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.
16 thoughts on “2021 French Open Preview”
A very heavy third quarter … I don’t know what to expect from Osaka, Andreescu, Kenin, it depends on their will to at least somehow fight on the gravel, the dust, the rain and the little flying creatures.
Amazing slate of seeds in that third quarter although most of players haven’t necessarily been in form or don’t love the clay. I’m not expecting a great deal from Osaka or Kenin, but i’m ready to be surprised. Andreescu is a constant uncertainty! I think she has a really tricky draw through the first three rounds.
It’s 2007 since a Champion successfully defended their title here in the Women’s singles as James has already mentioned and Iga Swiatek does lack experience and is presently still a teenager ( she is 20 this Monday ) so I cannot be very confident but she is my pick to win here in 2021. She seems to be fully fit ( there are injury worries about some of her main rivals ) and has a professional attitude and is in good form and enjoys playing on this surface.
Outsiders with a chance imho are Jelena Ostapenko who has won this title previously and played well in Rome recently, Maria Sakkari who is super fit and this may help her if the next two weeks turn out to be gruelling for the players, Elise Mertens who played well to beat Simona Halep in Madrid earlier this month and finally Paula Badosa who has improved a lot lately and easily won a moderate WTA event in Serbia last week but does lack experience of playing in GS tournaments.
Swiatek is a worthy favourite and I think she will be a lot of people’s picks! I’m still deliberating over that potential Swiatek-Muguruza R4 clash. Badosa is one to watch. I fancy she could go on a deep run here…
Always a pleasure to read your preview write-ups!
For some reason I tend feel rushed when making predictions for Roland Garros; this isn’t a problem for the men’s draw — I literally just pencil Nadal in for 7 wins before even looking at anything else — but it makes my crystal ball on the women’s draw rather fuzzy, which is my excuse for a few oddball picks down below.
Now bring on the 2021 French Open! It’s starting a week late, but at least it’s during the right season this time!
Blockbuster R1 match:
Ons Jabeur v Yulia Putintseva will definitely be a roller coaster of crafty shots and baffling misses (I’m with James in betting that Ons will come out ahead). The match I’m most excited for, though, is Suarez Navarro v Stephens, and I hope the tournament gives Carla the red carpet treatment for her farewell. It’s not the most entertaining match-up in this quarter (see Ons v Yulia for that), it might not even end up being a terribly good match seeing as neither player has any recent form to speak of, but I am looking forward to it very much all the same. Besides those two, there’s Sevastova v Brady, the contrasting styles of Wang Qiang v Hsieh Su-wei, and some potential fun in Petkovic v Muchova.
The only seed I have knocked out in R1 here is Jen Brady, courtesy of Sevastova. Definitely quite a few tough opponents for the other seeds, too, like James said, so who knows.
Match-ups hoping for:
Barty v Jabeur in R3 for sure! The bracket just below it (Brady’s 16th) has a lot of potential with Gauff v Hsieh in R2 — the ultimate acid test of Coco’s adaptability — and the winner of that one against either Brady or Sevastova in R3. The rest of the quarter doesn’t seem as exciting unless a bunch of unlikely upsets happen (Carla Suarez Navarro v Petkovic? CSN v Gasparyan!? Pliskova v Pliskova?!?), but I’ve rolled the dice on a good run by Krejcikova ending in entertaining fashion in R4 against an even craftier Czech, Muchova.
Hmm, there are a few good candidates who have exceeded expectations at least once so far this season: Hsieh, Muchova, and Brady at the Australian Open, Gasparyan in St. Petersburg, Sevastova in Miami and Madrid. I’m going with newly minted Strasbourg champion Barbora Krejcikova, who has been really impressive so far this year. It would not surprise me to see her in the QF with a slew of upset seeds in her wake.
Despite what I just said about Krejcikova, my money’s on Ash Barty over Karolina Muchova.
Blockbuster R1 match:
Exactly what James said: Kenin v Ostapenko. There could be some fun to be had in Giorgi v Martic, provided the Italian is placing more balls inside the court than out.
