This is my first post since the Miami Open so please mind me if my writing is a little rusty! The clay court swing has produced some surprises with Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova taking the Rome and Stuttgart titles respectively, while it was not surprising to see Kiki Bertens claim the Madrid title over 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep. There are quite a few contenders that could be holding the trophy at the end of the fortnight; who were given a helping hand by the draw, and who were absolutely hosed by it? Read on to find out…
First section: Headlined by  Naomi Osaka
 Osaka vs Schmiedlova
Ostapenko vs Azarenka
[Q] Rybakina vs Siniakova
Tatishvili vs  Sakkari
2019 continues to be a great season for Naomi Osaka who has had her best clay-court swing to date, reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart and quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. Osaka withdrew from the latter event with a hand injury but it seems OK now as she already has been practicing in Paris. Osaka probably has one of the toughest draws out of the top 8 seeds – the erratic Anna Karolina Schmiedlova is her first round opponent, before Jelena Ostapenko or Victoria Azarenka in one of the first round highlights of the Roland Garros draw. Both players are miles away from their top level at the moment, but Azarenka is starting to find back her tennis as she has been playing a lot of matches in singles and doubles these days. Ostapenko has also been playing a lot of matches, but without much success as the 2017 French Open champion is having a 7-15 win-loss record over the year. Nonetheless, you never know what you’re going to get from Ostapenko, so it wouldn’t be that surprising to see her blow Azarenka off the court either.
It doesn’t get easier for Osaka as she is seeded to face No.29 seed Maria Sakkari in the third round. Sakkari had enjoyed a terrible start to the year on the hard courts, but has managed to turn around her fortunes on the dirt with a first WTA title in Rabat and a semifinal run in Rome, propelling her to a career-high ranking. Sakkari’s game is completely suited to the clay and she could cause Osaka lots of problems with her quick foot speed and topspin forehand. She’ll first have to beat America’s Anna Tatishvili, who hasn’t been on the tour since 2017, and then the erratic but dangerous Katerina Siniakova in the next round.
Second section: Headlined by  Madison Keys
 Garcia vs Barthel
[Q] Blinkova vs Gasparyan
[LL] Babos vs [WC] Hon
Rodina vs  Keys
Last year’s semifinalist Madison Keys is going to have it tough trying to defend her points from last year as the American isn’t playing well on the red clay at the moment. Keys crashed out in the first round of Madrid to wildcard Sorana Cirstea, before winning one match in Rome before losing to Sofia Kenin. Clay has never been Keys’ best surface but she can play well on it if she decides to be patient in taking her time to construct rallies. It all depends on whether she’s willing to stay patient to do so. Evgeniya Rodina in the first round isn’t going to be easy at all as the Russian gets so many balls back, so that one’s probably a 50-50 encounter but Keys does have a habit for bringing her game to the Slams.
There’s another 50-50 encounter in this section in the form of Caroline Garcia against Mona Barthel. The home crowd will desperately be trying to help Garcia find back her form with Garcia going through a very trying season. There isn’t really much to say about this section with the seeds likely to meet in the third round if they negate their first opponents.
Third section: Headlined by  Serena Williams
 S.Williams vs Diatchenko
[Q] Nara vs Jakupovic
[Q] Gattio-Monticone vs Kenin
[LL] Bouzkova vs  Andreescu
Serena Williams returns to Paris in quest of her fourth Roland Garros title but there doesn’t seem to be too many expectations coming from the public, as she hasn’t been able to garner too many wins since the Australian Open. Of course Serena’s main target right now are the four Slams, but without much match practice on the tour, she’s likely going to be rusty in the first few rounds of tournaments. There shouldn’t be too many issues with Diatchenko in her opener, but Bianca Andreescu could be a tough opponent in the round of 32. That’s a big ‘if’ though as Andreescu hasn’t played since Miami, skipping the clay court swing due to a knee injury. Apparently Andreescu lists clay as her favourite surface, but I have no idea how she plays on the dirt. She plays lucky loser Marie Bouzkova in her first match in almost three months, and very likely Sofia Kenin in the second round in which will be their third meeting in 2019. Either way, both players are such tough competitors, so Serena’s third round match should be a fun one to behold.
