French Open 2019: In-form Kiki Bertens, Karolina Pliskova lead the charge as women's draw throws up abundance of potential upsets

A World No. 1 in free-fall, a 23-time Slam champion unsure of whether she can last two matches, a defending champion who hasn’t won a single title in the year so far…if I didn’t know better, I’d have said the women’s field is in complete disarray at the moment.

But I do know better. While the cream of the WTA is going through physical and emotional turmoil right now, the rest of the players aren’t exactly twiddling their thumbs and waiting for things to fall into their lap.

The first few months of 2019 have been all about the lesser-known players learning how to rise to the occasion and put up a show worthy of the fans’ time. And that makes the year’s second Major, which starts in Paris this Sunday, a veritable goldmine of potential Cinderella stories.

On that note, here’s a look at what the 2019 French Open women’s singles draw looks like, and how the four quarters might be expected to unfold.

First quarter: The top dog’s trial by fire continues

It’s been a torrid baptism for the new World No. 1, and nobody is sure whether she has come out of it stronger. Naomi Osaka hasn’t reached a final since her Australian Open triumph at the start of the year, and to make matters worse she’s had a coaching change and a litany of injuries to deal with too. Add to that her historical struggles on clay, and it would be fair to say she will be going into Roland Garros as a top seed who’s also somehow an underdog.

The Japanese has a routine first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, but trouble could start as early as her second match: she is slated to face Victoria Azarenka there, if the Belarusian can get past 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. Maria Sakkari (semi-finalist in Rome last week) could be waiting for Osaka in the third round, and Madison Keys or local favorite Caroline Garcia after that – none of whom would be easy opponents for the World No. 1 on clay.

At the other end of the quarter is Miami champion Ashleigh Barty, who would be itching to prove that her game can translate well to slower surfaces too. She could face Danielle Collins in the second round, whom the Australian defeated just two weeks ago in Madrid, and trick artist Su-Wei Hsieh after that.

But the big name looming in Barty’s path is that of 10th seed Serena Williams. Williams hasn’t completed a tournament since the Australian Open, either retiring or withdrawing from her last three events, and doesn’t seem to be in the greatest shape to make a serious bid for Slam No. 24. But this is Serena Williams we are talking about, so we can’t really count her out.

 French Open 2019: In-form Kiki Bertens, Karolina Pliskova lead the charge as womens draw throws up abundance of potential upsets

Serena Williams, of the United States, returns the ball to Sweden's Rebecca Peterson during their match at the Italian Open. AP

Also in this quarter is Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu, who is coming in on the back of her own set of injury issues. She has a manageable draw though, so a maiden deep run at a Slam is not out of the question.

Quarter-final prediction: Serena Williams def. Madison Keys

Dark horse: Maria Sakkari

First-round match to watch: Victoria Azarenka vs Jelena Ostapenko

Second quarter: The battle between claycourt expertise and all-surface form

Simona Halep is the defending champion and a claycourter extraordinaire, but she hasn’t quite looked like a world-beater this year. After a string of disappointing results on hardcourts, Halep lost tamely to Kiki Bertens in the Madrid final and followed that with a second round loss in Rome to Marketa Vondrousova (which was her second successive loss to the youngster this year, after a similar reverse in Indian Wells).

Romania's Simona Halep in action during the Madrid Open final against Netherlands' Kiki Bertens. Reuters

Romania's Simona Halep in action during the Madrid Open final against Netherlands' Kiki Bertens. Reuters

Halep’s struggles have been in sharp contrast to the successes of Petra Kvitova, who is the second highest seed in this quarter. Kvitova has been the form player of 2019; on hardcourt she won in Sydney and reached the finals in Melbourne and Dubai, while on clay she triumphed in Stuttgart and looked good in Madrid. The Czech has by and large played with controlled aggression this year, and her newfound consistency should hold her in good stead even on her least favorite surface.

Kvitova and Halep are on a collision course and are set to meet in the quarter-finals, but they have a few obstacles in the way. Kvitova has a tough opener against Sorana Cirstea and may have to face Anett Kontaveit or Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round, while Halep faces the hard-hitting Ajla Tomljanovic first up and possibly Qiang Wang or Daria Kasatkina in the Round of 16.

