French Open women’s draw thoughts

The women’s draw seems to be equally well-distributed as the men’s draw, though it has to be kept in mind that the red clay of Roland Garros is undoubtedly the most unpredictable of surfaces. Depending on the weather and how the clay is playing a matchup can swing minute-to-minute, and advantages for certain players can evaporate more quickly than moisture from the ground. Coupled with the fact that no woman has repeated at Roland Garros since Justine Henin, the former Queen of Clay, three-peated from 2005-2007, nothing should be taken for granted.

Serena Williams, the defending champion, world number one, and favorite entering the tournament, needs to beware of a third-round matchup with her sister, Venus. This would be the earliest that they have met in a Grand Slam tournament since 1998, due to Venus’ slide in the rankings and inconsistency thanks to her autoimmune issue, Sjogren’s syndrome. I give her serious props for continuing to play, continuing to fight, and generally being a class act, but I see Serena taking this easily. Venus made the final in Paris once, in 2002, losing to her sister. That was when she was entering the prime of her career, and the clay has never been particularly suited to Venus’ game. She doesn’t move as well as she used to, eliminating her ability to play the fighting style that so many have found success with on the men’s and women’s side. Her consistency is not what it was, and Serena has managed to take over the aspects of the game that Venus once so clearly owned: serve and forehand. Without those things on her side, and with the added wrinkle that because of her disease, she can look brilliant one day and dreadful the next, I have to pick Serena. It remains to be seen if Dominika Cibulkova can replicate her success in Australia, look for her to get bounced by Maria Sharapova in the round of 16 and then for Sharapova to get shellacked by Serena in the quarters. Until Sharapova proves she can beat the American, I won’t pick against her.

Venus Williams has fought hard to stay in the game, but the clay at Roland Garros has never favored her game, and a third-round matchup with sister Serena will be even less merciful than the clay in Paris.

Venus Williams has fought hard to stay in the game, but the clay at Roland Garros has never favored her game, and a third-round matchup with sister Serena will be even less merciful than the clay in Paris.

Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, got the easiest draw, in my opinion. The highest seed in her quarter is Angelique Kerber of Germany, who has never advanced past the quarters in Paris. With any luck, she should have no trouble reaching the semis, where a showdown with potentially Serena awaits. She, also, has never made it past the quarters, but has looked strong this year, and looks poised to make the leap, maybe. She looked strong against Shuai Zhang in the first round, but expect her to fall when confronted with the brute force of someone like Williams.

Another unproven, but surging talent lies in the form of fourth-seeded Simona Halep. She’s never been past the second round in Paris, but looks to have a fairly easy path to the third and fourth rounds, where she could face American Sloane Stephens, who has faced so many expectations since ousting Serena in Melbourne last year. Then again, she is only 21. When on top of her game, returning well and smashing those groundstrokes, she can be tough to beat. She’s made the fourth round in Paris each of the last two years, and won the event as a junior. I like her to beat Halep, but don’t be surprised if Halep continues her surging form and makes the quarters, where she could face Petra Kvitova, she of the infamous grunts. The one who could throw a monkey wrench into this and crash the party in this quarter? Ana Ivanovic. She’s looked strong this clay court season, unlike Kvitova, who lost to Halep in Madrid, and holds and 4-3 edge of the Czech Kvitova. Watch out there, because if Ivanovic gets past Kvitova, I think she’s definitely making the semis. Experience should trump youth, and the sometimes-inconsistent Ivanovic is on her best surface.

I fully expect Li Na to dominate her way to the quarters, if not beyond. She’s been drawn with Jelena Jankovic, out to rediscover the form that won her the number one ranking a few years ago. Traditionally, Roland Garros has been most forgiving to those players who held the top ranking but couldn’t win Slams (like Dinara Safina), or who won Slams but never held close to the top ranking (like Francesca Schiavone), or to other players who made the final there and haven’t come close in other places (like Sara Errani). Errani could get in the way here, and I fully expect her to. She’ll get Jankovic in the round of 16 and then Li in the quarters, which could end her run prematurely, but Li Na is a force to be reckoned with when she’s on her game.

Keep it here for more updates and analysis.