French Open: Best Women’s Singles First Round Matches

Aryna Sabalenka in action ahead of the French Open.

The second Grand Slam of the year is upon us and, not for the first time, there are plenty of intriguing first-round clashes to keep an eye on in the women’s singles at the French Open. Here’s a look at some of the standout matches of the round of 128:

French Open First-Round Matches to Watch

Sofia Kenin vs Jelena Ostapenko

This pair have met just once previously with the Latvian coming out victorious. That match was in 2020 in the Fed Cup Qualifiers. This time around they meet at a Grand Slam and on a different surface. Both have enjoyed success at this tournament, with Sofia Kenin finishing as runner-up last season and Jelena Ostapenko claiming her first and thus far only Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2017.

Both also have a point to prove in Paris. The young American is enduring a difficult season and is no longer being coached by her father. She has a new team that she has been working with and will be hoping that fresh voices can affect a turnaround in her form. Ostapenko, meanwhile, is in solid form after reaching the quarterfinals at the Italian Open.
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Amanda Anisimova vs Veronika Kudermetova

This is the first time these two have met, but it should make for an entertaining clash. Veronika Kudermetova won the title on the clay in Charleston whilst Amanda Anisimova reached the semifinals in Paris back in 2019. The American will no doubt hope to rediscover that level of tennis, but faces what looks like a tough test.

The Russian is playing a high level of tennis and is the favorite coming into this match as a result. She has played more matches and has gone deeper into the tournaments leading to the French Open. However, it should still be a competitive match as both players play well on clay courts.

Karolina Pliskova vs Donna Vekic

This match will be their fifth time playing against one another in a rivalry that Karolina Pliskova has so far had the better of. The Czech has won three of their previous matches and lost just once to the Croatian. But they have not met since 2019 and much has changed for both players since.

Donna Vekic is coming back from a right knee injury that required surgery and it will be interesting to see how she performs having been out of action since February. On the other hand, Pliskova reached the final of the Italian Open, but suffered a bruising 0-6 0-6 defeat there at the hands of Iga Swiatek.
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Victoria Azarenka vs Svetlana Kuznetsova

These two have played against each other 10 times with Victoria Azarenka winning six of those matches. Their most recent match came earlier this year when they met in Doha, with Azarenka winning easily in straight sets. Now, they will meet again with both perhaps slightly undercooked coming into this tournament.

Kuznetsova did not play any clay-court events before the French Open, whilst Azarenka only played in Madrid, where she withdrew before in the second round. It will be very interesting to see how both perform having spent so little time on court recently.  But with both women former Grand Slam champions there should be plenty of entertaining tennis when they step out onto court.

Kaja Juvan vs Iga Swiatek

The reigning champion Iga Swiatek is coming into this tournament in great form after winning the Italian Open in some style. She is surely the favorite to lift the trophy again this year. She has played Kaja Juvan just once and that was at the beginning of this year in Melbourne at the WTA Gippsland Trophy. The Pole lost the first set, but rallied to win in three sets 2-6 6-2 6-1.

Unquestionably Swiatek is the heavy favorite in this match, but the eighth seed will know she must be careful not to take it too lightly. It will also be interesting to see how she handles the pressure of expectation that accompanies any defending champion at a Grand Slam.
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Nadia Podoroska vs Belinda Bencic

This match promises to be an exciting one. Nadia Podoroska made her name last year with a run to the semifinals and this is about as tough as first-round matches get for Belinda Bencic. The Swiss is having a largely disappointing year, particularly after early exits in Charleston, Stuttgart and at the Italian Open. However, she did reach the quarterfinals at the Madrid Open and if she can rediscover that level of tennis she could do some damage in Paris.

Podoroska will have a tough battle on her hands with Bencic a dangerous opponent no matter what her recent results say. The Argentine will also have to face the pressure of attempting to repeat her 2020 exploits and, crucially, defend the points she accumulated. This will be the first time that these two have faced off, but with both players adept on the clay an entertaining clash should be in the offing.

Ashleigh Barty vs Bernarda Pera

Ashleigh Barty elected not to defend her title last year so it will be interesting to see how she does this year on her return to action in the French capital. Her first-round opponent Bernarda Pera has not played very well on the clay this season but can change all of that with this match, which is effectively a free hit for her against one of the world’s best.

Fortunately for Barty, her absence last season does not appear to have harmed her clay-court game. The Australian won the singles and doubles title in Stuttgart, as well as reaching the final at the Madrid Open and the quarterfinals in Charleston and Rome. Those are some impressive results and  she is the heavy favorite coming into this match.
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Carla Suarez Navarro vs Sloane Stephens

Carla Suarez Navarro is set to player her first match since after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last September. She is now cancer free after undergoing treatment and will no doubt have the support of most of the crowd in what is set to be the last French Open of her career. She has played Sloane Stephens three times and lost all of them. But their last meeting was back in 2018 in Montreal, with Stephens having rather lost her way since.

Indeed, the American has not been playing like a Grand Slam champion of late and will doubtless be desperate to change that over the next two weeks. Fortunately for Stephens, she has found a modicum of form recently, making the quarterfinals in Charleston and the semifinals last time out in Parma.

Serena Williams vs Irina-Camelia Begu

Serena Williams has the chance to make history over the next two weeks at the French Open. She is chasing her 24th Grand Slam title and will open her campaign up against an experienced clay-court player in Begu. They have faced each other just once before, a match that came back in 2016 at the Italian Open with Williams emerging victorious. But she may have to work hard to repeat that result.

She was eliminated early at the Italian Open and in Parma this month. As a result, she has only played three matches on clay this season which may be a problem for her. Begu, however, has not played that much either on clay and was knocked out early in Madrid and Rome. The American is unquestionably the heavy favorite despite her recent struggles and will try to dominate the match from the beginning to avoid any surprises.

Ana Konjuh vs Aryna Sabalenka

This will be their first encounter and it promises to be a tough battle. Both are heavy hitters and can play well on clay. The Croatian is coming back from long-term injury, but has impressed on the terre battue this season. She reached the final in Belgrade and made the quarterfinals in Istanbul. She had to play in three qualifying matches to reach the main draw of this Grand Slam so she might have a slight advantage of being familiar with the conditions

Even though that might be true, Sabalenka is on fire at the moment. She reached the final in Stuttgart and won the Madrid Open. Coming into the French Open she is the favorite to win this match and perhaps even the whole tournament. She has managed to find her best tennis and will surely be targeting a deep run in Paris.

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