Sabalenka is hoping to continue a Roland Garros trend, as the past five women's winners were first-time major champions.

Which factor will matter most in the women’s event at Roland Garros: The surface, or the fact that it’s a Grand Slam? If it’s the former, look for Ash Barty, Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek to go deep; each took home one of the three big clay-court tune-ups this spring, in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. If it’s the latter, you can’t count out Naomi Osaka. She hasn’t done much on dirt in 2021, but she has won the last two majors she’s entered.

Of course, we could also see a surprise run from someone completely unexpected. It’s wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened on the women’s side in Paris. One thing we can say for sure: There aren’t any easy roads to a Slam title on the women’s side these days.

First Quarter

Ash Barty has done her due diligence. She hit the road in March and never looked back, winning titles in Miami and Stuttgart, and reaching the final in Madrid. Will the preparation lead to a second title at Roland Garros, or will her body rebel? She had to pull out of her last event, in Rome, with a stiff arm. The world No. 1 will start against Bernarda Pera, a lefty who is more talented than her 70th ranking would indicate, but who has been known to struggle with a lead. In the third round, Barty could get a tougher test from another shot-maker who should be ranked higher than she is, Ons Jabeur.

In fact, this quarter is filled with potential obstacles for the top seed, including Parma champion Coco Gauff, Australian Open runner-up Jen Brady and Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova—plus Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova, Venus Williams and Elina Svitolina.

First-round matches to watch: Jabeur vs. Yulia Putintseva; Brady vs. Anastasija Sevastova; Pliskova vs. Donna Vekic; V. Williams vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova

Returning: Carla Suarez Navarro, who will play Stephens

Semifinalist: Barty

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Barty was a surprise winner in 2019. While she opted out of the event last year, the world No. 1 has expanded her clay-court resume this season.

Barty was a surprise winner in 2019. While she opted out of the event last year, the world No. 1 has expanded her clay-court resume this season.

Second Quarter

Swiatek and Sofia Kenin played the final in Paris last year. This time they’ve been drawn into the same section, and each has an interesting first-round opponent: Kenin will go up against 2017 French champion Jelena Ostapenko, while Swiatek will play her best friend on tour, Kaja Juvan.

Can Swiatek repeat her stunning run from last fall? She’s coming off another big win, in Rome, but she has also had her ups and downs in 2021; every match is still a learning experience for the Pole, who turns 20 on May 31. She could find herself challenged, or beaten, by Shelby Rogers in the second round, Anett Kontaveit in the third, Garbiñe Muguruza or Petra Martic in the fourth—or, possibly, Kenin, Elise Mertens, Maria Sakkari, or Jessica Pegula in the quarters.

First-round matches to watch: Kenin vs. Ostapenko; Muguruza vs. Marta Kostyuk; Martic vs. Camila Giorgi

Semifinalist: Muguruza

One thing we can say for sure: There aren’t any easy roads to a Slam title on the women’s side these days.

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Third Quarter

Is Aryna Sabalenka finally ready to make herself into a Grand Slam contender? This would seem to be the moment. She comes to Paris with a Madrid title, a win over Barty, and a career-high ranking of No. 3 on her 2021 résumé. But there could be speed bumps along the way. Three big hitters, Victoria Azarenka, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Madison Keys, are on her side of this section, and two others, Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova, are in the other half. At the Australian Open, Sabalenka let a close fourth-round match against Serena slip away; would the same thing happen if they meet in the quarters in Paris?

As for Serena, she obviously hasn’t had the clay-court preparation she would like, but she doesn’t have a bad draw. She starts with Irina-Camelia Begu (Serena is 1-0 against her), and the first seed she could face is Angelique Kerber.

Dark Horse: Kvitova. She made the semis in Paris last fall. Could she win back to back slugfests with Serena and Sabalenka to get there again?

First-round matches to watch: Azarenka vs. Kuznetsova; Paula Badosa vs. Clara Tauson

Semifinalist: Sabalenka

Fourth Quarter

Naomi Osaka has already made waves off the court in Paris, with her announcement that she won’t do any post-match press conferences during the tournament. Which means we’ll only see and hear from her on the court. Can she make waves there as well? Osaka obviously knows how to peak for majors, but she has a pretty steep hill to climb on clay at the moment. She has played just three matches on the surface in 2021, and has lost two of them, to Muchova in Madrid and Jessica Pegula in Rome. Still, her draw in Paris doesn’t look all that daunting: The seeds in her half of this quarter are Kiki Bertens, Alison Riske and Marketa Vondrousova, and the highest seed in the other half is Bianca Andreescu, who is returning from an injury. But Osaka has a potentially tricky first-rounder against Patricia Tig, who made the third round here in 2020.

First-round matches to watch: Osaka vs. Tig; Veronika Kudermetova vs. Amanda Anisimova; Belinda Bencic vs. Nadia Podoroska; Vondrousova vs. Kaia Kanepi; Johanna Konta vs. Sorana Cirstea

Semifinalist: Anisimova

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Anisimova upset reigning French Open champion Simona Halep in 2019 on her way to the semifinals.

Anisimova upset reigning French Open champion Simona Halep in 2019 on her way to the semifinals.

Semifinals: Barty d. Muguruza; Sabalenka d. Anisimova

Final: Sabalenka d. Barty