The second Slam of 2017 will begin on Sunday in Paris with the French Open taking centre stage for the next two weeks. In all my time of following the WTA, I cannot remember such a wide open field with a long list of contenders, but no stand-out name. I’m excited to see who will come through this draw, of which my highlight is the return of Petra Kvitova… more on that to come. Let’s take a look at the draw.
Section 1 – Kerber’s Eighth
Before I get to Angelique Kerber’s draw… this first quarter features the return of Petra Kvitova which is making me grin profusely as I type this. In a week of mostly bad news, the confirmation of Kvitova’s return has been a ray of sunshine. I am absolutely thrilled to see Petra back, but most important of all, to see her smiling on the court. Kvitova has drawn Julia Boserup in the first round which is actually a favourable draw. Personally, I have no expectations for Kvitova and she has said that her hand is not 100% yet. Win or lose, Kvitova’s return is a victory in itself and i’m so, SO happy to see her back. I’m looking forward to hopefully watching her first match back on Sunday!
Returning to Kerber… the world number one gets the world number 40, Ekaterina Makarova in the first round. Kerber has won their last four meetings on tour but Makarova has four wins in their head-to-head and is a quality player. The Russian player scored decent wins over Agnieszka Radwanska in Stuttgart and Dominika Cibulkova in Rome, albeit both struggling for form this year, but both matches saw Makarova play to a high level. Makarova’s issues this year have been consistency week-to-week, which has been a far cry from what she produced during 2014 and 2015 when she was one of the most reliable at beating players you’d expect her to beat by ranking. It would seem that the hamstring injury that Kerber picked up in Madrid is not a major issue; however the lack of confidence and belief she seems to possess in her game right now are evident. By taking centre stage on the first day of the tournament, there is no doubt that this match comes with the tag of upset alert.
Elsewhere in this first section of the draw, last year’s semi-finalist, Sam Stosur has landed in a plum section of the draw. The Aussie is rounding into form at the right time on her favourite surface and she will contest the Strasbourg final on Saturday. Stosur opens against Kristina Kucova and is projected to meet Kvitova in the third round – based on the surface and the uncertainty around where Kvitova’s level will be at, it would be a surprise not to see Stosur reach at least the second week of a Slam where she has consistently posted excellent results.
In terms of first round matches, my favourite match-up will see a clash in styles between the number 31 seed, Roberta Vinci and Monica Puig. Vinci has won both their previous encounters, yet has never been able to produce her best tennis at Roland Garros (see below). I’d give Puig, streaky for most of 2017, a fair shot at the upset with the winner getting Jelena Ostapenko or Louisa Chirico in the second round.
First Round Polls:
Section 2 – Kuznetsova’s Eighth
The two names to watch out for in the second section of the draw are 2009 champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova and last year’s semi-finalist, Kiki Bertens. Kuznetsova has been playing consistently well all year and in this draw with cavernous openings, would appear to be one of the favourites. My only concern is that when things look great for Sveta, she does tend to throw in a shocker somewhere. She’s been pretty reliable this year but I am always wary.
Kuznetsova plays Christina McHale in the first round – the American has only won two of her last ten matches on tour, which is immediately ringing alarm bells for me for Kuznetsova! Worth noting though is that Kuznetsova has not lost her first match in 19 tournaments stretching all the way back to Eastbourne last year. If Kuznetsova gets through her opener, she will play Camila Giorgi or Oceane Dodin in the second round. I’ll admit I was laughing when I saw this match-up come up – a helmets-at-the-ready ballbashing feast awaits! The pair have never played each other but I’d have more faith in Giorgi’s relentless winning through. Either Giorgi or Dodin would keep Kuznetsova on her toes early doors.
The return to clay has seen Bertens snap into form, so much so, that she has developed a neat buffer of points as she is set to defend semi-final points from last year’s French Open. Bertens has also reached back-to-back finals in Nurnberg and draw-wise, is one of the winners on paper – first up for Bertens is the returning, Ajla Tomljanovic, potentially followed by CiCi Bellis who Bertens defeated in Rome two weeks ago. Bertens is seeded to meet the number 11 seed, Caroline Wozniacki in the third round. The Dane was forced to pull out of her first round match in Strasbourg due to a back complaint. I’d guess that the retirement was only precautionary. While her first two rounds look manageable, even on clay, an in-form Bertens may be too hot to handle if the pair were to meet in the third round.
