The second Major of 2021 begins on Sunday with the delayed-by-one-week French Open. The past five editions have all produced first time Slam champions. If recent French Opens have taught us anything, it’s to hold onto your hats and expect some draw carnage. Read on for my preview of the main draw including first round highlights, fun facts and potential match-ups that I am already salivating over. There’s also a top ten for the title at the end of the article. Who’s your pick for this year’s French Open? Please sound off in the comments! I’m still deliberating…
Seeds 1️⃣: (1) Ash Barty, (5) Elina Svitolina, (9) Karolina Pliskova, (13) Jen Brady, (18) Karolina Muchova, (24) Coco Gauff, (25) Ons Jabeur and (32) Ekaterina Alexandrova
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Barbora Krejcikova, Yulia Putintseva, Sloane Stephens, Anastasija Sevastova and Fiona Ferro
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: I’m most looking forward to Ons Jabeur against Yulia Putintseva which has gruelling three setter written all over it. A tough opener for both players and I was surprised to learn that Putintseva wasn’t seeded. Putintseva’s form has been so-so in the past few weeks. That’s not the be-all and end-all as Putintseva has history in Paris and is a two-time quarter-finalist. Jabeur hasn’t played since Madrid after retiring hurt with a leg injury. Benefit of the doubt with Ons.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: Pliskova and Muchova are seeded to meet each other in the third round for the second straight Slam and in the same quarter of the draw as in Melbs. The two potential match-ups that excite me are from the top eighth. Barty-Jabeur (R3) would be a treasure chest of goodness. Brady-Gauff (R3) too would be fascinating.
Upset alerts 😮: At least half of the seeds in this section have tricky looking openers. As discussed, Jabeur will have her work cut out against Putintseva. Karolina Pliskova plays the returning-from-injury and unpredictable, Donna Vekic and Jen Brady opens against the stalwart, Anastasija Sevastova. All three to keep an eye on although i’ve ended up going for the seed in my draw.
Fun fact 🤓: Carla Suárez Navarro is set to play her first match since February 2020. Suárez Navarro was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last year and underwent six months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Last month, Suárez Navarro revealed on social media that the treatment had been a success and she was cancer-free 🥳. Suárez Navarro will play Sloane Stephens in the first round. The result really doesn’t matter. Just thrilled to see Carla healthy again and able to end her career on her own terms.
Seeds 1️⃣: (4) Sofia Kenin, (8) Iga Swiatek, (12) Garbiñe Muguruza, (14) Elise Mertens, (17) Maria Sakkari, (22) Petra Martic, (28) Jessica Pegula and (30) Anett Kontaveit
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Jelena Ostapenko, Sara Sorribes Tormo, Marta Kostyuk, Shelby Rogers and Camila Giorgi
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Arguably the most thought-provoking of all the first rounders will see last year’s finalist, Sofia Kenin take on the 2017 champion, Jelena Ostapenko in the first round. Kenin, who recently split with her dad as long-term coach, has lost her last four matches on tour, while Ostapenko showed flashes of brilliance in a run to the quarter-finals in Rome.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: When scanning the seeding placements for the top 16, the one thing I didn’t want was a potential Muguruza-Swiatek clash in the last 16. You know the rest 😂. It would be a treat to watch if it were to happen although I had high hopes that both players could have gone deeep in separate sections. Sakkari-Mertens (R3) would be another high-calibre match-up for the third round.
Upset alerts 😮: As already alluded to, the sirens are well and truly sounding for Kenin-Ostapenko. I’m picking Ostapenko for the “upset”. Elsewhere, Petra Martic plays the eternally dangerous Camila Giorgi in the first round. Martic has rounded into some form of late and with Francesca Schiavone in tow, I tend to think she’ll survive with her guile and flair.
Fun fact 🤓: Iga Swiatek will play against Kaja Juvan in the first round in what will be a clash of BFFs. There was a great article on the WTA website by Alex MacPherson where Juvan spoke about her friendship with Swiatek and was even joined in the interview by her good friend back at Wimbledon qualies in 2019. The pair played earlier this year at the Gippsland Trophy where Swiatek, in her first match of the season, rallied from a set down to win, 2-6 6-2 6-1.
