French Open preview: A closer look at the women's draw and top contenders

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Contender: Simona Halep.

PARIS — The French Open kicks off on Sunday and the women’s draw couldn’t feel more open.

In the absence of Serena Williams (pregnant), Maria Sharapova (no wildcard) and Victoria Azarenka (maternity leave), and with the likes of Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza struggling to find consistency and form, the list of contenders for Roland Garros this year can populate a phone book.

With many players also carrying injuries, it’s tough to figure out who will make it our of the two weeks in one piece.

Here’s a closer look at the women’s draw, which will see the return of Petra Kvitova, who is back from a six-month absence after she was attacked by a home invader who injured her left playing hand with a knife.

Also don’t miss our men’s draw preview here

Top seeds


The German world No1 does not hide her feelings when it comes to her relationship with clay and her record at the French Open is her worst compared to all the other Grand Slams. Her opener against Ekaterina Makarova is not the best of draws for Kerber, who also has Sam Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova in her quarter. An early exit would be no surprise for the struggling top seed.


The Czech world No2 laughed when she was told that some people have put her as a contender for the French Open title. “I think there is nobody who would do this,” Pliskova said frankly. She’s not entirely wrong. The 2016 US Open runner-up has won just two main draw matches at Roland Garros in her career and joked before when asked to describe her relationship with clay – “It’s complicated” she said in Madrid. Her draw is not the toughest but getting through one match will be a real achievement for Pliskova – at least that’s what she says.

Up until a week ago, Halep was the outright favourite for the title. But an ankle injury (small ligament tear) she sustained in the Rome final against Elina Svitolina means that her participation was up in the air up until Saturday and her movement might be restricted if she does play. Halep had a tremendous clay season this year, winning Madrid and reaching the Rome final but the Romanian continues to be struck by bad luck at the worst possible time.

The curious case of Garbine Muguruza continues. The Spaniard has won just three titles in her career. One of them is the French Open. She hasn’t reached a final since last year’s Roland Garros and seems to only turn up for (some of) the Slams. She showed some good form in Rome earlier this month before retiring from her semi-final with a neck injury. Her draw is very tough and we could see her bow out early to either Schiavone or Kontaveit.

💭 @rolandgarros

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Favourites

Simona Halep

Yes, I refuse to rule out the Romanian. I’m emotionally attached like that!

Svetlana Kuznetsova

In 14 Roland Garros appearances, Kuznetsova has made the second week 11 times. She’s reached the quarters seven times, made the semis three times and won the title in 2009. Her topspin on clay is a thing of beauty, and not many players know how to handle it, and she’s put together a solid 20-9 season so far in 2017.

Elina Svitolina

The Rome champion’s stats this season are just wow! A perfect 5-0 against top-five opponents in 2017, leader of the Road to Singapore standings, four titles in 2017, most match wins… the list goes on and on. Roland Garros witnessed her best Grand Slam result to date – a quarter-final showing in 2015, and she won the junior title here in 2010. She had a thigh problem during her Rome final win over Halep which should dampen our expectations of the Ukrainian but we’re sticking to our guns on this one.

Dark horses

Sam Stosur

Feels a little odd calling Stosur a dark horse but you never really know with the 23rd-seeded Aussie. The 2010 runner-up made the semis last year (and in 2009 and 2012) and comes to Paris having reached the final in Strasbourg. She’s in that top quarter of the draw with Kerber and can easily make the last-eight if she wants to.

Anett Kontaveit

The 21-year-old Estonian is playing just her second Roland Garros main draw but she comes to Paris with some impressive results under her belt. She beat Kerber in Rome (made the quarter-finals as a qualifier), Muguruza in Stuttgart (also made quarters as a qualifier) and earlier reached the final in Biel. She can be a tricky hurdle for Muguruza in the second round here in Paris.

Kiki Bertens

Last year’s semi-finalist Kiki Bertens won the title in Nurnberg on Saturday and made the semis in Rome the week before. She comes to Paris with lots of confidence and can have another solid run like 2016.

Defending champs at the draw ceremony on Friday.

Defending champs at the draw ceremony on Friday.

Projected quarter-finals (by seed)

Top half: Angelique Kerber [1] v Svetlana Kuznetsova [8], Garbine Muguruza [4] v Dominika Cibulkova [6]
Bottom half: Elina Svitolina [5] v Simona Halep [3], Karolina Pliskova [2] v Johanna Konta [7]

First rounds to watch

Garbina Muguruza (ESP) [4] v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)

A battle between a current and former French Open champion. The retiring Schiavone will be far from an easy opener for Muguruza.

