-Kuznetsova vs. Christina McHale
Welcome back: Petra Kvitova
Like Kerber in the section above her, and Halep in the section below her, Muguruza could go all the way, or go out on day one; it just depends whether she can find a way to flip the confidence switch. And like those two women, last year’s champion comes to Paris having suffered a recent injury; she had to retire with a neck problem in the semis in Rome. But she says she’s happy to be back at Roland Garros, and there’s no reason not to believe her. Not only is she the defending champ, but she’s 16-3 there with two straight-set wins over Serena Williams in the last three years. Will the good memories be enough? Muguruza begins against 2011 champion Francesca Schiavone, who even at 36 probably won’t be an easy out in Paris.
While Dominika Cibulkova is the second-highest seed, the second-most intriguing player in this quarter is Kristina Mladenovic. The 13th seed is one of the most improved players on tour this year, but can she show that improvement in front of her own fans? In eight tries, she’s yet to advance past the third round at Roland Garros. Kiki will start her quest this year against young American Jennifer Brady. Her first big challenge could come from Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the third round.
Also in this quarter: 2002 finalist Venus Williams, 2015 semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, 2009 semifinalist Cibulkova
First-round matches to watch:
-Muguruza vs. Schiavone
-Mladenovic vs. Brady
Sleepers: Anett Kontaveit, who knocked off Kerber in Rome; Shelby Rogers, who reached the quarters in Paris last year.
At first glance, Halep may not like who she’s facing in the first round: Jana Cepelova, who beat her in the same round two years ago at Wimbledon. But Halep could also look at it as a blessing in disguise. If she can get some measure of revenge, that should give her a confidence boost the rest of the way. While Halep has an ankle issue, there’s no reason she shouldn’t feel good about her chances in Paris; she’s played the best tennis of anyone this spring, and made the final here in 2014.
The woman who outplayed her in the Rome final last week, Elina Svitolina, is also in this section. Like Halep and seemingly everyone else, Svitolina is carrying an injury, to her upper left thigh. But the 22-year-old has shot all the way up to No. 6 in the world this season, and she would seem to be primed for her first trip to a Grand Slam semifinal—she reached the quarters in Paris two years ago.
Also in this quarter: Madison Keys, Daria Kasatkina, Carla Suarez Navarro, Elena Vesnina, Eugenie Bouchard, Anastasija Sevastova
First-round match to watch:
-Halep vs. Cepelova
In a draw full of mysteries and unpredictability, this section takes the cake. The top seed here, Karolina Pliskova, has looked ready to move on to the greener pastures of grass and hard courts for about a month now. Ditto for the second seed, Johanna Konta, who has won just two matches during the clay swing, and who has never won a match at Roland Garros. The faster she can get back to her hometown of Eastbourne, the better.
Still, somebody has to make it to the semifinals, right? The other seeds in this section are Agnieszka Radwanska, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Caroline Garcia, Barbora Strycova, Lauren Davis and CoCo Vandewedghe.
Pavlyuchenkova made the quarters in Paris in 2011, which in this section may be enough to make her the odds-on favorite to advance.
Semifinals: Mladenovic d. Kuznetsova; Halep d. Pavlyuchenkova
Final: Halep d. Mladenovic
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