Since 2017, when Serena Williams had a baby, the women’s draws at the Grand Slams have been, as we like to say, wide open. Favorites, let alone heavy favorites, have been hard to come by. But at Roland Garros this year, we have a solid one in Simona Halep. The Romanian won here in 2018, she just won in Rome, and she’s on a three-tournament, 14-match win streak.
Of course, that also means she’ll come to Paris with a target on her back. Let’s take a look at who might be able to hit it over the next two weeks.
Looking at the entirety of this section, Halep’s path to the semifinals would seem to be as smooth as she could have asked. The second-highest seed in this section is Kiki Bertens, who hasn’t won a match since February, and the player Halep is slotted to play in the fourth round, Marketa Vondrousova, is still finding her rhythm after undergoing wrist surgery last fall.
Look a little closer, though, and a few speed bumps appear. In the third round, Halep could play the woman who beat her here last year, Amanda Anisimova. And this section has its share of quality players, including 2019 semifinalist Johanna Konta, Maria Sakkari, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dayana Yastremska and Shelby Rogers.
First-round match to watch: Konta vs. Coco Gauff
Earlier this summer, Serena Williams said she felt like she “always” had to play either her sister Venus, or Victoria Azarenka. She may have had a point. Both Venus and Azarenka are in Serena’s half of this section, though she could only face one of them in the fourth round. Going by recent form, that will most likely be Azarenka. Are we in for another classic Serena-Vika showdown? I’d guess most fans would welcome the possibility.
But there are other potential contenders in this quarter. Elina Svitolina is the No. 3 seed; she has been gradually going deeper at the majors, and would seem to be due for her first semifinal run at Roland Garros. Elise Mertens, Anett Kontaveit and Ekaterina Alexandrova are also in this section of the draw, and all have been reliable performers in 2020.
First-round matches to watch: S. Williams vs. Kristie Ahn; V. Williams vs. Schmiedlova; Kontaveit vs. Garcia
On paper, Sofia Kenin is the fourth seed. But if we went by her recent form, she might not be seeded at all. After disappointing performances at the Western & Southern Open and the US Open, Kenin lost 6-0, 6-0 to Azarenka in Rome, and looked every bit as lost as those scores indicate.
It’s possible that Kenin could turn things around at Roland Garros. She beat Serena there 12 months ago, and her early matches this year look winnable. But we might also want to start looking for players who can take advantage of a big opening in the draw.
At the top of the list is 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza. After an early exit in New York, she looked like her old self in Rome last week. Then there’s Aryna Sabalenka—she has the power, but does she have the consistency? The same question could be asked of US Open semifinalist Jen Brady, who might face Muguruza in the third round. Then there’s Karolina Muchova, a poised young player who reached the fourth round at the US Open, and is near Kenin in this draw. And how about Ons Jabeur? We know she the Tunisian has the flair, but we also know that she doesn’t always use it wisely. She could collide with Sabalenka in the third round.
First-round matches to watch: Sabalenka vs. Pegula; Rybakina vs. Cirstea; Muchova vs. McHale
Once more we confront the conundrum that is Karolina Pliskova at the majors. As is the norm for her, she comes to this Slam having played well at the most recent tune-up event. In this case, she reached the final in Rome, before retiring with a thigh injury to Halep. That result, along with her No. 2 seeding and 2017 semifinal finish at Roland Garros, should make her a contender this year. Should—but you really never know with the erratic, enigmatic Pliskova. She could get a challenge from 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens in the third round.
Also here: Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko, 2018 semifinalist Madison Keys, 2019 quarterfinalist Petra Martic.
Potential second-round match to watch: Pliskova vs. Ostapenko
Semifinals: Halep d. Azarenka; Muguruza d. Stephens