The draw ceremony for the 2019 French Open took place in Paris on Thursday night, and there were five women’s first-round matches in particular that turned some heads, none more so than...
In an absolute blockbuster of a first-round match-up, reigning WTA Finals champion and former No. 3 Elina Svitolina will take on seven-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Venus Williams.
After some up-and-down results since the start of 2018, Venus finds herself ranked outside the Top 50 for the first time since 2013, meaning she would be unseeded at Roland Garros this year - but of all seeds to draw in the first round here, Svitolina could be one of the toughest. The Ukrainian isn’t just a two-time quarterfinalist in Paris, but she won her only Grand Slam junior title on these courts.
The two are an even 1-1 in their head-to-head, with Venus winning in the second round of Rome in 2015, 6-4, 6-3, but Svitolina getting quick revenge in the third round of Canada in 2017, 6-2, 6-1.
In the only women’s first-round match between Grand Slam champions, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will slug it out with 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
Though the best results of her career have come on hardcourts, Azarenka is no stranger to success on clay, reaching the quarterfinals or better three times at Roland Garros - including a semifinal run in 2013. Ostapenko, of course, had the biggest result of her career here two years ago, going all the way to her first Grand Slam title as an unseeded player. The two will be playing for the first time.
And there’s more: the winner could play World No. 1 Naomi Osaka in the second round.
The first match of Simona Halep’s title defense could be tricky as she faces the always-dangerous Ajla Tomljanovic. Tomljanovic not only had the best Grand Slam result of her career here, making it to the fourth round in 2014, but she also recorded the biggest win of her career on the terre battue that year, upsetting then-No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. The pair’s only previous meeting was tough, too - Halep beat Tomljanovic in the second round of Cincinnati last year, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Petra Kvitova has had a fantastic 2019, not just making the Australian Open final but winning Premier titles at Sydney and Stuttgart - she had to retire from her last match in Rome with a calf injury, though, which couldn’t have been the ideal preparation for Paris. The draw didn’t do her any favors, either - Sorana Cirstea is a former French Open quarterfinalist with 14 career wins over Top 10 players. Kvitova leads the head-to-head, 5-2, but four of their last five meetings have gone to three sets.\
By ranking, this one might be the toughest women’s first-round match of them all. Aryna Sabalenka, who was inside the Top 10 almost the entire year until Serena Williams bumped her down to No. 11 this week, will play Dominika Cibulkova, a former No. 4 who was in the Top 10 herself as recently as the end of 2017 - and who was just three spots out of the seeds here at No. 35. Cibulkova might be known for her run to the Australian Open final in 2014, but she was also a semifinalist here in 2009.