Even though Ostapenko and Giorgi (to a lesser extent) are obviously capable of getting the upsets, the only seed who I think is more likely than not to exit right away is Anett Kontaveit to Viktorija Golubic. In short, largely mediocre recent results for Kontaveit and a string of very good recent results for Golubic equals bad odds for the Estonian.
Match-ups hoping for:
I’m rather intrigued by the possible R2 match between Muguruza and Sorribes Tormo, having seen a couple of Sara’s matches this year against hard-hitting opponents (Andreescu in Miami [lost] and Giorgi in Rome [won after nearly 4 hours]) and how well she handled the powerful shots coming at her. (Curiously, she’s lost to Sara Errani twice this clay season, so maybe underpowered opponents are troubling her right now? If so, Zheng Saisai in R1 may not be quite so straightforward…)
And Muguruza v Swiatek in R4, obviously. What a pity they’re in the same 8th.
Kenin, Ostapenko, Pegula, Sakkari, and Mertens are all dark horses and one of that bunch will almost certainly be the top quarterfinalist. …A shame that doesn’t mean very much when the other quarterfinalist is likely to be Muguruza or Swiatek. I actually think the two most compelling dark horses are unlikely to make much of an impact since they’re stuck between Garbine and Iga: Sara Sorribes Tormo, who tore up the hard courts back in March, and Petra Martic, who has found good form again out of nowhere this month.
Iga Swiatek over Sofia Kenin
Blockbuster R1 match:
Vika and Sveta! Vika and Sveta! Vika and Sveta! I think James is trying to tell me there are 15 other R1 matches in this quarter, but I can’t hear him over the intensity (and loud grunting) of this gem. Yes, it’s optimistic to expect an instant classic when neither player is in great form at the moment, but something tells me they will bring out the best in each other the way Kuznetsova has with Schiavone in the past and Azarenka did with Kerber many US Opens ago. Fingers crossed for an epic!
Poor Ana Konjuh makes it through qualifying and lands next to Sabalenka; it’s an interesting match, but since I expect a one-sided beatdown I think I’ll give it a pass and watch Vesnina instead.
Kuznetsova over Azarenka. Would you look at that, I’m back to these two again! Even though this outcome is a coin flip for me, it’s the only R1 upset I have in this quarter; Serena, Kerber, Rybakina, or Keys could crash out early from self-inflicted bad play, but only Begu (against Williams) actually seems at all threatening in the first round.
Match-ups hoping for:
There is definitely some fun stuff here:
– all three combinations of Serena, Kerber, and Kvitova are good
– Vesnina v Kvitova — the throwback
– Azarenka or Kuznetsova against the rising teen Clara Tauson in R2
– Fernandez v Keys — not really sure why, but this one looks like fun
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was really impressive in Madrid, and if she plays like that here, she could… win two matches before being sent packing by Sabalenka. Again. I guess that makes my dark horse pick Petra Kvitova, who isn’t getting a whole lot of hype in the shadows of Serena and Aryna.
In a high-grade shooting match, Petra Kvitova over Aryna Sabalenka.
Blockbuster R1 match:
Oh man, there are SO MANY, and they’re largely bunched together so there are lots of great R2 and R3 combinations as well! I honestly can’t even pick one so, in no particular order:
– Bouzkova v Siniakova
– Anisimova v Kudermetova
– Konta v Cirstea
– Bertens v Hercog
– Siegemund v Garcia
– Van Uytvanck v Trevisan
Now here’s something odd: in the bottom quarter of the women’s and men’s singles draws, the only seed I have out in R1 is #2, because both #2’s do not like clay and have not yet adapted their games to clay. Admittedly, Tig over Osaka is a huge shot-in-the-dark prediction, but since I don’t see Naomi making it all the way through the horde of clay specialists in her section (Bertens, Siegemund, Vondrousova, Badosa, and that’s just the bottom 8th!), it doesn’t seem too outlandish to say she loses in R1 instead of the slightly more realistic R3 loss to Bodosa.
Other possible R1 upsets:
– Anisimova over Kudermetova
– Cirstea over Konta
– Podoroska over Bencic
– Hercoq over Bertens
– Kanepi over Vondrousova
(As for Medvedev on the men’s side, his immediate loss does feel like more of a gamble and is largely because Bublik has exactly the kind of Kyrgios-like game to annoy Daniil and steal the upset. Otherwise, his draw is so soft that he’s likely to coast into week 2 before facing someone else who can beat him.)
