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US Open champions look towards Roland Garros: How Osaka, Andreescu, Raducanu and Stephens will fare
Pondering the Paris possibilities of four women who have earned surprising triumphs at the US Open and are now pursuing success on the clay.
Published May 09, 2022
WATCH: Tennis Channel Live discusses which woman without a major has the best chance at Roland Garros.
As Roland Garros nears, it’s fascinating to ponder the Paris possibilities of four women who over the last five years have earned surprising triumphs at the US Open and are now pursuing success on the clay.
Begin in 2017 with Sloane Stephens, who as recently as six weeks prior to winning that year’s US Open was ranked 957. Twelve months later came the ascent of Naomi Osaka, who’d take the title again in 2020. In 2019, Bianca Andreescu won the US Open the first time she played it, a staggering feat repeated in 2021 by Emma Raducanu. Though none of these four reached the quarterfinals at the Mutua Madrid Open, it was refreshing to see all of them in action.
Of this quartet, Stephens has fared the best on clay. In 2018, she reached the finals at Roland Garros, leading by a set and a break versus Simona Halep before the Romanian kicked herself into a higher gear. The day before that final, Stephens said, “Obviously when you have confidence, you can do anything. But I think when you're calm and you're just relaxed and you don't panic and you just stay steady, you allow yourself to work through obstacles and adversity or anything that might happen on the court that you were not prepared for. So for me, staying calm is the most important thing. And then being able to take advantage of the confidence that you do have when you're playing deep into a Slam is super key.”
Though four years have passed since then, Stephens’ clay court assets remain considerable, ranging from great court coverage to a superb forehand and adroit shot selection.
Millions who barely follow tennis paid attention to Osaka’s 2021 Roland Garros journey and her decision to skip press conferences. Intriguing as it will be to see what happens this year, if Madrid is any indication, all should go smoothly. Disappointed as Osaka was to lose her second match of the tournament to Sara Sorribes Tormo, following that loss, it was great to hear Osaka talk about everything from an increased desire to volley to her plans to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon.
“Yeah, I thought I had a lot of fun of course,” Osaka said that day. “I wish I could have been here for a longer amount of time, but I think—I don't know. I think I'm still learning, still learning which courts are faster clay and which courts are slower clay.”
I’ve long believed that all Osaka needs to play well on clay is more experience so she can feel comfortable in the movement department. From there, her powerful serve, dynamic return and heavy groundstrokes can allow her to take charge of many a rally.
Similar to Osaka, Andreescu has taken steps to address the role of mental health in her life. On that front, she took off the first three months of 2022. Madrid was her second tournament of the year. Following an opening win over Alison Riske, Andreescu spoke thoughtfully about her recent choices.
“I didn't want to continue putting the people close to me through what I was going through,” she said. “Not only for myself but for them too because I love them so much. I just felt like it wasn't fair.”
Andreescu has one of the broadest arsenals in tennis, a full range of power, touch, tactical acumen, comfort in all parts of the court, and, like all of these US Open champions, a willingness to strike boldly under pressure. All of that can make her a significant factor in Paris.
No one in tennis history has won a Grand Slam singles title with as little experience as Great Britain’s Raducanu, a meteoric rise that instantly made her a national hero in the country that invented tennis and hosts our sport’s most important tournament.
I’ve closely studied the British press for decades and can easily imagine the relentless microscope she’s now being put under—each match, each decision, each injury, each off-court action, all being picked apart, strand by strand. Perhaps she can have a few chats with compatriots Andy Murray, Tim Henman, John Lloyd and Virginia Wade to discuss how to best manage that.
Meanwhile, inside the lines, Raducanu is very much a work in progress. Consider that only last month did she play against a Top 10 for the first time—a 6-4, 6-4 loss in Stuttgart to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. Stuttgart was also Raducanu’s WTA main draw clay court debut. And though she competed impressively versus Swiatek, the thinking here is that Raducanu needs to put in more work on all aspects of her game before she can be considered a full-fledged contender at an event as physically demanding as Roland Garros.