Angelique Kerber (GER) [1] v Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)

An all-lefty showdown between the world No1 and a former top-10 player. We’re sounding off the upset alert just in case.

Roberta Vinci (ITA) [31] v Monica Puig (PUR)

An intriguing match up between a former US Open runner-up and the reigning Olympic champion.

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) [8] v Christina McHale (USA)

This is going to be a grind. Set aside three hours of your day for this one.

Madison Keys (USA) [12] v Ash Barty (AUS)

An exciting one between two of the most likeable players on tour. Barty is coming off a strong week in Strasbourg while Keys is still searching for her top form since her long injury absence earlier this season.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] v Jana Cepelova (SVK)

Remember when Cepelova made the Charleston final beating Serena Williams en route? Well that was three years ago. More recently, she made the Istanbul semis on clay. Not the easiest of first rounds for an injured Halep.

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Tunisian Ons Jabeur feeling 'lucky' in Paris

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Feeling lucky: Ons Jabeur.

Ons Jabeur admits she’s feeling lucky this year as the talented Tunisian claimed a lucky loser spot for her maiden Roland Garros main draw after losing a tight three-setter to Miyu Kato earlier on Friday.

Jabeur had made the Charleston third round as a lucky loser last month and she has now been given a second chance to feature in the main draw of the French Open for the first time in her career.

The 22-year-old, who won the Roland Garros junior title in 2011, will open her campaign against Romanian qualifier Ana Bogdan.

“It was a little bit tough today as a match, she (Kato) was playing really good – I was not really expecting that level. I tried my best, was a little bit tight at the end. I had a little bit of weakness today because my serve and my forehand – one of my best shots – didn’t help me today,” Jabeur told Sport360°.

“And then I got the news that I got in and I was really, really happy. I was jumping in the physio room. So for me it was amazing. And to play in Roland Garros main draw is something unbelievable because I already have history with this tournament to be for the first time in the women’s main draw it’s like a dream.

“So for me I got this second chance to be in the draw and I have to really do my best to win the first round and focus more and correct my mistakes.”

Jabeur, ranked No113 in the world, is closing in on becoming the first Arab woman to crack the top-100 since her compatriot Selima Sfar last achieved that feat in 2002.

She’s hoping she can take full advantage of her lucky loser spot and claim the first Grand Slam main draw win of her career.

“This is my second lucky loser this season and I did well in Charleston. Hopefully I’ll do better now. I feel a little bit lucky this year but also I missed some matches before so I think things are getting equal now. I’m going to take this chance to be better and do my best to achieve what I came here to achieve,” said Jabeur.

“I believe that this chance is not random, maybe God is sending me a message and giving me another chance to be ready for the next round.”

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French Open preview: A closer look at the men's draw and top contenders

Reem Abulleil 27/05/2017

PARIS — The French Open draw was conducted on Friday at noon here in the presence of defending champions Garbine Muguruza and Novak Djokovic.

Here’s a closer look at the men’s draw, that is headlined by world No1 Andy Murray and is without world No5 and reigning Australian Open champion Roger Federer.

Favourites

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4]

Pretty much everyone’s favourite for the title in Paris after he swept through his first three tournaments of the clay-court season, winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before falling to an in-form Dominic Thiem in the Rome quarters. Will the pressure of seeking an unprecedented 10th French Open title catch up with Nadal?

If he loses early, it’s tough to imagine it would be about pressure. Roland Garros is like a safe haven for him and Nadal is the kind of guy who would be more than content with nine French Opens, but would fight for a 10th with everything he’s got nonetheless.

Landing in the same half of the draw as Djokovic and Thiem is not the kindest of routes for him but his quarter of the draw is not a daunting one. Want a stat that would blow your mind? Nadal is 95-2 in best-of-five clay-court matches throughout his career, with his sole two losses coming against Djokovic and Robin Soderling.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6]

The 23-year-old has the same number of match wins on clay this season as Nadal – 17. He won the title in Rio in February, then had a tremendous European clay stretch, making finals in Barcelona (beat Murray) and Madrid and semis in Rome (beat Nadal). Thiem reached the semi-finals in Paris last year and gives you the sense that he is very comfortable with his status as a top-10 player and a real contender for the title. Might have to get past both Djokovic AND Nadal though to reach the final, which is no mean feat.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2]

The title holder has started to find his game with a decent run to the final in Rome (lost to Sascha Zverev) and with Andre Agassi in his corner, we can expect something special from the Serb this fortnight. If a reinvigorated passion is what Djokovic is looking for, then hanging out with one of the great legends of the game might do the trick. Looked sharp in his practice session with Grigor Dimitrov on Centre Court on Friday. His loss to Zverev in the Rome final however indicates he is still not at his best and has lots of work to do if he plans on defending his crown.

