French Open Draw Analysis: Swiatek’s Route to Glory Blocked by Barty?

Who will emerge victorious at the French Open?

There should be plenty of thrilling tennis to come over the next two weeks at the French Open. Iga Swiatek is the defending champion and the favourite on paper, particularly after the other contenders – notably Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka – have suffered minor dips in form in recent weeks. The rest of the field, meanwhile, look to have a longshot at best of winning the title.

French Open Draw Analysis

Swiatek’s Title Defence

The Pole is the strongest favourite heading into a Grand Slam title for at least a couple of years. Her level in the final in Rome, where she destroyed Kristina Pliskova 6-0 6-0, served as a potent reminder of the quality she showed during her devastating run to the title at Roland Garros last September. Lest we forget, Swiatek lost no more than four games in any set en route to the title.

Her route to the last 16 looks straightforward. Swiatek is set to open her campaign with what looks like a winnable match on paper against Kaja Juvan, but will likely face progressively more difficult matches until a potential fourth-round encounter Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard, a former French Open champion herself, is not to be underestimated.
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Although she has not been in particularly good form of late, Muguruza often shows her best at Grand Slams and would be a tough early test of Swiatek’s title credentials. A quarterfinal against either Jessica Pegula or Elise Mertens looks favourable, but the big test may well come in the semifinal, where Barty is expected to be waiting.

Ash Barty’s Tough Draw

The Australian world #1 has been handed a pretty tough draw in her quest to regain her French Open title. In her mind of course she’s also a defending champion having not lost at Roland Garros since 2018. But as well as she played during her run to the title in 2019, she only encountered one seeded player, Madison Keys in the quarterfinals. It would be a surprise if that piece of history repeated itself in 2021.

Ons Jabeur has been drawn as her likely third-round opponent, that would be a great match for the neutral. The in-form Coco Gauff could then be lying in wait after that. The draw doesn’t get easier as Elina Svitolina is a possible quarterfinal opponent and Swiatek will then likely stand between Barty and a place in the final. If Barty is to regain the French Open over the next two weeks, then she will have to do it the hard way.

Sabalenka in the easier half of the draw

Out of all the players pre-draw it is Sabalenka who has the most accommodating position. The bottom half of the draw is relatively open, albeit with one or two potential bumps in the road. Ana Konjuh is a pretty tough opener with the Croatian looking as though she is finding some form. After that, however, the path to the quarterfinals looks fairly straightforward for Sabalenka.
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The Belarusian does have a famously poor record at the Grand Slams and the next two weeks stand to be a test of her mental strength as much as her ability with a racket in hand. In the last eight, Serena Williams or Petra Kvitova are her most likely opponents with Naomi Osaka is seeded to meet her in the semifinals. However, on current form it would be a surprise if the Japanese made it to that stage, unless her decision to skip press conferences proves to be a magic formula.

Sabalenka is favourite to reach the final on the bottom half and rightly so. If she can navigate the draw then it could be a big breakthrough Grand Slam for her and pave the way to her being a bigger force in the game.

Wide-Open Bottom Quarter

As mentioned above, the bottom quarter really is open for anyone to make a big run. Osaka may still be the favourite to come through this section of the draw but she has been far from convincing on clay, both this season and earlier in her career. The other highly ranked seeded players have all suffered problems, either physical or form-related.
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Bianca Andreescu, Kiki Bertens, Belinda Bencic and Johanna Konta would all have their chances here on a level playing field but it is difficult to have confidence that any will bring their A-game to this tournament. Players such as Veronica Kudermetova, Paula Badosa and Sorana Cirstea all could fancy their chances at a surprise semifinal berth. Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 finalist, should not be overlooked either, with the Czech’s path through the draw looking relatively simple on paper.

Opening-Round Blockbusters

Grand Slam draws, especially on the women’s side, invariably throw up some entertaining first-round encounters, a trend that has continued at this year’s French Open. Three that are worth picking out in the opening round are Ekaterina Alexandrova vs Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin vs Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza vs Marta Kostyuk.

The draw is packed with interesting stories. Two current champions – if such a thing is possible. Veterans looking to rekindle former glories. Clay-court specialists looking to capitalise on their big chance. It all adds up to a potentially superb fortnight of action to follow in Paris. Who will emerge from the draw as champion?

Main photo from Getty Images.

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