Fourth section: Headlined by  Ashleigh Barty
 Hsieh vs Golubic
Riske vs Petkovic
Collins vs T.Maria
Pegula vs  Barty
Just like Osaka, Ashleigh Barty seems to be improving with each match on the clay. Beating Daria Gavrilova, Danielle Collins and Yulia Putintseva in Madrid, Barty reached the quarterfinals in Madrid where she fell to Simona Halep eventually. Clay will never suit Barty’s game but the Australian seems to be finding a way to get her game working on this surface. Jessica Pegula should be no problem for Barty, but a potential second rounder in the hard-hitting Collins could be dangerous if the American finds her radar.
Another dangerous player is the No.25 seed Hsieh Su-Wei. Since Miami, Hsieh hasn’t made too much noise on the tour, which is not too surprising considering clay is the Taiwanese player’s worst surface. Out of four tournaments on clay this year, Hsieh only managed to win back-to-back matches once (in Rabat) but has had plenty of exposure on the surface this year, having played doubles with Barbora Strycova. Hsieh has a tricky first rounder in the form of clay-loving Viktorija Golubic, and the winner of that will await Alison Riske or Andrea Petkovic in the second round.
Fifth section: Headlined by  Simona Halep
 Halep vs Tomljanovic
[WC} Paquet vs Linette
Gavrilova vs Krunic
Bouchard vs  Tsurenko
The draws have been kind to Simona Halep for her upcoming title defence – out of the seven players in this section, only two people have beaten Halep before and they are Eugenie Bouchard, who has not played a match since Miami, and Daria Gavrilova, who hasn’t won back-to-back matches against top 100 players all year. Halep reached the final in Madrid, then promptly fell in her Rome opener disappointingly to Marketa Vondrousova afterwards. The loss definitely wasn’t too worrying for Simona as she probably was just too tired after her Madrid exploits. Halep will play Alja Tomljanovic in her opener – not easy, but not that difficult either as Halep’s stellar counter-punching definitely should be too strong for Tomljanovic’s erratic game. There isn’t anyone that should trouble Halep too much here – it would be very, very surprising if she doesn’t make it to the second week in Paris.
Sixth section: Headlined by  Wang Qiang
Kasatkina vs [Q] Paolini
Puig vs Flipkens
Swiatek vs [WC] Janicijevic
Zheng vs  Q.Wang
There is no doubt that this section is one of the weakest of the draw – No.16 seed Wang Qiang has went 3-5 on the clay this year, with a defeat to World No.88 Fiona Ferro in Strasbourg a very disappointing one. No.21 Daria Kasatkina is at her best on clay but the old Daria hasn’t been seen all year as the Russian continues to be experiencing a slump. Kasatkina showed signs of resurgence in Rome with back-to-back wins over Irina-Camelia Begu and Siniakova, but a three-set loss to Vondrousova sent her back to the drawing board. With the seeds in patchy form, perhaps a Monica Puig or a Kirsten Flipkens could come out tops in this section. Maybe even 17-year-old Iga Swiatek? The young Polish player can play on any surface and is definitely capable of outhitting Wang or Kasatkina. Expect the unexpected in this section.
Seventh section: Headlined by  Aryna Sabalenka
 Sabalenka vs Cibulkova
Anisimova vs [WC] Tan
Begu vs Zhu
Muchova vs  Kontaveit
The seventh section could feature another upset galore as Aryna Sabalenka has been going through some tough times in recent months. I watched her match against the tricky Alize Cornet in Rome and she was just a mess there, unable to control her groundstrokes and hitting them way past the baseline. Her serve was another messy aspect of her game as Sabalenka currently features eighth on the most double faults list on the tour. Sabalenka played a little better this week in Strasbourg, but a straight-sets loss to Dayana Yastremska would not help in terms of her low confidence level at the moment. Unforunately for the Belarusian, she plays the energetic and dangerous Dominika Cibulkova to begin her campaign. Cibulkova drew the short end of the stick in Rome and Madrid, drawing No.1 Osaka early on in both events and while she lost in straight sets both times, she still managed to show that she has plenty to offer on the WTA tour. If she can pressurise Sabalenka with her pounding groundstrokes and ‘pome’s’, she definitely has the potential to score an upset. The winner of Sabalenka-Cibulkova will play the talented Amanda Anisimova in the second round. The American isn’t at her dangerous best on the slow clay courts but if she manages to find her radar she definitely is going to be hard to hit through.