Match-ups hoping for:
Like I said earlier, there are a lot!
My favourite is probably the R3 drop shot extravaganza that is Siegemund v Vondrousova, followed closely by the athletic brick walls: Bouzkova v Anisimova (R2). Then there’s Kasatkina v Bencic for the craftiest and cleverest point construction and the unlikely but amusing possibility of Trevisan v Podoroska in R3, which, if nothing else, proves that the draw gods have a sense of humour.
Despite lacking a standout favourite (we miss you, Halep), this quarter is so positively loaded with great and very good clay court players that it even makes Naomi Osaka an underdog right out of the gate. The best of this field of dark horses, in my opinion, is Paula Badosa (who owes Alison Riske a gift basket for opening up a seed with her withdrawal). But there’s another player who is even more under the radar yet seems poised to make a deep run (a dark horse dark horse?): 19-year-old qualifier Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who is 16-2 in clay court matches this year.
I’m probably going to get so much grief for this: Paula Badosa over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.
For the first successful Roland Garros singles title defense since 2007 by someone not named Rafael Nadal:
Iga Swiatek over Petra Kvitova
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Hi Alexander! Hope you are well and thanks for your comment. Always enjoy your insight 🙂. I hadn’t actually noticed Podoroska and Trevisan could meet in the third round so thanks for spotting that. Liking the Osorio Serrano QF prediction. Snap for Petra as finalist as I went for Muguruza over Kvitova in the end. My goodness Petra was on the brink today!
I think the tournament is on Iga’s racket; if she plays as well as she did in the Rome final I can’t see anyone else winning it.
One thing it’s usually safe to predict in slams is that a player will come from apparently nowhere and make a deep run (or even win it as in 2017!); it’s fun to try and guess whom it will be, but it’s rare that you can.
Kudermetova is my pick to break new ground at this Slam. I’m sure there will be some players breaking through who we hadn’t even considered!
Oh, I just don’t know! My head says Barty or Swiatek but this Slam is notoriously difficult to defend if you’re not Rafael Nadal…
I want to say Sabalenka could do it but I’m still not convinced with her in pressure moments. Her forehand in particular gets very suspect when she gets tight, and she makes questionable decisions.
Would love to see Muguruza do it again. Or for Svitolina to finally get that trophy…
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I went for Muguruza in the end but I think I heard that she isn’t 100% from her pre tournament press so not feeling too confident about that pick. I’m ready for the annual French open draw carnage!
Thing is, Muguruza says she’s been injured most of this year and she’s still looked phenomenal. If she really wants to win – and she can dig through the pain – she could still do it. But historically she’s tended not to push herself when she’s got some kind of niggling injury…
“Or for Svitolina to finally get that trophy”…
Me too. I always like to see players win slams who’ve never won one before, so I’d be more than happy to see Svitolina win it (I suppose Timea Bacsinszky, who’s reached two semis in 2015 and 2017, is sadly out of the picture now). Maybe Kiki Bertens is in with a chance too?
Bertens out! I did think Hercog could be an upset there to be honest. She’s a pretty good clay courter.
Yeah, I saw that, it was a surprise as clay is one of her best surfaces.
Yes, Shame about Bertens, but not surprising. I’ve been waiting for her return to the tour since the Australian open, I knew she was not really up there in match play form. Her buildup has been poor by her own standards. Clay really calls for some rhythm, else it quickly becomes tasking.
Last year was a cold, chilly, heavy and relatively slow conditions, this year seems to be what most are used to. Settling quickly will be a plus, I’m expecting the winner to be from the top half, could be a top 20 player.
🙂 Timea Bacs, almost forgot about her, hope she is well.
Sad for Kiki but as everyone has said here, not a big suprise. She had surgery on her achilles in the off-season and just hasn’t looked right since. I think the achilles flaired up again during BJK Cup action?
I miss Timea! She was one of my faves. I don’t know if she has officially retired or is still dealing with injuries.