The 2015 clay court season is about to reach a chrescendo as Roland Garros looms on the horizon with main draw action set to begin on Sunday. I’m heading to Paris on Saturday and will be at RG for the first two days, which i’m a little bit excited about! I’ll try and get some photos up on the blog. I’ll be posting on my dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages so please give me a follow if you’re not already! I sound like a broken record but it really will be a fascinating fortnight and Moo’s Tennis Blog will be following it every step of the way. Let’s take a look at the draw…
Serena Williams headlines yet another Grand Slam draw and her first match of the week in Paris will be against qualifier, Andrea Hlavackova. Serena’s clay court season hasn’t gone exactly to plan. For the first time since 2011, Serena heads into Roland Garros without a clay court title. Serena was defeated by Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals of Madrid. Although it was a first loss against Petra and a poor performance from the world number one, on a fast clay court against a player who can zone, it was hardly a bad loss. In fact it was Serena’s first loss of the entire year. In Rome, she pulled out of her third round match against Christina McHale with an elbow injury.
Last year, Serena didn’t lose a match on clay before Roland Garros and lost in the second round against Garbine Muguruza. In contrast, before the Australian Open this year she was very unconvincing at the Hopman Cup with a series of ragged displays, yet two weeks later, she was crowned champion in Melbourne for the sixth time, coming through an at times, challenging draw. Message of the story… Serena’s pre-Grand Slam form is not always a solid indicator!
Serena’s draws are always difficult to evaluate because on her day, she beats everyone. When you put that aside, this is a testing draw. The placement of Victoria Azarenka was always going to be a talking point. I’d already written down Caro-Vika third round as it seemed inevitable but lo and behold, a potential third round match between Serena and Vika is on the cards. It’s a shame that Azarenka has once again drawn a stinker. This quarter also features one of the most eye-catching first round matches between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. This match is made all the more compelling in that they’ve never played each other; the pair were set to meet in a hotly anticipated third round match in Miami two years ago but Venus was forced to pull out with a back injury.
Caroline Wozniacki is the number five seed and is seeded to meet Serena in the quarters. The Dane surged in Stuttgart, playing some aggressive and convincing tennis. Since then the attention has simmered. She was once again dealt a rough draw, playing Victoria Azarenka in her first match in Rome. The Dane has lost all three matches the pair have played this year including at the Australian Open. This time round, Caro missed Vika although her draw is by no means a walk in the park. In the first round, she will play Karin Knapp who has rebounded superbly well from a nervy loss to Petra Kvitova in Rome (led 5-2 third set but lost in a third set tiebreak) to reach the final in Nurnberg without dropping a set in four matches.
Wozniacki is projected to meet Jelena Jankovic in the third round; the pair have followed similar-ish paths in their career but it is Jankovic who has had the far superior results on clay. Sara Errani and Andrea Petkovic are also worth a mention in this section. Errani has reached at least the quarters in the last three years, while Petkovic made the last four this year. Petkovic beat Errani in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros last year, 6-2 6-2. A mixture of illness and injury has thwarted Petko’s clay court campaign this year which is such a shame because she played an excellent match against Flavia Pennetta in the first round of Madrid and was in good form.
Petra Kvitova has landed as the highest seed in an intriguing second quarter. Kvitova won Madrid and then reached the quarters of Rome, getting a couple more wins under her belt. As much as I like Petra, I don’t believe the win in Madrid makes her a title contender considering how much the conditions differ between Madrid and Paris. Take nothing away from Petra though as a win in her second tournament back following a spell on the sidelines due to exhaustion was a rather superb effort. It does however give me good vibes for Wimbledon. Kvitova’s draw has it’s dangers; she will play Marina Erakovic in the first round, who she last played at Roland Garros in 2014. A third round tie against Irina-Camelia Begu would be a tough match. Begu was very impressive against Azarenka in Rome and has rather quietly snuck a seeding.
There are two players lurking in Petra’s eighth that have beaten her this year. Timea Bacsinszky and Madison Keys are seeded to meet in the third round with the winner of that section set to meet Kvitova in the last 16. In the Madi-Timea section of eight players, you also have the likes of Belinda Bencic, Daniela Hantuchova, Taylor Townsend, Tereza Smitkova, Lara Arruabarrena and Varvara Lepchenko, who are all noteworthy on their day. A potential Bencic-Keys second rounder would be fun.
Eugenie Bouchard snapped a six match losing streak with a win over Zarina Diyas in Rome. However, it felt a like one step forward and two steps back as she lost a heartbreaker against Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round where she served for the win on three separate occasions. Roland Garros and Wimbledon will be fascinating tournaments for Genie with BIG points to defend. Genie always peaks for the Slams but this time feels different. Bouchard’s pre-Roland Garros form hasn’t been that different to 2014 where she suffered first round exits in Madrid and Rome. It has been the nature of her losses though that have resonated somewhat.
Bouchard has one of the toughest openers she could have asked for against Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman has shown some promising signs during this clay court season. She qualified for Rome last week, reached the semi-finals of Marrakech and is in the final of Strasbourg, albeit with some help from withdrawals. Mladenovic is also not afraid of the upset, after taking out Na Li last year in the first round of Roland Garros. I’ve been way off before on these kind of matches, but I feel confident that Mladenovic can deliver another top ten upset.