Anett Kontaveit vs Karolina Muchova is another one of those eye popping first rounders, just simply because their games are so different. Kontaveit is a huge-hitter who can tend to play a little one-dimensionally at times, and Muchova has all the tricks and slices in the bag, but is still relatively inexperienced and her shot selection can fail her at times. It’s pretty much a 50-50 match with the winner likely facing clay court stalwart Irina-Camelia Begu next.
Eighth section: Headlined by  Petra Kvitova
Even though she won Stuttgart and did well in Madrid, no one is talking about Petra Kvitova and that should work in her favour as the Czech isn’t a fan of the spotlight during the Slams. There’s obviously a reason for the silence and that’s because Parisian clay is so much slower than Stuttgart and Madrid clay which definitely doesn’t suit the hard-hitting Kvitova. Kvitova last reached the second week of Roland Garros back in 2015 but the kind draw has made it very possible for the World No.6 to reach that stage again. Kvitova kicks off her campaign against the very inconsistent Sorana Cirstea, and is seeded to face the struggling Mihaela Buzarnescu in the third round. Not too difficult a route so long Petra can maintain her focus and consistency during the long and draining rallies.
Ninth section: Headlined by  Sloane Stephens
 Stephens vs Doi
Sorribes Tormo vs Van Uytvanck
Brady vs Jorovic
Hercog vs  Sasnovich
I LOLed when I saw that Sloane Stephens could possibly play Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round… it’s a potential rematch of that draining and moonballing festival in Charleston, where Stephens came through in straight sets in… two hours and 37 minutes! Stephens’ confidence and form was in the doldrums at that point but a confidence boosting run to the semifinals in Madrid should give her a much needed boost to the season. Sven Groeneveld, who previously coached Maria Sharapova has now joined the Sloane team and he already seems to be bringing positives to the American. Even with a good coach, you still never know which Stephens will appear but I’m guessing she’s going to be pretty motivated as she has a bucket load of points to defend as last year’s finalist.
The other seed in this section is Aliaksandra Sasnovich who surprisingly snagged a seed in Paris after a mediocre clay court season. The main reason for mentioning Sasnovich is her love for bagels in 2019 – Sasnovich has been on the receiving end of four bagel sets and has delivered five bagel sets this year! Polona Hercog, champion is Istanbul, is not going to be an easy feat for Sasnovich in the first round – will there be more bagels involved, or will Hercog continue her great clay court swing? Hoping for a wacky scoreline in this one.
Tenth section: Headlined by  Elina Svitolina
 Muguruza vs Townsend
Rybarikova vs Larsson
[Q] Pera vs Kozlova
V.Williams vs  Svitolina
Elina Svitolina comes into Roland Garros in poor form, crashing out in her openers in both Madrid and Rome to Pauline Parmentier and Victoria Azarenka respectively. I think that there’s more benefits than negatives to this because no one is talking about her at all and she seems to thrive in the underdog role (see Exhibit A: WTA Finals Singapore, 2018). The negative is that she’s coming in rusty and with no confidence and drawing Venus Williams in the first round doesn’t help her cause at all. I don’t exactly get it why Venus still plays on clay every year even though her results have been mediocre on it. It doesn’t make even more sense when you see Venus having tape on her body in almost all of her matches this year. Nonetheless, Venus remains so dangerous and that’s going to be one match to look forward to on the first day of action.
Another player struggling on the clay this year is 2016 Roland Garros Champion Garbine Muguruza. Based on some of her matches I’ve watched, I’m not surprised she’s losing because she’s regressed so much from her 2015-2016 days. Her movement is limited, her volleying is awkward, and her serve’s just mediocre. Worst of all is that she doesn’t seem happy on the court! However, we all know how Muguruza adores playing on the Parisian clay and she always brings her best level for the Slams. She’s definitely still a dark horse for the title and a potential Muguruza-Svitolina third rounder sounds very, very interesting. First up for Muguruza is Taylor Townsend who continues to barely play outside of America, even with a decent ranking of No.96. Townsend’s wacky game could frustrate Muguruza at times but I would be really surprised if the American is able to play consistently throughout an entire match.
