Douglas Hochmuth and Bill Simons
French Open Racing Form – the Women
Simona Halep: The feisty and fleet Romanian has long been without coach Darren Cahill, but is still a strong contender. As this year’s No. 3 seed, she is likely to be in the top half –meaning she would face No. 1 Osaka in the semis, and Naomi’s least favorite surface is clay. It’s hard to judge Halep’s form. She made the final in Madrid, losing to Bertens, but lost her opening match in Rome.
Naomi Osaka: The 21-year-old is seeded No. 1 at a Slam for the first time. Unfortunately, it is on her off surface. Heading into this clay season, she had never scored a top 30 win on clay. Her three events leading up to RG ended in a retirement, a loss to No. 15 Belinda Bencic, and a retirement. If she is feeling healthy she could make the quarters but anything past a semi seems out the question. Then again, Osaka’s last twelve months have been full of superb play and surprising wins.
Serena Williams: Which Serena will be at the French? The French-speaking, Paris-loving, forehand crushing Slam champ and mother extraordinaire? Or the injured warrior we saw in Miami and Rome? Seeded 10th, she’ll likely be in the bottom half and could play Pliskova in the quarters.
Sloane Stephens: The 2017 US Open champ recently hired Sven Groeneveld, who helped both Sharapova and Ivanovic to their French crowns. Stephens claims clay is her favorite surface and made last year’s final despite having a lackluster clay season. She again has had modest results this year, but she’s streaky, and she just might peak just in time to win her second Slam.
Kiki Bertens: Kiki the Dutch Conqueror could be a real threat. Playing the strongest tennis of her career, at a high of No. 4, and playing her best Slam, this could be Berten’s chance for Slam glory.
Angie Kerber: There is one spot left on Kerber’s Slam shelf, but can the swift lefty veteran win the French? The German had a virus in Stuttgart and then pulled out of Madrid and Rome with an ankle injury. Last year the 31-year-old made the quarters, and as the No. 5 seed, she has a solid chance to do so again, if she can round herself into form.
Karolina Pliskova: The 6’1” Czech’s title in Rome has leapfrogged her to the No. 2 seed. After the victory, she said, “Winning Rome was like a miracle.” This boost of confidence could help overshadow the fact that this former No. 1 doesn’t favor clay, and we could see her reach her second French semi.
Petra Kvitova: The popular Czech opened the clay swing by winning Stuttgart, but has since stumbled. She was outplayed by Bertens in Madrid and then retired in Rome with a leg injury, leaving us wondering whether she’ll play Paris. If she does, she’ll be the No. 6 seed, but coach Jiri Vanek said just a week before RG we should “keep a lid on expectations.”
Madison Keys: The Charleston champ has the power to hit through an opponent, but the French is about combining the ability to blast forehands with all-court coverage and gritty defense. If she can blend both styles she might have a shot at repeating her incredible run last year, when she beat Osaka en route to the semis.
Bianca Andreescu: A name you hopefully haven’t forgotten. The Indian Wells champ has been out with a shoulder injury since Miami, but will be seeded No. 22 and hopes to continue her season where she left off – at the top. The 18-year-old Canadian chose not to play any clay warm-ups, instead training at the Nadal academy.
Kiki Mladenovic: Mladenovic is France’s leading female prospect. She soared in 2017, reaching No. 10 and the quarters of the French. She sank in 2018 and the start of 2019, falling as low as No. 66. But in Rome this year, she fought through qualies and made the quarters. Perhaps it has something to do with her new coach Sacha Bejin, who was best known as a longtime member of Team Serena before becoming the man behind Osaka’s rapid rise. Could this spark a run by the 6’0” Frenchwoman?
Jo Konta: Konta has never won a match at the French, but is playing the best clay tennis of her career. She made the final in Morocco and beat Stephens, Venus, and Bertens en route to the Rome final. The last Brit to win the French Open was Sue Baker in 1976.
Garbine Muguruza: The Spaniard is a French Open champion, and always seems to play her best deep in Slams. Despite fluctuating form and injuries, Muguruza’s No. 19 seeding could see her line up a blockbuster quarterfinal against someone like Halep.
Belinda Bencic: The Swiss star stated ahead of the French, “It’s always easier playing higher ranked players.” Her record, taking out four top ten players en route to both her Roger’s Cup and Dubai titles, backs up that claim. Lucky for her she’s the No. 15 seed and could face stiff competition in the quarters and beyond.