As they begin their first Premier Mandatory event this weekend in Madrid, and make the turn toward Paris, the women continue to jockey for position. Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep remain at the top of the rankings, but with her win in Stuttgart last week, Karolina Pliskova has made herself an early favorite for Roland Garros—or at least a more intriguing clay-court contender than she was two weeks ago. Who else might surprise us and join her at the head of the pack in Madrid? Here’s a look at the first all-hands-on-deck women’s draw since the Australian Open. As you would expect, there are a lot of interesting early-round match-ups.
WOMEN'S DRAW: Click here
If Halep is going to throw her hat back in the Roland Garros ring, Madrid would seem to be the place for her to do it—she’s the two-time defending champion. Even so, nothing ever seems to come easily for the Romanian, and this tournament probably won’t, either. The three seeds in her quarter are three players who have the potential to out-hit her on any given day: Karolina Pliskova, Sloane Stephens, and Madison Keys. Plus: Victoria Azarenka is here.
Player of Interest: Elise Mertens. The Belgian has won two titles this spring; she could face Halep in the second round.
First-round matches to watch:
Halep vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Azarenka vs. Aleksandra Krunic
Highlights: Pliskova vs. Vandeweghe Stuttgart final:
Garbiñe Muguruza and Venus Williams were last year’s Wimbledon finalists, and as of Saturday, they were the top two seeds in this section. But Venus lost her opener to Stuttgart semifinalist Anett Kontaveit; will the terminally up-and-down Muguruza, who may feel more pressure in front of her home fans in Spain, be next? If so, that could leave an opening for Petra Kvitova, who has always loved the quicker dirt in Madrid, and who won titles on it in 2011 and 2015.
Player of Interest: Danielle Collins. Remember the American who made such a great run from virtually nowhere in Miami? She has qualified and won her opener in Madrid.
Match point from kvitova's win over Kerber in Fed Cup semifinal tie:
While they haven’t lit up the courts so far in 2018, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia would both seem to be under-the-radar dark-horse contenders for a maiden major at Roland Garros. They’re the top two seeds in this section, and each won her opener in straight sets on Saturday. They also have a history of marathon matches; might we be in store for another in the quarters this week?
Player of Interest: Aryna Sabalenka. The hard-hitting, hard-grunting young Belorussian qualified and won her first round. She could face Svitolina in the third round.
Holding Serve: Elina Svitolina:
Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed in this section, hasn’t consolidated her first major title, at the Australian Open, with any more significant wins, and it seems unlikely that this hard-court-lover will change that during the clay season. But at least she’s still in the event. The second seed here, and the defending French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is already out, at the hands of Irina-Camelia Begu. Also out is Stuttgart finalist Coco Vandeweghe, to Kiki Mladenovic.
Who’s left? For the moment, this quarter contains two unseeded players of the highest interest: Naomi Osaka and 2014 Madrid champion Maria Sharapova.
Semifinals: Kvitova d. Halep; Svitolina d. Mladenovic
Final: Kvitova d. Svitolina