Simona Halep to Lead Romanian Charge on French Open Day Two

With day one a virtual wash-out at the French Open, day two has a jam-packed feel about it with dozens of postponed matches being weaved into the schedule. Whether we’ll get to see much action is another matter as this spell of bad weather looks set to continue sweeping across Paris. On the off chance we actually see some tennis, it is worth analyzing the chances of one nation of players–led by trailblazer Simona Halep–who have every reason to be optimistic.

To say Romanian tennis has experienced a wave of progression over the last decade would be an understatement. Ten years ago Romania had just three women inside the top 200. Two weeks ago they had four Romanians in the quarterfinals of a WTA Premier Mandatory. Now they have three women seeded at a Grand Slam, with a further two also in the draw. Could Roland Garros be the final spark needed to ignite a Romanian revolution?

Simona Halep – The Leader of the Pack

Leading the pack is national treasure Simona Halep, who kicks off her French Open campaign with what should be a routine win against out-of-form Nao Hibino. As Friday’s draw unravelled there was little doubt that Halep would have been counting her lucky stars. Landing in the bottom half of the draw has seen the sixth seed avoid the dangerous trio of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Angelique Kerber. If she wasn’t being hinted to as a serious contender before the draw then that status changed over the weekend.

Her quarter is hardly littered with potential stumbling blocks. Last year’s finalist, Lucie Safarova, may prove a challenge in the fourth round–although Halep has won three of their four previous encounters. None of the other seeds in her quarter will keep her up at night. Sara Errani has been erratic at best whilst Agnieska Radwanska’s woes on the clay are well documented. Where she may come unstuck is in the semifinals, with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Timea Bacsinszky, and Garbine Muguruza all potential opponents and on rich veins of form. Fellow LWOS Tennis writer, John Lupo, certainly seems to think so.

When Simona Halep steps out on court today (weather permitting), she will know that this could be the start of something special. Since joining forces with Darren Cahill she has seen a slow but steady improvement and there are a few murmurings that this could be the Grand Slam where she goes one better than her final loss here to Maria Sharapova two years ago.

Sorana Cirstea and Irina-Camelia Begu – The Dark Horses

With Halep operating as the poster girl for Romanian sporting success, there is plenty of room for understudies to perform with less media attention. Two such players have come through the clay season in eye-catching form; Sorana Cirstea and Irina-Camelia Begu.

Irina-Camelia Begu has been one of the WTA’s surprise packages in recent weeks, rounding out Madrid and Rome with a quarterfinal and semifinal respectively. On her way through those fields she defeated the likes of Muguruza, Azarenka, Daria Kasatkina and Eugenie Bouchard, dropping no sets in her first four rounds of Rome.

Like Simona Halep, Begu has fallen into a favorable part of the draw. The two higher seeds in her section–Vinci and Kvitova–have hardly set the clay alight this season whilst Begu has mastered its uniqueness. A first round draw against Bethanie Mattek-Sands followed by either Naomi Broady or Coco Vandeweghe will leave Begu licking her lips given their preference for quite literally any surface other than clay. The 25-year-old may only be the 25th seed but do not be surprised to see her still a part of proceedings in seven days time.

Sorana Cirstea is another traveling to the French capital on the back of some impressive form. The Romanian, who had tumbled outside of the top #100, has a 9-3 record on the clay so far this season. Along the way she has recorded victories over Jelena Jankovic, Lesia Tsurenko, and Laura Siegemund (everyone’s new favorite German).

That stands her in prime position to cause an opening round upset against eighteenth seed Elina Svitolina. On rankings the Ukrainian should easily win the first meeting between the two, but form and surface are likely to conspire against her, most likely granting Cirstea a clean passage through to Round 2. She’ll fancy her chances there as well, where she’ll either face Taylor Townsend or Amandine Hesse – both wildcards.

Where Cirstea may start to find herself outclassed is in the fourth round where, if she progresses that far, she’ll come up against a dangerous, record-chasing Serena Williams. The pair have not met in three years but, like so many of the WTA Tour, Cirstea’s previous efforts against the American have been fruitless.

Monica Niculescu and Alexandra Dulgheru – The Rank Outsiders

Let’s acknowledge that, in all seriousness, there are unlikely to be more than three Romanians with a realistic chance of heading into the second week of this year’s French Open. Three first round exits in four tournaments makes ugly reading for 31st seed Monica Niculescu, who has probably accepted that any sort of victory would be a major success at these Championships. Niculescu faces Pauline Parmentier who has looked sharp in her first few months back from injury.

Alexandra Dulgheru’s form has been worse than Niculescu’s. The final Romanian in the pack has failed to record a victory since the Australian Open and has consequentially tumbled out of the top 100. All that said, her opponent, Yanina Wickmayer – is also winless in four tournaments so if Dulgheru is wanting to turn her year around, there may be no better time than the present.

Four of the five Romanians are scheduled for action today:

Sorana Cirstea vs Elina Svitolina is the 5th match scheduled on Court 1.

Simona Halep vs Nao Hibino is the 3rd match scheduled on Court 2.

Irina-Camelia Begu vs Bethanie Mattek-Sands is the 3rd match scheduled on Court 5.

Alexandra Dulgheru vs Yanina Wickmayer is the 3rd match scheduled on Court 17.

Monica Niculescu will play her first match on Tuesday.

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