French Open 2017: With Serena Williams missing, here's previewing an unpredictable women's section

Welcome to the open French Open! When it comes to the women’s section, this year’s Roland Garros promises to be one of the most unpredictable and intriguing Grand Slams in recent memory.

With Serena Williams out due to pregnancy, Victoria Azarenka yet to return to tennis after giving birth, Maria Sharapova being denied a wildcard the tournament is devoid of clear-cut favourites. On top of that, the top seed at the event, Angelique Kerber, has failed to win a single title in 2017 so far.

Considering that there are only three former champions in the women’s main draw — two of whom play each other in the first round — it looks highly likely that we could have a first-time champion lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup at the end of the two weeks on terre battue.

Mix all the above factors together and you have the perfect recipe for a chaotic, yet exciting, two weeks of tennis. Every match since the opening round has an added layer of significance, and every dark horse and underdog could seize this opportunity to make history. In the midst of all this uncertainty, here I am, putting my neck on the line in an attempt to predict how the draw could unfold.

Top quarter

Svetlana Kuznetsova won the French Open in 2009 and could make a deep run into the second week once again this year. Reuters

Svetlana Kuznetsova won the French Open in 2009 and could make a deep run into the second week once again this year. Reuters

World No 1 Kerber headlines the top quarter of the women’s draw and opens her campaign against a dangerous floater in two-time Major semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova. Kerber’s form this year has been so dismal that no one would blink twice if she was knocked out in her opener. The German has also never fared well in Paris — with four first-round exits (the latest in 2016) and having made the quarter-finals just once in 10 attempts.

The next two highest seeds in this part of the draw are Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova. The latter is making her comeback after a horrific knife attack in December last year and admitted that she isn’t fully fit but just glad to back competing at a Major. Also, looming in Kvitova’s section is former runner-up Samantha Stosur, who has a relatively easy path to the fourth round.

While Wozniacki could make a deep run into the second week, she could face a very tricky round-of-16 clash against 2009 champions Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian excels on clay and reached the semi-finals at Madrid this year, and if she manages to string a few consistent performances, she should be able to lock the last-four berth from the top quarter.

First round match to watch out for: Kerber vs Makarova

Possible semi-finalist: Kuznetsova

Second quarter

Kristina Mladenovic has won at St Petersburg and finished runner-up at Acapulco, Stuttgart and Madrid this year. Reuters

Kristina Mladenovic has won at St Petersburg and finished runner-up at Acapulco, Stuttgart and Madrid this year. Reuters

Defending champion Garbine Muguruza sits atop the second quarter but has an unenviable first-round opponent — 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. Should the Spaniard make it through her opening round, there are plenty of dark horses in her section who could all spring a surprise — upcoming 22-year-old Anett Kontaveit, Australian Open semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and the ever-enigmatic Yulia Putintseva.

However, Muguruza’s toughest challenge could probably be 13th seed and in-form Kristina Mladenovic, who she could meet in the fourth round. The Frenchwoman is riding a wave of confidence, having won at St Petersburg and finishing as the runner-up at Acapulco, Stuttgart and Madrid, and will be raring to make a mark in front of her home crowd.

The bottom section, led by 6th seed Dominika Cibulkova, also has plenty of dangerous names who could potentially cause a few upsets. Rising Australian star Daria Gavrilova, former semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky and the timeless Venus Williams all have a better shot at making it to the last-16 than Cibulkova, who has had a forgettable season so far with just one win on clay.

First round match to watch out for: Muguruza vs Schiavone

Possible semi-finalist: Mladenovic

Third quarter

Elina Svitolina is enjoying the form of her life, with four titles and 31 match wins. Reuters

Elina Svitolina is in the form of her life, with four titles and 31 match wins in 2017. Reuters

On paper, this looks like the most interesting quarter as it features Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep, the No 5 and 4 seeds respectively. While both are two of the leading contenders for the title. Svitolina is having the best season of her career, with four titles and 31 match wins in 2017 — more than any other WTA player.

Halep, on the other hand, was the clear favourite by a mile for this year’s open field, before she twisted her ankle in the Rome final against Svitolina. Halep revealed that she had suffered a ligament tear, with doctors giving her a 50/50 chance to play at Roland Garros. Although she has been practicing well, her movement remains hampered. The semi-finalist from this quarter will possibly be decided by a clash between these two, and Svitolina’s red-hot form should see her prevail over Halep, who is not 100 percent.

There are a few other players who could stop these two from reaching the quarter-final — Madison Keys and Elena Vesnina have both had poor results on clay so far, Daria Kasatkina is returning from an ankle injury as well while Carla Suarez Navarro has looked like a shadow of her former self. Anastasija Sevastova has reached two quarters and one semi-final in her last four events and is the likeliest bet for an upset.

First round match to watch out for: Ashleigh Barty vs Keys

Possible semi-finalist: Svitolina

Bottom quarter

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has won two titles in 2017 and has improved tremendously under her new coach. AFP

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has won two titles in 2017 and has improved tremendously under her new coach. AFP

Johanna Konta vs Karolina Pliskova is the projected quarter-finalist for the final section of the women’s draw and this probably makes it the most difficult quarter to predict. Both Konta and Pliskova have had tremendous results over the last 12 months, rising to World No 8 and 3 respectively in the rankings, but neither of them prefers clay.

This opens up the possibility of a surprise semi-finalist emerging and there are plenty of players who could make the most of this opportunity. Leading that pack is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has improved leaps and bounds under new coach Simon Goffin and has picked up two titles in 2017. Former finalist Lucie Safarova could prove to be a tough second-round opponent for the Russian but she is still recovering from an illness that derailed a large part of her 2016 season. The Czech ace has a 19-10 win-loss record in 2017 and is yet to hit her best form.

Caroline Garcia, Barbora Strycova and Naomi Osaka comprise the other dark horses lurking in this quarter and I predict an early loss for 9th seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

First round match to watch out for: Alize Cornet vs Timea Babos

Possible semi-finalist: Pavlyuchenkova

Click here to read our preview and predictions for the men's draw


Updated Date: May 28, 2017 16:37 PM

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