French Open: Storylines and Predictions for the Women’s Singles

Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka practicing at the French Open.

Roland Garros, the second Grand Slam of the year, is set to begin on Sunday. There are many interesting storylines heading into the French Open, with history on the line for more than one player. Here are a few of the storylines you might want to keep your eye on:

Swiatek aims to defend her French Open title

Iga Swiatek is the defending champion, returning to Paris as the eighth seed, having won the event last year as an unseeded player without dropping a set, beating two of the top five seeds in Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin along the way. She opens her defence against Kaja Juvan.

#1 Ranking is up for grabs

Ashleigh Barty is at risk of losing her # 1 ranking to #2 Naomi Osaka. Barty needs to reach the final to guarantee she remains at the top of the WTA rankings, because if she doesn’t Osaka can surpass her by reaching the final herself. Barty and Osaka open their French Open campaigns against Bernarda Pera and Patricia Maria Tig respectively.

Kerber attempts the Career Grand Slam

26th seed Angelique Kerber will be attempting to complete the Career Grand Slam. Having won one of each of the other Grand Slams, the French Open is the final one she needs to complete the set. Her best showing at the French Open to date is reaching the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2018. Her first-round opponent is the qualifier Anhelina Kalinina.

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Serena aims for #24 and ‘Quadruple Career Grand Slam’

Meanwhile, the seventh-seeded Serena Williams is aiming to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams. If she wins at Roland Garros,  she will also achieve the ‘Quadruple Career Grand Slam’, tying Steffi Graf in having won each Grand Slam at least four times. She will begin her quest for her 24th Grand Slam against Irina-Camelia Begu.

Quarterfinals

[1] Ashleigh Barty d. [5] Elina Svitolina

[8] Iga Swiatek d. [14] Elise Mertens

[3] Aryna Sabalenka d. [11] Petra Kvitova

[6] Bianca Andreescu d. [33] Paula Badosa

Semifinals

[8] Iga Swiatek d. [1] Ashleigh Barty

[3] Aryna Sabalenka d. [6] Bianca Andreescu

Final

[3] Aryna Sabalenka d. [8] Iga Swiatek

Analysis

Of the eight seeds, five should reach the quarterfinals. The three that look likely to miss out are [2] Osaka, [4] Sofia Kenin and [7] Williams. All three have lost more matches than they have won on clay this year so it is not as if any of them are entering the tournament with much promise.

Predicting Osaka to lose before the quarterfinals is not unrealistic in the slightest. The Japanese player has never been past the third round at the French Open and has never reached a final on the clay. Osaka could face in-form Badosa (who reached the semifinals in Charleston and Madrid, as well as winning in Belgrade) in the third round.
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Williams, meanwhile, could face Kvitova, a French Open semifinalist last season and a quarterfinalist Stuttgart and Madrid this year, in the fourth round and so expect both of these players to cause upsets and reach the quarterfinals in their place.

In the case of Kenin, even winning a match would be an achievement. The American has had a miserable season so far and has been handed a tough draw. Her first-round match pits her against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who also reached the quarterfinals in Rome this year. Therefore, despite Kenin reaching the French Open final in 2020, expect the American to make a first-round exit in 2021.
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However, Ostapenko looks a long shot to reach the quarterfinals. Indeed, it is hard to look beyond the fourth round for the Latvian, who would likely find herself up against Elise Mertens. The Belgian reached the final in Istanbul and quarterfinals at the Madrid Open in 2021 and is known on tour for her ability to capitalise on a draw that has opened up.

The most likely semifinal line-up in the top half of the seems to be Swiatek vs Barty, the last two French Open champions. It is a match-up that looks likely to become one of the standout rivalries in the years to come due to their ability to play well on all surfaces. Although Barty won a close contest between them in Madrid, in the slower conditions in Paris, Swiatek should be able to get a measure of revenge.

The player who seems most likely to be waiting in the final for the Pole is Aryna Sabalenka (winner in Madrid and finalist in Stuttgart), the other strong favourite for the title besides Swiatek and Barty. Should Swiatek and Sabalenka face off in the final, expect the Belarussian to come out on top and win her first Grand Slam title.

The French Open women’s singles title has not been successfully defended since 2007 and the pressure Swiatek will feel trying to accomplish that whilst also having the additional pressure maintaining a long win-streak (given that she is entering the tournament having won her last six matches), will prevent her from playing her best tennis and give Sabalenka the edge.

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