French Open Women’s Seed Report: Preview, Predictions

The year’s second major in Paris gets underway on Sunday at Roland GarrosWith the returns of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Maria Sharapova, plus no true favorite, this promises to be one of the most wide-open Slams we’ve seen in a long time.

Seed Report

1. Simona Halep: Got over her meltdown in last year’s final to reach the championship match at the Australian Open only to blow it again, this time two games from the finish line against Caroline Wozniacki. Now 0-3 in Major finals, the Romanian is considered the favorite only because of her ranking. Had a (for her standards) lackluster clay court season and hurt her back in Rome.

2. Caroline Wozniacki: Benefitted from immense luck in the second round against Jana Fett (an ace not called at 5-2 40-15 in the third set for the Croatian) and the choking of Halep in the final to win her first Slam in Melbourne. Got blown out by Kiki Bertens and Anett Kontaveit early in Madrid and Rome, respectively. Won’t be able to push (another term for defensive baseliner) very far in Paris.
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3. Garbine Muguruza: 2016 Roland Garros champion is a mess, her current ranking held up by wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati. Perhaps the site of her first major will bring out the best in her, but a switch at the coaching ranks back to Conchita Martinez is what she really needs. Draws Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round, a tough match even if the 2009 champion is past her prime.
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4. Elina Svitolina: I’ve picked to her to win/go far in this report in several majors recently. Won’t do that this time, but she crushed Halep in the Rome final and has to break through eventually. Will look to overcome her own mental demons (led Halep a set and 5-1 in the second set in last year’s quarterfinals). 12-2 in career finals (just saying).

5. Jelena Ostapenko: The defending champion stunned us all with her amazing triumph last year, blasting 301 winners to 271 unforced errors (not bad for a “ballbasher”), including 54 in the final. Reached the Miami final and is a serious threat to repeat, but won’t sneak up on anyone this time.

6. Karolina Pliskova: It’s a shame the Czech bashed the umpire’s chair in Rome after her controversial loss to Maria Sakkari. It overshadows what has been a standout clay court season, winning Stuttgart (where they use the same balls as Roland Garros) and reaching the semifinals in Madrid (finally beating Halep en route). A better clay courter this year than last year, when she made the semifinals, it’s not out of the question she could go one or two steps further this year.
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7. Caroline Garcia: Frenchwoman was a whisker away from reaching the semifinals last year, losing a tight two-setter to Pliskova. Now solidly in the Top 10, she has a potential showdown with 2016 semifinalist Kiki Bertens looming in the fourth round, who she lost to (badly) in Madrid.

8. Petra Kvitova: Last year, it was about Kvitova’s heroic return from a near-fatal home invasion. This year, it’s about the tennis, with a tour-leading four titles to her name, including a thriller against Bertens to win her third Madrid crown. Kontaveit, Anastasija Sevastova and Sloane Stephens are all in her section of the draw, quite possibly the toughest of any top seed.
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9. Venus Williams: Playing in her 21st Roland Garros, the 37-year old legend has a draw that could see her match her fourth round result of the last two years. Once there, she’ll have to negotiate past either Ostapenko or Azarenka to reach her first French quarterfinal since 2006. Received a wild card into the doubles with sister Serena, a treat for the fans who will voyage to the grounds.

10. Sloane Stephens: Miami champion is back to playing solid tennis. In that loaded section with Kvitova, Sevastova and Kontaveit, the defending US Open champion could go far or be knocked out earlier than expected. Whatever the case, good to see one of the most naturally talented players on tour back to a good level of tennis.
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11. Julia Goerges: All the rage in Melbourne, the German flamed out early. She did reach the final in Charleston and her power and serve still make her one of the most dangerous players in the world, but opening with Dominika Cibulkova and possibly facing Serena in Round 3 means it could be another early exit for Goerges.

12. Angelique Kerber: Lost in the first round as the top seed last year. Blew a golden opportunity to win her third major with a semifinal loss to Halep at the Australian Open, holding three match points. On her worst surface, the duo of Bertens and Garcia is likely to be too much for the two-time Slam champion.

