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Osaka dealt a friendly hand, Barty vs. Swiatek a potential quarter-final: Everything you need to know about the French Open women’s draw
Ashleigh Barty and Iga Swiatek, the last two women’s singles champions at Roland-Garros, could face each other in the quarter-finals. On paper, Naomi Osaka has a favorable path on which to finally reach the last eight in Paris.
As usual, the Roland-Garros women’s draw is extremely wide open. Serena Williams is low on confidence, Ashleigh Barty returns to Paris two years after her only Grand Slam title, Naomi Osaka has been struggling on clay, Iga Swiatek has the pressure of defending her first Grand Slam title, and Aryna Sabalenka is always capable of exploding…. It is very difficult to pinpoint any clear favorite for the women’s title. Could we have another surprise champion like Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 or Swiatek in 2020; perhaps even an unseeded player?
Barty (recent title winner in Stuttgart) and Swiatek (the Rome champion), are both in the top half of the draw. Elina Svitolina is a possible quarter-final foe for Barty, who leads their 2021 head-to-head series 2-0. Swiatek could face Sofia Kenin in the quarters, and that would be a rematch of the 2020 final that the Pole dominated. However, Swiatek’s early-round draw could be a problem; it may include the likes of Annett Kontaveit, Garbine Muguruza, Kristina Mladenovic, and Petra Martic.
Barty and Swiatek at least avoided the Sabalenka tornado, which has been shining since the end of 2020. The Rome champion is without question favored in the bottom half of the bracket. Among the tough opponents for the Belarusian could be Serena Williams (a major question mark on clay) Bianca Andreescu (her health is an issue), and Naomi Osaka (struggling on this surface). This could well be an opportunity to shine for Belinda Bencic, Petra Kvitova, and Victoria Azarenka.
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: TWO DUELS OF FORMER GRAND SLAM WINNERS
- Ashleigh Barty (No 1) vs. Bernarda Pera – Barty returns to Roland-Garros two years after her coronation. The Aussie’s bid for a second title in Paris will begin with a formidable opponent Pera, currently 70th in the rankings but with much more potential than that ranking would suggest. Pera beat then-world No 10 Johanna Konta at the 2018 Australian Open.
- Karolina Pliskova (No 9) vs. Donna Vekic – For her return after more than three months being away from the game due to knee surgery, Vekic will have a lot to do against Pliskova – whom she has only beaten once, nine years ago. But the former world No 19 has reached the fourth round of all four Grand Slams and can be dangerous.
- Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Sloane Stephens – Making her last Roland-Garros appearance, Suarez Navarro has been cured of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will compete against another former Top 10 player in Stephens (Roland-Garros finalist in 2018). Emotions will be running high for the Spaniard and her one-handed backhand.
- Sofia Kenin (No 4) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Two Grand Slam winners going head-to-head in the first round is not common. Kenin won the Australian Open in 2020 to everyone’s surprise before confirming by reaching the final at Porte d’Auteuil later that same year. Ostapenko won Roland-Garros in 2017, also defeating all predictions. Kenin, the No 5 player in the world, has struggled since the start of 2021 and could be in trouble here.
- Garbine Muguruza (No 12) vs. Marta Kostyuk
- Victoria Azarenka (No 15) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
- Madison Keys (No 23) vs. Océane Dodin
- Belinda Bencic (No 10) vs. Nadia Podoroska
- Aryna Sabalenka (No 3) vs. Ana Konjuh (Q)
FIRST-WEEK MATCHES WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE: YOUTH MOVEMENT
- Jennifer Brady (No 13) vs. Cori Gauff (No 24) in the third round
Following a semi-final run in Rome and a title in Parma, Gauff inevitably approaches Roland-Garros – where she won the junior tournament in 2018 – with high hopes. A third round is the minimum objective for the new darling of American women’s tennis. That’s where she could meet her compatriot Jennifer Brady, runner-up at the 2021 Australian Open.
- Elina Svitolina (No 5) vs. Venus Williams in the third round
Venus Williams will be playing her 24th Roland-Garros Championships. She has not passed the first round since 2017, but her draw (Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round, Barbora Krejcikova or Krystina Pliskova in the second) at least allows her to have realistic aspirations for a third-round appearance. At that point she could meet Svitolina, who is still hoping for her clay-court game to click so that she reaches the semis in Paris for the first time.
- Elise Mertens (No 14) vs. Maria Sakkari (No 17) in the third round
On paper, this is the most promising duel of the third round. Maria Sakkari has been a semi-finalist at three tournaments this year. Elise Mertens, who has a title, a final, and two other semi-finals to her credit in 2021. The head-to-head series is 4-3 in Mertens’ favor.
- Garbiñe Muguruza (No 12) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round
This matchup would feature one of Spain’s Grand Slam champions against one of its players on the rise. National duels always have a special flavor, especially at the slams, and this one would have it for sure. Excellent during the American hard-court swing, Sara Sorribes Tormo is playing with confidence and an upset wouldn’t be out of the question here.
THE PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS: REMATCH OF THE 2020 FINAL?
- Ashleigh Barty (No 1) vs. Elina Svitolina (No 5) – Again?!?! The Australian and the Ukrainian have faced each other twice in the last month. Both matches were won by the world No 1: an easy win on the hard courts in Miami (6-3, 6-3), the other a much tougher win on the Stuttgart clay (4-6, 7-6, 6-2).
- Sofia Kenin (No 4) vs. Iga Swiatek (No 8) – This would be a rematch of the Roland-Garros final in 2020. Swiatek would be a heavy favorite, and Kenin would do well just to reach the quarter-finals after her poor run of form in recent months.
- Aryna Sabalenka (No 3) vs. Serena Williams (No 7) – Like Kenin, seeing Serena Williams in the Roland-Garros quarters would almost be a surprise. Williams and Sabalenka have only met once, at the Australian Open earlier this year – a meeting won through experience by the 23-time Grand Slam champion. On clay and given the dynamics of the moment, the situation could be very different.
- Naomi Osaka (No 2) vs. Bianca Andreescu (No 6) – Both players have been dealing with injury issues and neither one is especially adept on clay. The chances of this matchup actually happening are slim. Whatever the case, this could be a major rivalry in the coming years on the circuit.
BARTY’S PROJECTED PATH
- 1st round: Bernarda Pera
- 2nd round: Magda Linette or Chloé Paquet
- 3rd round: Ons Jabeur or Yulia Putintseva
- Round of 16: Coco Gauff or Jennifer Brady
- Quarter-final: Karolina Pliskova or Elina Svitolina
- Semi-final: Iga Swiatek or Sofia Kenin
- Final: Aryna Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka, or Serena Williams
OSAKA’S PROJECTED PATH
- 1st round: Patricia Maria Tig
- 2nd round: Ana Bogdan or Elisabetta Cocciaretto
- 3rd round: Paula Badosa, Lauren Davis, Clara Burel, or Danka Kovinic
- Round of 16: Marketa Vondrousova or Kiki Bertens
- Quarter-final: Belinda Bencic or Bianca Andreescu
- Semi-final: Aryna Sabalenka or Serena Williams
- Final: Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek, or Elina Svitolina
SERENA’S PROJECTED PATH
- 1st round: Irina-Camelia Begu
- 2nd round: Arantxa Rus or Mihaela Buzarnescu
- 3rd round: Angelique Kerber
- Round of 16: Petra Kvitova or Elena Rybakina
- Quarter-final: Victoria Azarenka or Aryna Sabalenka
- Semi-final: Bianca Andreescu or Naomi Osaka
- Final: Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek, or Elina Svitolina