French Open Women’s Singles Roundtable Predictions: Champion, Dark Horse, and Early Exit

Aryna Sabalenka Serena Williams Australian Open

Ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros, five Last Word On Tennis writers–Vithun Illankovan, Yesh Ginsburg, Ryan Schick, Damian Kust, and Nurein Ahmed–made their French Open Women’s Singles predictions. We also have a separate roundtable for the men’s singles.

ChampionWho will win the 2021 French Open? 

Vithun: [3] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)

I think most people feel as if it is a situation of the three top form players during the 2021 clay-court swing (Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, and Iga Swiatek) against the field. Barty won in Stuttgart, Sabalenka won in Madrid, and Swiatek won in Rome–the three most prestigious clay-court events before the French Open. However, no woman has successfully defended a French Open singles title since 2007. Swiatek is the defending champion and Barty is playing at Roland Garros for the first time since her 2019 victory (after choosing not to play last year amid COVID safety concerns), making her participation somewhat of an honorary title defense attempt. Therefore, it is in line with WTA logic to pick Sabalenka as to win the title.

Yesh: [7] Serena Williams (USA)

Do I think this is where the American will claim her 24th Grand Slam? No. But with so many favorites having issues with injuries or form, and with a good draw for Williams, she’s as safe a prediction as any.

Ryan: [3] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)

Sabalenka had never been known as a great clay court player, but she has made the final in her two tournaments on the surface, splitting both with French Open favorite Ashleigh Barty. She dispatched Simona Halep easily in straight sets in Stuttgart, and defeated Barty in the Madrid final who has been a massive challenge to beat in any final. Sabalenka also has the benefit of apotential quarterfinal against Serena Williams who lacks recent match fitness. She also avoided Barty and defending champ Iga Swiatek and would have Naomi Osaka in her semifinal which opens up that half of the draw. Sabalenka doesn’t have much history at Slams, but the French Open has given her a pathway to pull off her first one.

Damian: [8] Iga Swiatek (POL)

How bold of me, going for last year’s winner. In Rome, Swiatek showed that when she’s in the right rhythm, only the very best can even have a chance at beating her. This dramatic win over Barbora Krejcikova was also the first time in recent months when Swiatek won a match despite not playing her best tennis at all. It’s very reassuring that she was able to then pick up and play lights out in her next match. It makes me think that even if she encounters issues, unlike at last year’s Roland Garros, she is prepared to handle it.

Nurein: [3] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)

Aryna Sabalenka has flattered to deceive at the Grand Slams in recent years. She was touted to win the last two editions of Australian Open, and failed spectacularly. It seems like a long drawn-out prediction each time we pick Sabalenka to end her Grand Slam drought. But I think she has improved massively over the last few months, including her all-round game which fits every surface. If she gets past the first week unscathed, she will be unstoppable.

Dark Horse – Who will go furthest in the draw, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?

Vithun: Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)

Nothing says a dark horse like an unseeded former champion. Whilst on paper a first-round exit would be expected given that her opponent is No.4 seed and last year’s finalist Sofia Kenin, the American has been in woeful form and so I predict Ostapenko to cause the upset. Ostapenko showed signs of a return to form with a run to the quarterfinals in Rome, where she even had three match points to reach the semifinals. If she brings that level of play to Roland Garros, I predict her to make the 4th Round, which would be her best showing since winning the title in 2017.

Yesh: Amanda Anisimova (USA)

She isn’t seeded, but she’s better on clay than her first-round opponent. With Bianca Andreescu’s health in serious question, Anisimova has a clear path to the fourth round, and she won’t be too heavy an underdog in that match either.

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Ryan: Amanda Anisimova (USA)

The former semifinalist here comes in unseeded with a tough first round matchup against Kudermetova but if she can get through her, has potential to make a deep run. She is in a pretty open portion of the draw that is competitive but where she can beat any player, especially considering top seeds Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu are not quite comfortable on clay. Anisimova has been playing good tennis and she has looked more comfortable on court her last few matches. If she finds her groove and makes it out of round one, there is a very real chance for her to make the quarter- or even semifinal.

Damian: [26] Angelique Kerber (GER)

It’s a kind of a weird pick given it’s her weakest surface, but the German was quite unlucky with her draws in the warm-ups, getting dangerous opponents early. In a section with Serena Williams as the nearest seed, an opportunity might arise for her to finish this event around the quarterfinal stage. However, if the seeds hold up and she is to take on Williams and Petra Kvitova in consecutive rounds, it could be a bit too big of an ask.

Nurein: [33] Paula Badosa (ESP)

I predict Badosa to reach the semi-finals. Again, form and momentum cannot be ignored. Paula Badosa is now bumped into Naomi Osaka’s lower quarter following Alison Riske’s withdrawal. She is now the number 33 seed, and perhaps more importantly avoids the dangerous Clara Tauson, her initial first-round opponent. After several near-misses in the semifinals, Badosa finally managed to break her duck by winning her maiden title in Belgrade. Prior to that she had beat en Ashleigh Barty on the green clay of Charleston and made the last four in Madrid as a wild card entrant. That to me defines a darkhorse at Roland Garros.

Early Exit – Who will suffer the earliest exit, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?

Vithun: [4] Sofia Kenin (USA)

As Ostapenko was my dark horse, the player I think she will be upsetting in Round 1, Sofia Kenin, is therefore my early exit. Kenin is the latest example in this era of the WTA, where unheralded players have big results and then falter under the pressure of being a top-ranked player as they achieved peak success quicker than their ability suggested. Rising up the rankings in 2020 by winning the Australian Open and reaching the French Open final (having never previously reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal), Kenin has lost more matches than she has won in 2021. With no wins on clay this year and having to face a former French Open champion in the opening round, a first round exit seems imminent.

Yesh: [6] Bianca Andreescu (CAN)

Is this too easy a pick? Probably. But her health is in major question, and even if she gets through her first match, the draw wasn’t kind to the Canadian. Third round seems like her best possible run here.

Ryan: [26] Angelique Kerber (GER)

It would be too easy to say someone like Osaka or Serena Williams, so Kerber is a seeded player overlooked who may struggle to win matches here. She has had a first round exit in four of her last five appearances here, and she did get lucky and draw a qualifier first round, but playing a free-swinging lower ranked player with momentum could prove dangerous to a vulnerable Kerber. If she makes it out of round one, she’ll likely face Danielle Collins–who reached the French Open quarterfinal last year and will prevent Kerber from going past the second round.

Damian: [4] Sofia Kenin (USA)

The trendy pick would be to go Naomi Osaka but she’s got a rather peaceful draw that even with her limited clay abilities could take her somewhere. Sofia Kenin, on the other hand, faces the 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in the opening round. Combined with the Latvian’s hyper-aggressive style, it’s an opponent you never want to see in your first match. Kenin hasn’t won a match on clay this year yet and lacking match rhythm could kill her here.

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Nurein: [6] Bianca Andreescu (CAN)

I predict Andreescu to lose in the 1st round. Health continues to dictate Andreescu’s career trajectory. She suffered from a slight abdominal tear in Strasbourg and while we are not entirely sure at the state of her condition coming to Paris, her chances of making an imprint at Roland Garros are diminishing by the minute. Andreescu has tricky opponent in the form of clay court specialist Tamara Zidansek to begin with.

Main Photo from Getty.

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