First Round Polls:
Section 3 – Muguruza’s eighth
The defending champion, Garbiñe Muguruza will begin her title defence in a flashy first rounder against another former champion, Francesca Schiavone. Muguruza’s year is hard to describe without writing an essay. The Spaniard produced a trio of encouraging wins in Rome to reach the semi-finals, the same stage of the tournament she reached in 2016, but was forced to withdraw after five games against Elina Svitolina due to a neck injury. While the injury was not a serious one, it was Muguruza’s fourth retirement this year alone and her third after exactly five games.
An in-form Muguruza would likely be too good for Schiavone but with the Spaniard’s unpredictability in 2017, Schiavone’s customary heart and spirit on court, coupled with this being her final Roland Garros, could make this a tantalising match-up. If Muguruza reaches the second round, life wouldn’t get any easier as she would take on Anett Kontaveit or Monica Niculescu. Kontaveit beat Muguruza in Stuttgart last month and is enjoying a breakthrough year with 29 wins already to her name despite not winning a match down under in Australia. The Estonian player reached the last 16 at the 2015 US Open but has never won a main draw match at any of the other three Slams. This could be about to change in Paris…
Muguruza is projected to meet the number 13 seed, Kristina Mladenovic in the last 16. The Frenchwoman has enjoyed a stirring run of form in 2017 that currently places her at number seven in the Race to Singapore. Whether she can handle the pressure in front of her home crowd remains a question but there’s no doubt that she is on the front page in terms of contenders for the title. Mladenovic will play Jennifer Brady in the first round, followed by either Misaki Doi or Sara Errani in the second round. Doi retired from her semi-final match in Nurnberg on Friday, while Errani was forced to qualify for Roland Garros, which she did so in style by dropping just seven games. A Mladenovic-Lucic-Baroni Stuttgart rematch could be on the cards in the third round, while the presence of 2016 quarter-finalist, Yulia Putintseva, in this section will no doubt keep us all suitably entertained.
First Round Polls:
Section 4 – Cibulkova’s Eighth
Dominika Cibulkova will head into the French Open with simmering expectation after a disappointing clay court season, thwarted by a wrist injury that forced her out of Stuttgart. In her last venture on tour in Rome against Ekaterina Makarova, Cibulkova was missing that spark, that buzz, that so often saw her pull through lengthy three setters in 2016.
Elsewhere in this section, the number 10 seed, Venus Williams faces a tricky opener against the in-form, Wang Qiang. I’ve been proven wrong enough times not to write off Venus but she will need to start well to fend off the Chinese player. There could be a second rounder against the 15-year-old, Amanda Anisimova, if the American were to defeat Kurumi Nara in the first round. Anisimova is one of the brightest prospects on tour and earnt her place in the draw by winning the USTA wild card, by virtue of reaching back-to-back ITF finals on clay at Indian Harbour Beach ($80k) and Dothan ($60k).
Another second round match that i’d loveee to see happen would be Daria Gavrilova going up against Jelena Jankovic. Gavrilova first would have to get past Elise Mertens, who is in the running for WTA breakthrough of the year and reached the final in Istanbul last month. Gavrilova dropped just three games to Mertens in Rabat last month but Mertens will likely have been exhausted from her Istanbul exploits in that particular clash. Jankovic opens against the qualifier, Richel Hogenkamp who is on a 13 match winning streak!
Former semi-finalist, Timea Bacsinszky is also nestled in this section and based on her love of clay and this tournament, she could be primed for another deep run. Although way off her best in Madrid, Bacsinszky played some of her most convincing tennis of the year so far to reach the last 16 in Rome. First up in Paris for Bacsinszky will be Sara Sorribes Tormo, followed by either Madison Brengle or Julia Goerges in the second round.
First Round Polls:
Section 5 – Svitolina’s Eighth
As one of the favourites to win the tournament with the bookmakers, Elina Svitolina will be aiming to better her quarter-final showing at the French Open in 2015 and translate her good form on the WTA tour at a Slam. It is likely that she will have to contend with big-hitter after big-hitter in this draw. Svitolina goes up against Yaroslava Shvedova in the first round – Shvedova won their only previous match on grass at Wimbledon in 2016. Svitolina has become a much a better all-round player since then, while Shvedova has struggled for wins during 2017.