Seeds 1️⃣: (3) Aryna Sabalenka, (7) Serena Williams, (11) Petra Kvitova, (15) Victoria Azarenka, (21) Elena Rybakina, (23) Madison Keys, (26) Angelique Kerber and (31) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Danielle Collins, Clara Tauson, Leylah Fernandez, Anastasia Potapova and Ana Konjuh
Blockbuster R1 matches 🎆: Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova know each other’s games inside out and will meet each other for the 11th time. It will be their fourth meeting at a Slam, their first in the first round with their previous three all taking place in the second week of Slams. A late addition to the blockbuster openers is that Aryna Sabalenka will open her campaign against Ana Konjuh who came through qualifying and will play her first Slam main draw since Wimbledon 2018. Tough!
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: We could get Serena-Kerber (R3) which would be quite the match-up considering the pair’s last three matches were Slam finals. One uncertain step further into the draw and I can’t help but get excited at even the tiniest of prospects for Serena-Kvitova (R4). I’ve always wanted to watch them on grass again but i’d settle for any surface these days considering how few times they have played each other. Kvitova-Kerber (R4) too would be a treat and is a match-up that I adore.
Upset alerts 😮: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is always a bit of a flight risk in the early rounds of Slams and she opens against Christina McHale. The American player has won three of their last four meetings. In a helmets-at-the-ready opener, Madison Keys takes on Oceane Dodin. Keys tends to peak for the Slams so i’d back Keys to prevail despite her recent form.
Fun fact 🤓: With a protecting ranking, Elena Vesnina will play a main draw of a Slam for the first time since the 2018 French Open. Vesnina gave birth to her first child in November 2018. Since returning to the tour earlier this year, Vesnina has reached five quarter-finals in a row on the doubles circuit and lost her two opening singles matches to Veronika Kudermetova in Madrid (1-6 4-6) and Laura Siegemund (3-6 3-6). Ina real blast from the past, Vesnina opens against the qualifier, Olga Govortsova.
Seeds 1️⃣: (2) Naomi Osaka, (6) Bianca Andreescu, (10) Belinda Bencic, (16) Kiki Bertens, (19) Johanna Konta, (20) Marketa Vondrousova, (29) Veronika Kudermetova and (33) Paula Badosa
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Amanda Anisimova, Nadia Podoroska, Kaia Kanepi, Laura Siegemund and Daria Kasatkina
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Ring the bells for a first time meeting and a rather brutal opener between Veronika Kudermetova against Amanda Anisimova. It’s one of those match-ups where it is not obvious who the seed is. I’m also intrigued by Laura Siegemund against Caroline Garcia as the Siege gets a high-profile Frenchwoman in the first round for the second straight year. Both have enjoyed their best Slam results at the French with quarter-final showings; Garcia in 2017 and Siegemund in 2020.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: If Andreescu makes it to the third round, I would be keen to watch her play any of her four potential opponents – Kudermetova, Anisimova, Marie Bouzkova or Katerina Siniakova. Not one that I think will happen based on their respective form but Bertens-Vondrousova (R3) would be an attractive match-up on clay. And now after the draw reshuffle, an Osaka-Badosa (R3) clash would be absolutely fascinating. For the record, watch out for Badosa in this draw…
Upset alerts 😮: I think most of the seeds have dangerous openers in this section so i’d expect a couple to tumble in the first round. Sorana Cirstea beat Johanna Konta at the US Open last year and has played well on the clay this year, winning Istanbul and reaching the final in Strasbourg. Kaia Kanepi is a seed slaying wrecking ball and her first round opponent, Marketa Vondrousova, has looked vulnerable of late. I’m going for Cirstea and Kanepi to cause early upsets in Paris.