Eleventh section: Headlined by  Belinda Bencic
 Bencic vs [WC] Ponchet
Siegemund vs [Q] Zhuk
Putintseva vs Peterson
[Q] Samsonova vs  Vekic
What a difference a few months make… just back in February, Bencic was lingering at No.45 in the world and struggled mightily to string together back-to-back wins against top 50 players. All it takes was one match – as Bencic saved six match points to score a fantastic comeback victory over Aryna Sabalenka in Dubai. Bencic then beat three more top ten players to claim the Premier 5 title, then went on to reach the semifinals in Indian Wells, quarterfinals in Charleston and semifinals in Madrid, and also two wins against World No.1 Osaka! After her endeavours, Bencic is now back into the top 20 and with the seeding, she has been given a good spot in the draw. Bencic’s first opponent of the week is the unorthodox Jessika Ponchet, before mostly likely facing the slicing-and-dicing Laura Siegemund in the second round.
If you’re here for the drama then this section is the part of the draw to look forward to… We all know how Siegemund can frustrate players with her extended MTOs and toilet breaks, but Yulia Putintseva is the much bigger queen of drama and she’s here to face Rebecca Peterson in her opener. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Nurnburg finalist (as of writing) beat No.23 seed Donna Vekic, as the Croatian definitely prefers the hard groundies coming at her rather than the variety and lack of pace. If Putintseva scores the upset, than a possible Bencic-Putintseva rematch from the Australian Open and Miami Open this year could happen. There wasn’t much drama in Miami, but it was madness in the AO… Putintseva refusing to shake hands, pumping up the crowd, boos and people smoking, Bencic breaking her racket… I’m just hoping that if this match-up happens again, I’ll be able to watch it!
Twelfth section: Headlined by  Kiki Bertens
 Konta vs [Q] Lottner
[WC] Davis vs Kr.Pliskova
Kuzmova vs Cornet
Parmentier vs  Bertens
Kiki Bertens has said before that she doesn’t really enjoy the spotlight, but just as her coach Raemon Sluiter mentioned, it’s impossible not to get the spotlight after winning the biggest clay court title on the WTA tour. Bertens had one of the most difficult routes you would ever see enroute to her biggest title of her career in Madrid: Siniakova, Ostapenko, Anastasija Sevastova, Kvitova, Stephens and finally Halep. Bertens was just two matches away from the Madrid-Rome double but she eventually succumbed to fatigue in a three-set loss to Johanna Konta in the semis. With that, Bertens has propelled herself to a career-high ranking of No.4 and the sky’s the limit for the Dutch player if she can continue playing the way she did in Madrid. Bertens’s first opponent is clay-court stalwart Pauline Parmentier, before Alize Cornet or Viktoria Kuzmova (who beat her earlier in Dubai this year).
Bertens is seeded to play No.26 seed Johanna Konta in the third round – who would have thought a few months ago, Konta’s career resurgence would come on her least favourite surface, clay? I bet even Konta wouldn’t have guessed that! It all started at Rabat where Konta scored three hard fought three-set victories and eventually succumbed to Maria Sakkari in the final. Konta brought this to Madrid where she pushed Halep in a tough two-setter, before reaching the finals in Rome, beating Stephens, V.Williams, Vondrousova and Bertens, before falling to Karolina Pliskova. Konta was hitting with such precision and was moving well from side-to-side, an aspect of her game that has always failed her on clay. Not really expecting Konta to reach the second week in Paris after getting hosed by the draw, but a couple of wins should boost Konta’s confidence heading to grass.
Thirteenth section: Headlined by  Angelique Kerber
 Kerber vs Potapova
Y.Wang vs Vondrousova
Sharma vs Rogers
Yastremska vs  Suarez Navarro
This is not an ideal draw for Angelique Kerber’s target to achieve the Career Grand Slam, and considering the ankle injury which forced her out of Madrid and Rome, expectations are low for the German at the moment. However we all know that Kerber thrives in the underdog position, and if she can get a few good matches going heading into the second week, a miracle perhaps could happen. Kerber will kick off proceedings on Chatrier on Day 1 of the tournament against Anastasia Potapova… that doesn’t give too much good vibes as Kerber, then ranked World No.1, crashed out to another Russian, Ekaterina Makarova in the first match of the tournament on Chatrier! Potapova is such a dangerous young player but still tends to struggle to find the right balance between defence and attack. The winner of Kerber-Potapova could play the rising Marketa Vondrousova in the second round. Vondrousova has been playing great tennis on the clay this year, bamboozling players with her power and drop shots to reach the finals in Istanbul and the quarters in Rome. This just spells danger for Kerber once again as she does tends to stay in her shell when facing the big hitters.