Svitolina could face a second round Rome rematch with Mona Barthel – Barthel took the first set of their third round match in Rome with a wonderful balance between defence and attack, but soon faded in rather rapid fashion as Svitolina reeled off the last twelve games of the match. The highest seeds that Svitolina could play before the quarter-finals are two of the most fearsome ball strikers on tour in Ana Konjuh and Madison Keys. Both are lethal on their day, yet neither have rounded into form during this year’s clay court season. Konjuh hasn’t played since retiring hurt in Madrid and Keys has lost her last four matches on tour as she continues to search for a foothold having started her season back in Indian Wells after having minor wrist surgery in the off-season.
Keys’s first round match will be against Ashleigh Barty which sounds enticing! Barty reached the quarter-finals of Strasbourg as a qualifier but i’m leaning slightly to Keys in this match-up. Despite the lack of momentum, Keys has developed a knack for raising her game at the Slams and she is joined once again by Lindsay Davenport who always seems to have a positive impact on her game and mentality on court.
Also worthy of a mention from this section are Anastasija Sevastova and Eugenie Bouchard. Sevastova has quietly built one of the most consistent clay court seasons on tour. The Latvian player takes on Annika Beck in the first round – the pair share a curious head-to-head with Sevastova mustering just six games in their two previous clashes. Bouchard summoned some of her very best tennis to beat Maria Sharapova in one of the best matches of the year in Madrid and would go onto reach the quarter-finals. Since then, Bouchard hasn’t played a competitive match after pulling out of Nurnberg with what sounded like a very serious ankle injury. Bouchard has been practising in Paris so I’m slightly baffled by the situation. The 23-year-old will play Risa Ozaki in the first round who she needed three sets to get past in Indian Wells last year.
First Round Polls:
Section 6 – Halep’s Eighth
Despite having been the form player through this year’s clay court season and showcasing bundles of mental resilience, a cloud of injury uncertainty hangs over the favourite, Simona Halep. The Romanian player injured her ankle in last Sunday’s Rome final against Elina Svitolina. Despite playing on, a scan showed a torn ligament.
From Halep’s pre-tournament press conference, it would appear that the Romanian player is more likely to play rather than not. I just hope that she makes the right decision for her health. It’s such a shame that this has happened for Simona but sometimes things are not meant to be. From how she has battled through injuries in the past, I think it is a tough ask for Halep to go through seven matches, potentially without having confidence in her ankle and being able to rely on her superb movement on this surface.
Draw-wise, Halep has some dangers lurking and most alarming of all, her biggest threat could actually be from a qualifier! The 17-year-old, Marketa Vondrousova, caused a storm in Biel earlier this year by winning her first WTA title in her first ever main draw appearance. Vondrousova has continued to excite and impress, and she reached a staggering 41 wins for the year by qualifying for Roland Garros… through three rounds, she dropped just seven games!
Halep’s first round match will be against Jana Cepelova who she lost to at the same stage of Wimbledon in 2015. Vondrousova would be a potential third round opponent for Halep – the Czech player has drawn the home wildcard, Amandine Hesse in the first round, which is an excellent draw on paper, followed by either the number 26 seed, Daria Kasatkina or Yanina Wickmayer in the second round. As fond as I am of Kasatkina, the Russian player faces a race against time to be fit after suffering a nasty ankle injury (what is it with the ankles this month?!) in Rome. In positive news, there was a video on social media of her hitting balls on court.
First Round Polls:
Section 7 – Konta’s Eighth
Opening against Hsieh Su-Wei, Johanna Konta will be seeking her first ever main draw win at Roland Garros. Konta’s glittering form through the first three months of the year hasn’t exactly carried onto the clay, but all her losses during the last two months have been to quality opposition – Anastasija Sevastova, Laura Siegemund and Venus Williams. Konta is seeded to meet Caroline Garcia in the third round – the pair last played each other in Indian Wells where Garcia served her way to a third set tiebreak victory. The Frenchwoman’s year has been curtailed by a back injury but she seems to be returning to some kind of form. A second round rematch with Kristyna Pliskova would be on the cards if both players win their openers in Paris – Garcia saved six set points in the first set en route to a straight sets victory over the Czech player in the quarter-finals of Strasbourg.