Fun fact 🤓: The fourth and final quarter features three of last year’s surprise packages. We’ve already mentioned the Siege who reached the quarters of Rolly G. Nadia Podoroska and Martina Trevisan had never previously won a main draw match before last year’s French. Trevisan beat Gauff, Sakkari and Bertens to reach the quarters and Podoroska made the semis after upsetting Svitolina in the quarters. Trevisan has won just two matches since that dreamy run although she has a winnable opener against the returning-from-injury, Alison Van Uytvanck. Podoroska has fared much better since the French and bagged big wins over Kvitova and Serena. Podoroska has the much tougher draw against the number ten seed, Belinda Bencic, but still very winnable. Add that to the upset alerts…
Top 1️⃣0️⃣ for the 🏆
Here’s my top ten for the title. Barty-Swiatek-Muguruza are my clear top three but they are all in the same half!
My top three:
Ash Barty: Barty is one of the best at being able to adjust and adapt her game when plan A isn’t working. I have so much faith in Ash and she’s such a reliable player. There was a slight injury concern for Barty after retiring during her quarter-final match in Rome due to an arm injury. I think it was just a precaution and sounds like she will be good to go. Technically it’s a title defence for Barty having not played Roland Garros last year. Swiatek will likely take much of that heat away from her.
Garbiñe Muguruza: Muguruza will always be one of my favourites for the French Open. In eight previous appearances in Paris, Muguruza has only twice failed to reach the second week and she won the whole caboodle back in 2016. Muguruza hasn’t had as many matches on clay this year as she probably would have liked, hindered by a leg injury picked up in Charleston, but I think she’s a contender. Muguruza played a wealth of matches during the first three months of the season which has helped to position her as one of the toughest competitors on tour right now.
Iga Swiatek: The in-form player and worthy favourite. Swiatek was fantastic in her final three matches in Rome and utterly ruthless in her 6-0 6-0 dissection of Pliskova’s game in the final. Perhaps more noteworthy was her third round win over Barbora Krejcikova, saving two match points and finding a way to win when nowhere near her best. I’ve been burned so many times going for the favourite and the Rome champ so i’m naturally wary. My concerns for Swiatek are more mental as she arrives as the defending champion AND the favourite after Rome. Swiatek is a special player, but that’s a lot of pressure and expectation to handle. The last player to defend their French Open title was Justine Henin who did the triple back in 2007.
Bottom half contenders:
Aryna Sabalenka: I think confidence and form, and a favourable draw launches Sabalenka as one of the favourites for this title. I’m still wary because two of those runs in Madrid and Stuttgart were on clay courts that are very different to Roland Garros.
Petra Kvitova: Two time former semi-finalist. Favourable draw. Not really being talked about. You cannot ignore the Petra!
Bianca Andreescu: Another Slam where there’s a lot of uncertainty around Andreescu who has played just two matches on clay in the last two years. Andreescu pulled out of Strasbourg with an apparent abdominal tear. I think she was happy with the two matches. Tough draw with perhaps a pair of accomplished clay courters to open with. Still a contender.
Serena Williams: It almost feels sacrilegious to write Serena off for a Slam. She’s in my top ten because she is Serena and has a decent-looking draw in the first two rounds that would likely give her time to find her clay feet. I feel the French Open is going to be more of a stepping stone for an assault at Wimby next month.
The dark horses:
Karolina Muchova: There is still some uncertainty over the rather persistent abdominal injury. If she’s fully fit and healthy then this is a draw where Muchova can again do some damage.
Maria Sakkari: Form heading into Paris for Sakkari hasn’t been the best with a few question marks over mentality. It doesn’t detract IMO from the general upward trajectory and what looks like a workable draw to the quarters. I’ve been banging on about Sakkari being due a Slam QF and this could well be it.
Veronika Kudermetova: Steadily improving and with one of the most impressive mentalities on tour. Beginning to get a shot at the best players on a consistent basis and does not look out of place. I think Kudermetova is a bit of a draw loser and Anisimova in the first round is a pure 50-50 match-up. If she can make it through the first three rounds then she’d be my pick to win the entire quarter.