13. Madison Keys: Nothing in the way of a big result since reaching the U.S. Open final except for a semifinal in Charleston. As always, if she can just keep her immense power under control, she can go far. If not, she could go out early. Exciting match with Naomi Osaka in the third round looming.

14. Daria Kasatkina: As always, the Russian reverts to defensive mode in big spots, which, as i’ve said before, is a shame since she has the power to control points from the baseline. She reached the final in Doha and is in a great section of the draw. This might finally be her chance to reach the second week in a major.

15. Coco Vandeweghe: Generally not good on clay, the American stunned everyone by reaching the final in Stuttgart, losing to Pliskova. Beat Stephens, Laura Siegemund, Halep and Garcia in Germany and draws Siegemund again in the first round. Not in a bad section of the draw, it’ll be interesting to see if she can bring her form from Stuttgart.

16. Elise Mertens: Quietly having a brilliant season, the Belgian already has won three titles (Hobart, Lugano, Rabat) and 25 matches, upping her all-around game from last year. Reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and is in a manageable section. Third round rematch from Melbourne with Daria Gavrilova is on the cards with a likely fourth round showdown against Halep to follow.

17. Ashleigh Barty: Flamed out to Osaka in the third round at her home Slam and is not really comfortable on the red dirt. Faces Serena in the second round, which will spell the end of her tournament and will send her to the grass, where she is a more formidable contender.

18. Kiki Bertens: Easily one of the two or three favorites to take home the title. The Dutchwoman crushed Goerges in Charleston and took Kvitova to the final few games in the Madrid final (possibly the best match of the year so far). A semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2016, it would shock no one if Bertens were holding up the trophy in two weeks time.

19. Magdalena Rybarikova: Here’s all you need to know about the Slovakian on clay: she lost in Madrid and Rome to Johanna Konta, another player allergic to clay, in the first round both times. Rough section with Belinda Bencic in round two and then either Vandeweghe or Siegemund. She’ll be looking forward to the grass just like Barty.

20. Anastasija Sevastova: What she lacks in height and power, she makes up for in variety and shot-making. A two-time quarterfinalist in New York, it’s surprising the Latvian has not done better in Paris. In the Kvitova/Stephens/Kontaveit section, so she likely won’t have her clay breakthrough here.

21. Naomi Osaka: Took home her first title in Indian Wells this year, dismantling Halep and Kasatkina in the final two rounds. Showed she’s still a work in progress on the dirt when the world number one surrendered just one game in their second-round match in Rome. Really want to see that match against Keys in round three.

22. Johanna Konta: Did well to take advantage of a player who, like her, is not comfortable on clay in Rybarikova and was surprisingly competitive against Ostapenko in Rome. Still, she’s not a threat here and would do well if she reached the third round.

23. Carla Suarez Navarro: Started off her Grand Slam season well, reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne and pushing Wozniacki to three sets. One of the prettiest one-handed backhands on tour, she has a real chance to reach the last eight here even if she not at her absolute best anymore.

24. Daria Gavrilova: Pesky Aussie has a brutal draw, opening with Sorana Cirstea followed by either Bernarda Pera or Elena Vesnina and if she gets through all of that, she’ll likely meet the same fate she did at the Australian Open, losing to Mertens in the third round.

25. Anett Kontaveit: Estonian has wins over Venus (twice), Wozniacki, Kuznetsova, Kerber and Vandeweghe during the clay season. Reaching the Stuttgart semifinals, it’s about time she got her due attention as one of the best young players on tour. The last nine majors have featured a surprise semifinalist and no reason the 22-year old can’t be that player here. Not a matter of if, but when she has her big breakthrough in a major.

26. Barbora Strycova: As always, the Czech will be feisty, but she is in a terrible section with Ostapenko or Azarenka waiting for her in the third round. On an eight-match losing streak, she’s another player awaiting for the grass season to start.

27. Shuai Zhang: She has the weapons to do well on any surface, but she’s not getting past Garcia in the third round.

28. Maria Sharapova: Played her way into a seed with her semifinal showing in Rome, losing 6-4 in the third set to Halep. Back at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015 and working with old coach Thomas Hogstedt, the two-time champion is playing with a lot of confidence and will be one of the more fascinating players to watch for as long as she’s in the draw.