The other side of this section is a fun one – a quartet featuring first round matches, Barbora Strycova vs. Alison Riske, and Alize Cornet vs. Timea Babos. Chuck in Agnieszka Radwanska and Naomi Osaka and you’ve got yourself a party! Radwanska returns to Roland Garros having skipped Madrid and Rome due to a foot injury. A part of me thought Radwanska would rest up for the grass. A first rounder against the French wildcard, Fiona Ferro should be a relatively gently start for Radwanska but Osaka or Alison Van Uytvanck in the second round will be a step up.
First Round Polls:
Section 8 – Pliskova’s Eighth
And so we come to the final section of the draw… i’ve written most of this preview on the train and it’s taken my mind off all the delays and kept me suitably entertained! The 2017 French Open draw is bookended by Karolina Pliskova. The Czech player lost out to Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals in Rome but before that, Pliskova scored what felt like quite a monumental win against Timea Bacsinszky where she played her own game on the clay and came through with flying colours in a high quality display. It remains to be seen whether that performance will have an impact on her going forward.
Pliskova’s draw looks decent on paper although she’ll need to be on her game to get through some potentially tricky opposition. Pliskova will square off with Zheng Saisai in the first round – the Chinese player is actually one to keep an eye on after winning 16 of 17 matches on the ITF circuit including a title on clay at the $100k Anning tournament. Furthermore, she rather quietly snuck out a first round win over Elina Svitolina in Madrid from match point down. Perhaps concerning for Zheng Saisai is that she sported all kinds of strapping in Madrid so not so sure about her health!
Pliskova could meet fellow compatriot, Katerina Siniakova in the second round which I am borderline feeling a possible upset on the cards. Siniakova has some quality groundstrokes, but unless she can find a way to stay a bit calmer on court, i’ll always be a bit wary of whether she can pull through on the big wins. She did it superbly in Shenzhen against Johanna Konta and Simona Halep, but lost her way when leading Angelique Kerber in Madrid.
The personal highlight for me in this section is a *potential* second round showdown between good friends, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova. The pair met in the first round of Roland Garros back in 2015 and it was one of my favourite live experiences ever! You can read more about that match HERE… and on this note, if anyone is heading to Roland a Garros for the first time this year you can read all my about my experiences and tips for visiting HERE.
Pavs has been in much the better form but based on their previous matches and Lucie’s record at the French Open, I think it’s a 50-50 match. To be honest, I’ve had a feeling for a while that this could be Pavlyuchenkova’s big breakthrough at a Slam. Her form has been reasonably consistent this year and she’s proven she can play on clay with a run to the title in Rabat and having reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros in 2011. I’m obviously rooting for Lucie but at the same time, I’d be happy to see Pavs go on a deep run. We shall see… now I’ve gone on about this, bookmark a second rounder between Patricia-Maria Tig and Veronica Cepede Royg 😉.
First Round Polls:
Records in Paris
Seeds 1-8: Of the top eight seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta are the only players to have never reached the second week of the French Open. The top two seeds, Angelique Kerber and Pliskova, both fell at the first round last year. For the likes of Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, this Slam has produced their best result at a Major – Muguruza and Kuznetsova are two of three former champions in the draw, while Halep and Svitolina are the two form players on clay this year having won Madrid and Rome respectively.
Seeds 9-16: A trio of WTA stalwarts flood out the second band of seeds with Venus Williams set to compete in her 20th French Open! Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki are both former quarter-finalists, but have never made much noise in Paris. Kristina Mladenovic and Elena Vesnina have never reached the second week in Paris – the pair have experienced contrasting clay court seasons with Mladenovic posting nine wins to Vesnina’s one.
Seeds 17-24: The third band of seeds is one to keep an eye on as all eight players have posted a positive win-loss record on clay this year. Last year’s semi-finalists, Sam Stosur and Kiki Bertens, are both dangerous with Stosur having one of the best records at Roland Garros with 34 victories. Suárez Navarro has consistently scored excellents results in Paris as a two-time quarter-finalist, while the likes of Anastasija Sevastova, CoCo Vandeweghe and Daria Gavrilova will be looking to break new ground by reaching the third round.
Seeds 25-32: Timea Bacsinszky is the stand-out name in the fourth and final band of seeds having reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the last two years. Roberta Vinci has played more times at the French Open compared to Bacsinszky, but has reached the second week just once in her career.
WWW French Open Poll
French Open Media
Picking a final for the 2017 French Open with confidence… Neverrrrr gonna happen!
Final Prediction: Kuznetsova d. Pavlyuchenkova