Another player who has the same tendency to do so is Carla Suarez Navarro. Hard hitters have always been Suarez Navarro’s nemesis in her career, and she’ll be facing one in the form of Dayana Yastremska in the first round. The pair have already met twice this year, splitting their meetings 1-1, but this time round Yastremska will be coming in with a bucket of confidence after reaching the finals in Strasbourg (as of writing). Astra Sharma vs Shelby Rogers is also a notable first round match with Sharma reaching the finals in Bogota, and Rogers recently making her comeback to tennis in Charleston.
Fourteenth section: Headlined by  Anastasija Sevastova
 Mertens vs Zidansek
[WC] Parry vs Lapko
Pavlyuchenkova vs Minella
Kumkhum vs  Sevastova
One of the weaker sections of the draw, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the eight names here booking their ticket to the second week. Clay is Anastasija Sevastova’s favourite surface but from her erratic results this season, you definitely cannot tell so. Sevastova lost in the first round of Charleston, then won two matches in Stuttgart, then lost her opener in Prague, then won two matches in Madrid, then lost in the first round in Rome… Well if this pattern continues then Sevastova would be winning two matches in Paris! That could be a tough ask for Sevastova as potentially Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round is a 50-50 match. Both players are the epitome of inconsistency but Pavlyuchenkova loves being the underdog and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her peak for this match.
Another player who just can’t find the consistency in 2019 is Elise Mertens. It just feels like Mertens is trying too hard to be aggressive on the court and when you’re trying to convert your game from purely defensive to aggressive, there’s definitely going to be a lot of struggles. Since winning the Premier title in Dubai, Mertens is 4-8 and 2-5 on clay courts. Tamara Zidansek is a very competent clay court player and the Nurnburg finalist (as of writing) would definitely make life very tough for Mertens. No idea what will happen…
Fifteenth section: Headlined by  Caroline Wozniacki
 Wozniacki vs Kudermetova
Diyas vs [WC] Albie
Zhang vs [Q] Lepchenko
Kanepi vs  Goerges
Ring the bells for more upset alerts as the seeds in this section haven’t been able to play their best tennis all year. Taking out her run to the finals in Charleston, Caroline Wozniacki is 5-6 on the season and has been plagued with injuries all year, retiring from her matches in Madrid and Rome. I thought Wozniacki was going to do well on clay after hiring Francesca Schiavone for the clay court swing, but she just can’t get any rhythm going at all. Talking about rhythm, there’s going to be none for Wozniacki in her first round match against the hard-hitter Veronika Kudermetova. I doubt Kudermetova can maintain her consistency against the counter-puncher but it wouldn’t be surprising either to see her completely blast the Dane off the court.
Julia Goerges is also facing injury issues as she retired in her matches in both Stuttgart and Rome. Excluding her Auckland title earlier this year, Goerges is 7-10 and hasn’t won three matches in a row since that title. Drawing Kaia Kanepi in the first round doesn’t help her cause at all – is it just me, or I barely see Kanepi’s name in draws other than the Grand Slams?! Kanepi played so well against Halep in the last two Slams and it wouldn’t be shocking to see her springing an upset over Goerges. In fact I have the Estonian player coming through this section and reaching the fourth round!
Sixteenth section: Headlined by  Karolina Pliskova
 Martic vs Jabeur
Ferro vs Mladenovic
Kuznetsova vs [Q] Kucova
Brengle vs  Ka.Pliskova
We’ve finally come to the end of the draw and obviously the last section is headlined by Karolina Pliskova, after she secured the No.2 ranking by winning the Premier 5 title in Rome. It’s surprising that Pliskova still hasn’t won any of the most prestigious eight titles on the tour (4 slams + 4 Premier Mandatory events) but if she keeps giving herself chances with her solid results, she’s definitely going to get there soon. Pliskova plays Madison Brengle in the last match on Chatrier on the first day of action, before potentially Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round. Kuznetsova made a comeback a couple of months back in Lugano and has gone 5-5 in her matches on clay. Pliskova’s seeded to play No.31 Petra Martic in the third round, or Kristina Mladenovic who is making a resurgence after getting Sascha Bajin to join her team. Nonetheless, not feeling the upset vibes and Pliskova should be safely making her way to the second week.
Predicted Quarterfinalists: Osaka, S.Williams, Halep, Kvitova, Svitolina, Bertens, Kerber, Ka.Pliskova
French Open Final Prediction: Ka.Pliskova d. Halep
Thanks for reading! Please check out my French Open predictions here or at the top of the page ~