Before each day's play at the 2019 French Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
Court Suzanne Lenglen begins with a eye-opener on Thursday: a match between the current WTA No. 1 and a former WTA No. 1—a match, in short, that deserves a better time slot than 11 A.M. local time (5:00 A.M. EDT). Osaka and Azarenka have split their two previous meetings, but neither was competitive: Vika beat a neophyte Naomi 6-1, 6-1 at the 2016 Australian Open, while Osaka beat Azarenka 6-0, 6-3 when Victoria was on the comeback trail in Rome last year. This match should be closer, because both of the losers of those matches are much better than they were then. Especially Osaka, who has won 15 straight matches at majors. Winner: Osaka
Nara, a 27-year-old from Japan, will be playing uphill in her first meeting with Serena, both from a physical perspective and an historical perspective. At 5’1”, she’ll be hard-pressed to stand toe to toe with Serena on serves, returns and ground strokes; and while she has reached the second round at Roland Garros on four previous occasions, she has never been past it. Still, anything can happen against Serena if she’s rusty; on Monday, she lost the first set 6-2 and dropped just one more game after that. While Williams has lacked matches in recent months, Nara has had plenty of them. As a qualifier, she has already won four times in Paris in the last week. If Serena is sluggish, Nara should be able to take advantage—for a set, anyway. Winner: Williams
When these two WTA up-and-comers faced off at the Australian Open, it felt like a battle for the tour’s future. When Anisimova blitzed her way to a surprise straight-set win, it also felt, for a minute or two, as if the American teen was the true player to watch. Since then, though, neither Anisimova nor Sabalenka has looked like the game’s next big thing; Anisimova came crashing to earth in the next round against Petra Kvitova, and has mostly stayed there, while Sabalenka has suffered through an old-fashioned sophomore slump. But they’re still young, they can still belt the ball with the best of them, and this still feels like a battle for the future—with a possible side dish of revenge thrown in. Winner: Sabalenka