Alexander “Sascha” Zverev (GER) [9]

The 20-year-old German has officially arrived. He’s made his top-10 debut last Monday, thanks to his title triumph in Rome, beating Djokovic in the final nonetheless. At the French Open last season, his third round showdown with Thiem was dubbed as a sneak peek into the future. Well the future is a lot closer than we thought it was. Zverev lost to Thiem in four entertaining sets on Suzanne Lenglen last year and the world No10 has yet to reach the second week of a Slam. He has a legitimate chance of doing that this fortnight though with the highest seed in his section being a recently injured Kei Nishikori.

Stan is in the final in Geneva.

Stan is in the final in Geneva.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3]

Playing Geneva the week before the French Open has done well for Wawrinka in the last two seasons. In 2015, Wawrinka won the Roland Garros title and he made semis last year. He said before that not coming to Paris early has helped him keep his mind off the stress of Grand Slam preparation. The world No3 is playing the final in his home city on Saturday and will have to make a quick turnaround in order to be ready for Paris. Considering he got the match wins he needed under his belt, he probably won’t mind it one bit.

David Goffin (BEL) [10]

There’s a reason why Goffin is No5 in the Race to London at the moment. The Belgian is 29-11 this season and has four wins out of seven matches against top-10 opponents in 2017 – including a victory over Djokovic in Monte Carlo. Reached the quarters in Paris last year, as well as at the Australian Open this season. Is definitely a player not many want to face here at Roland Garros.


Dark horses

Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) [20]

The Spaniard won Estoril earlier this month and despite his indifferent results in Madrid and Rome, Carreno Busta has won as many matches as Nadal and Thiem on clay this season (17), having made the final in Rio and semis in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Is in Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov’s section of the draw and in the same quarter as Nadal.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) [19]

Many would be surprised to know that the winner of the most clay-court matches this season is not Rafael Nadal. It is in fact, Ramos-Vinolas, who has amassed 18 victories on the red dirt in 2017. A quarter-finalist in Paris last year, the Spaniard reached the final in Monte Carlo last month, taking out Murray in the process, before falling to the world No1 in a third-set tiebreak in the Barcelona quarters. Could be a tricky fourth round opponent for Djokovic.

Will we get a Djokovic-Thiem rematch?

Will we get a Djokovic-Thiem rematch?

Projected quarter-finals (by seed)

Top half: Andy Murray (GBR) [1] v Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8], Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] v Marin Cilic (CRO) [7]

Bottom half: Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] v Milos Raonic (CAN) [5], Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2] v Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6]

First rounds to watch

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] v Benoit Paire (FRA)

Considering Nadal hasn’t always had the smoothest of starts here in Paris, facing a player as unorthodox and unpredictable as Paire in front of his home crowd is definitely a tricky opener.

Alexander Zverev (GER) [9] v Fernando Verdasco (ESP)

Ranked No37 in the world, former top-10er Verdasco is an unseeded floater in the draw no one wants as a first round. Zverev beat him in Madrid a few weeks ago but with some early Grand Slam nerves to deal with, this could be tough.

Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8] v Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS)

With Nishikori complaining from wrist problems in the build-up to Paris, and Kokkinakis playing his first major since the 2015 US Open having been sidelined with a series of injuries for the past 18 months, this could be tighter than expected. It’s also a match where you’re kind of rooting for both players at the same time.

Gael Monfils (FRA) [15] v Dustin Brown (GER)

Hot shots galore! Bring your popcorn for that one. Always an unmissable match-up despite the fact that Monfils has been dealing with an Achilles’ problem he aggravated in Madrid and Brown has barely won any matches since March.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) [18] v Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)

Like Verdasco, Kohlschreiber is another non-seed not many would want to face in their first round at a Slam. Considering Kyrgios has been dealing with a hip injury, this is a potential five-setter.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [7] v Ernests Gulbis (LAT)

Believe it or not, Cilic won a title on clay earlier this month, in Istanbul. Believe it or not, it’s actually his second career title on the surface (anyone remember Umag 2012?). Gulbis was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2014 but is now ranked 225 having struggled with injuries (most recently calf) and hasn’t played a main draw match this season. Sounds like a mismatch but a Gulbis appearance is rare nowadays and always worth a watch.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6] v Bernard Tomic (AUS)

Tomic only has five match wins this season – three of them have surprisingly come on clay. Thiem is the overwhelming favourite but who knows, maybe Tomic will try to make a fight out of it. Okay maybe not!

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