29. Kristina Mladenovic: The good news for the Frenchwoman is that awful 14-match losing streak is over (beat Cibulkova in St. Petersburg). The bad news is she’s still not playing well and a repeat of her quarterfinal showing here in 2017 seems highly unlikely, especially being in Halep’s section.

30. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: I feel like it’s like a broken record with the Russian: all the talent in the world, but still maddeningly inconsistent. Is currently in the Strasbourg final against Cibulkova. She could beat Muguruza in the third round. She could get bounced by Polona Hercog or Samantha Stosur before that. You just never know with Pavlyuchenkova.

31. Mihaela Buzarnescu: Career journeywoman broke through to qualify at the US Open and look at her now: a seed at a Slam for the first time at age 30. Lost three-set finals to Mertens in Hobart and Kvitova in Prague. A nice story that will likely meet its end against Svitolina.

32. Alize Cornet: Well, isn’t that an interesting opener against Sara Errani? No reason she can’t win a few rounds (Wozniacki is not great on clay, which would be her third round opponent). Was cleared of any wrongdoing after missing three drug tests, so she should have peace of mind going into her home major.

Unseeded players to watch

Serena Williams: Obviously, no one will be watched more closely than the 23-time Grand Slam champion as she plays her first major since winning the 2017 Australian Open. While on the surface it may seem unreasonable that Serena could win here, it would be awfully dangerous to count her out.

Victoria Azarenka: Finally free of the child custody case has held her back for so long, Azarenka could go as far as the semifinals or crash out to Ostapenko in the second round. No matter of the result, the tour is better off with the two-time Australian Open champion back on a full-time basis.

Timea Bacsinszky: Injuries have destroyed her since she reached the semifinals last year, but she is still a threat on clay and it would not at all be surprising if she took out Wozniacki in the second round. Very entertaining player to watch on this surface when she’s on her game.

Laura Siegemund: Another player whose recent fortunes have taken a downturn after a serious injury (knee). Like Bacsinszky, if she can take down a seeded opponent early (Vandeweghe), she could go far (perhaps a last 16 showdown with Muguruza). All three of her career finals (two wins) have come on clay.

Best first-round matches

Muguruza vs Kuznetsova: 2016 champion vs 2009 champion. One is a mess who is in need of new voice. The other is approaching the end of a stellar career. Sveta will be up for this one, which will make it great theater.

Siegemund vs Vandeweghe: German is looking for revenge after Vandeweghe ended her Stuttgart title defense. If Siegemund is at full strength physically, she probably should win this. Nice to see her back.

Goerges vs Cibulkova: Lots of hard hitting. Lots of great ball-striking. Likely lots of errors. Still, this will be a fun match that could very well go the distance. Winner will likely get Serena in the third round.

Kristyna Pliskova vs Serena: All eyes on Williams as she is back on the major scene. Facing the younger Pliskova will see big serving from both sides, but how well Serena moves will determine who wins this.

Semifinals

Bertens def. Pliskova: Both players will be seeking to go one step further than their previous best at Roland Garros. Confidence is there for both with their convincing wins in Charleston and Stuttgart, respectively. Pliskova has the edge on the serve, Bertens the edge in movement. Whoever dictates off the ground will win here and I think the Dutchwoman will keep herself under control enough to reach her first major final.

Ostapenko def. Kontaveit: We saw this matchup in Melbourne with Kontaveit winning in three sets. All logic would point to a repeat of that result, but I think just the mere sight of Roland Garros will bring the defending champion back into that “zone” she got in for last year’s event (301 winners in total, 54 in the final). This could be a great rivalry for years to come and Ostapenko should get her revenge for Melbourne.

Final

Ostapenko def. Bertens: This could be a classic. Both have the firepower. Both have had big-time success at the event. What will be the difference? Ostapenko has that slightly extra gear she can call on in the big spot (ask Halep). This should be a match of great momentum swings with the outcome in doubt until the final few points. Let’s see how Ostapenko’s seemingly improved serve will hold up against an in-form player with  In the end, the Latvian will unleash a barrage of winners to just get over the line and repeat as champion.


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