The other seeds in Bouchard’s section are Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Zarina Diyas. The number 32 seed, Diyas, inflicted a double bagel on Sabine Lisicki in Stuttgart but has done very little either side of that, as she continues to float well under the radar. Kuznetsova and Pliskova are seeded to meet in the third round. The Russian player had a marvellous week in Madrid where she reached the final with solid wins all the way through from Ekaterina Makarova in the first round to Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals. Svetlana will probably find some way to mess it up… hands up who would not be surprised if she lost to Kiki Bertens in the first round?! My hand was up then. If there is anywhere on tour that Kuznetsova could be referred to as vaguely reliable then it’s Roland Garros. Kuznetsova has reached back-to-back quarter-finals in Paris and hasn’t lost before the third round since 2003. There’s always time for that to change with Kuznetsova but i’m willing to take that risk that this could be another great tournament for her.
Simona Halep opens against Evgeniya Rodina and on paper, has a very favourable draw. The Romanian player had a sensational run between Shenzhen to Miami, posting a 24-2 W-L record. This form hasn’t quite translated onto clay with Halep going 5-3 with losses to Caroline Wozniacki (Stuttgart), Alize Cornet (Madrid) and Carla Suarez Navarro (Rome). Halep’s eighth features Alize Cornet, Elina Svitolina and Agnieszka Radwanska. It feels so strange to me to see Radwanska as the number 14 seed as I am so used to her being a regulation top eight seed at a Grand Slam. Although she has had a poor year by her standards, Radwanska has only lost to one player outside of the top 40. A potential third rounder against Svitolina would be a tough one to call; a year ago, it would have been an Aga win for sure but now, nothing is a given. Halep could meet Cornet again in the third round although it’s worth pointing out that Cornet’s first round opponent, Roberta Vinci leads their head-to-head 4-0. Furthermore, Vinci won recently in Madrid and also made the final in Nurnberg, marking a return to some better form.
It’s surprising how many of the 2014 year ending top ten are struggling this year. Ana Ivanovic can definitely be lumped into that category. The Serb lost two tight three setters in Madrid and Rome to Carla Suarez Navarro (7-5 1-6 6-4) and Daria Gavrilova (5-7 7-6 7-6) respectively. Ivanovic fought hard in both matches but there were some concerning signs in her match against Gavrilova as her serve started to falter by the end. Last year, Ivanovic headed into Roland Garros with much expectation after playing some great tennis in Rome. This time, coach-less and not in great form, the pressure won’t be so intense.
Ivanovic’s first match will be against Yaroslava Shvedova. Once again, Ivanovic will be cursing the draw gods as Caroline Garcia is a potential third round opponent. Ivanovic’s season since Australia has been characterised by three losses to Garcia in Monterrey, Indian Wells and Stuttgart. Ivanovic thumped Garcia at Roland Garros last year, 6-1 6-3. Garcia remains an enigma on tour producing a variety of results, week in, week out. Her performances in Madrid and Rome demonstrate this quite nicely as she produced a scintillating display to beat Karolina Pliskova and then came close to upsetting Maria Sharapova in Madrid. In Rome, she lost in the second round to Bojana Jovanovski. I wonder how Garcia will cope with playing in front of a home crowd as she hasn’t handled pressure all that well in her career. Still, she has potential with this draw to do something special. This section is actually pretty light with Ekaterina Makarova the other seed of note. Makarova’s season has tailed off since Dubai, with a 7-7 W-L record. The qualifier, Teliana Pereira, who could play Makarova in the second round is one to keep an eye out for.
Carla Suarez Navarro has been arguably the most consistent player on the WTA tour this year. The only tournament where she failed to reach the quarter-finals was the Australian Open. Carla has compiled together a 31-10 W-L record. She reached the final in Rome last weekend where she produced her best performances of the year, beating three top ten players in a row before running out of steam in a three set finale against Sharapova. I think Carla will be vulnerable early on after a gruelling run in Rome but if she can make it through the first two or three rounds, she should not be discounted. Suarez Navarro will play Monica Niculescu in the first round which isn’t an ideal match-up given Niculescu’s funkiness. Carla though, leads the head-to-head, 3-0. The other three seeds in this section, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Flavia Pennetta are all worthy of having a deep run. However, they also have their concerns. Pennetta has lost her last three matches, while Kerber was forced to pull out of her semi-final match in Nurnberg with a back injury and Muguruza didn’t play Rome due to injury.
Bookending the draw is the number two seed, Maria Sharapova. After winning the most recent clay court tournament in Rome, Sharapova continued her excellent record on the clay courts. She hasn’t failed to win a clay court title since 2009. While she didn’t play a Serena or a Simona in Rome, Maria got five matches under her belt and arrives in defence of her Roland Garros crown in good form. Sharapova’s section has its pitfalls and right from the get go. In the first round, she plays Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian player has been up and down this year, mainly due to injuries. She has the ability to peak and it will require Sharapova to be on her game from the first round.
Even more appetising is a potential third rounder against Sam Stosur. The pair met in the last 16 in 2014, as Sharapova hung in the match before breaking the Aussie’s defences in the third set to win, 3-6 6-4 6-0. Stosur didn’t win back-to-back matches this year until Madrid although now she seems to be finding some momentum after reaching the final in Strasbourg. In the pursuit to be Sharapova’s prospective fourth round opponent, there are first rounders between Lucie Safarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Sabine Lisicki and Monica Puig… chuck in Rome semi-finalist, Daria Gavrilova and it’s tough to pick out a player to come through.
QF Predictions: S.Williams v Wozniacki, Bacsinszky v Kuznetsova, Garcia v Halep, Suarez Navarro v Sharapova
SF Predictions: S.Williams v Kuznetsova, Halep v Sharapova
Final Prediction: S.Williams d. Halep