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Five women’s first-round matches to watch at Roland Garros: Serena, Kenin, Venus tested early
Three-time Roland Garros winner Serena Williams opens against a former Top 25 player, while 2020 Roland Garros finalist Sofia Kenin takes on a former French Open champion.
Published May 28, 2021
(7) Serena Williams (USA) vs Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) [Serena leads 1-0]
On paper, this one shouldn’t be too complicated. Not only is Serena ranked No. 8 to Begu’s No. 74, but she also won their only previous meeting handily, 6-4, 6-1, in the 2016 Rome semifinals.
But Serena was in the middle of a 20-match clay-court winning streak back then, and things will be much different when they play in the French capital this year: Serena is just 1-2 on clay so far this year, losing her first match in Rome and her second match in Parma.
Begu is no stranger to upsets, either, with six career Top 10 wins—the best three of those coming on clay.
(4) Sofia Kenin (USA) vs Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) [Ostapenko leads 1-0]
The first-round match on the women’s side that may have turned the most heads features two Grand Slam champions: Kenin, who won her first major at the 2020 Australian Open and reached the final of Roland Garros last year, against Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland Garros champion.
Not only does Ostapenko have seven career wins over Top 5 players, but the Latvian also won the pair’s only previous meeting, a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 win in Billie Jean King Cup action in February 2020, less than a week after Kenin triumphed in Melbourne.
Kenin also comes into Roland Garros with an 0-3 record on clay this year (Ostapenko is 5-3).
(15) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) [Azarenka leads 6-4]
Kenin against Ostapenko isn’t the only all-Grand Slam champion first-rounder at Roland Garros this year, and this one features a pair of two-time major champions: 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion Azarenka against 2004 US Open and 2009 Roland Garros winner Kuznetsova.
Their head-to-head is somewhat deceptive—Kuznetsova originally led, 4-1, but Azarenka’s gone 5-0 against the Russian over the last 10 years, winning each of those meetings in straight sets.
But Kuznetsova still leads Azarenka on clay, 2-1, and more specifically 2-0 on red clay. Azarenka’s only win over Kuznetsova on clay came in the first round of Madrid in 2012, on the short-lived blue clay.
(32) Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) vs Venus Williams (USA) [First Meeting]
After 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena, the active women’s player with the most career majors is Venus, who has seven. But while Serena is still going strong in the Top 10, Venus has slipped in the rankings as of late. Ranked No. 5 as recently as 2018, Venus dipped out of the Top 100 two weeks ago, her first time in the triple digits since 2012. She’s gone 3-10 since the restart last August.
But you can’t count Venus out. A champion at Wimbledon five times and the US Open twice, she’s also a former finalist at Roland Garros, finishing runner-up to Serena in 2002. And she’s won nine career WTA titles on clay, tied with Simona Halep for second-most among active players (after Serena’s 13).
Sloane Stephens (USA) vs Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) [Stephens leads 3-0]
The biggest feel-good story of 2021 Roland Garros is the return of Suarez Navarro, who will be playing her first tournament back after overcoming Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She revealed her diagnosis last year and announced this spring that she had defeated it, and was ready to return to action.
“I have been working these last few months to give myself the opportunity to compete one last time in Paris,” said the Spaniard, a former No. 6 and two-time quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.
She’ll open against 2017 US Open champion and former No. 3 Stephens, who’s also had plenty of success in Paris, reaching the final here in 2018, finishing runner-up to Halep.
Stephens is 3-0 against Suarez Navarro, but the two have never played each other on clay.