Other names of note here: veteran Vera Zvonareva (who could face Kvitova in the second round), talented teenager Amanda Anisimova (a potential second round opponent for Sabalenka or Dominika Cibulkova) and the ever-popular Eugenie Bouchard (who plays 27th seed Lesia Tsurenko in her tournament opener).

Quarter-final prediction: Simona Halep def. Petra Kvitova

Dark horse: Anett Kontaveit

First-round match to watch: Aryna Sabalenka vs Dominika Cibulkova

Third quarter: The fruits of success

Kiki Bertens has been a revelation over the past one year, improving virtually all aspects of her game and turning into a legitimate force at the top level. Her win in Madrid, where she beat a host of Slam champions without dropping a set, was followed by a semi-final run in Rome; she is, by all accounts, the hottest player going into Roland Garros this year.

Netherlands' Kiki Bertens in action during her Italian Open semi-final match against Britain's Johanna Konta. Reuters

Netherlands' Kiki Bertens in action during her Italian Open semi-final match against Britain's Johanna Konta. Reuters

Bertens is now reaping the rewards of her year-long efforts, as her No. 4 seeding has given her a rather docile path to the quarters. She starts against Pauline Parmentier, and the other high seeds in her corner – Belinda Bencic, Johanna Konta and Donna Vekic – aren’t exactly known for their claycourt prowess. Konta did just defeat Bertens in Rome though, so that’s a third round match the Dutchwoman won’t be taking lightly.

In the other half of this section is 2018 Roland Garros runner-up Sloane Stephens, who was also defeated by Konta in Rome last week. Stephens showed signs of life in Madrid, reaching the semis before being downed by Bertens, but has otherwise had a rather underwhelming first half of the year. That said, we’ve learned by now not to put too much stock into the American’s tour-level results; she tends to find her best form at the biggest events, and could very well do that again in Paris this year.

Also here are 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza, who could just as easily lose in the first round as reach the final, and Elina Svitolina, who in has looked like a pale shadow of herself since winning the WTA Finals last year. The two could square off against each other in the third round, with the winner possibly facing Stephens.

Quarter-final prediction: Kiki Bertens def. Sloane Stephens

Dark horse: Johanna Konta

First-round match to watch: Elina Svitolina vs Venus Williams

Fourth quarter: The strong and silent corner

Karolina Pliskova is coming off the biggest claycourt title of her career, and is one of the favorites to walk away with the World No. 1 ranking by the end of the French Open. Her win in Rome has reinforced the fact that she is no mug on clay; while her game is more suited to quicker surfaces, her effortless power can do plenty of damage on red dirt too.

Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova reacts during the Italian Open final against Britain's Johanna Konta. Reuters

Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova reacts during the Italian Open final against Britain's Johanna Konta. Reuters

Unlike Bertens though, Pliskova’s high seeding hasn’t afforded her an easy draw. She could face 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round, and Petra Martic or home heroine Kristina Mladenovic in the third. A battle against Caroline Wozniacki or Julia Goerges looms after that, although Wozniacki hasn’t done much of note in recent times.

At the other end of the quarter is Angelique Kerber, who’s been in something of a flux lately. Kerber starts against gifted teenager Anastasia Potapova, and could possibly face Halep-killer Marketa Vondrousova next. A third round match against clay-loving Carla Suarez Navarro or hard-hitting youngster Dayana Yastremska won’t be a cakewalk, and if she gets past that she could be pulled into a Round of 16 show-down against Elise Mertens or Anastasija Sevastova.

It may not seem like it on paper, but this is probably the toughest of all the quarters in the draw. Whoever comes out of it would feel good about her chances of going all the way.

Quarter-final prediction: Karolina Pliskova def. Carla Suarez Navarro

Dark horse: Marketa Vondrousova

First-round match to watch: Angelique Kerber vs Anastasia Potapova

Semi-final predictions: Simona Halep def. Serena Williams, Kiki Bertens def. Karolina Pliskova

Final prediction: Kiki Bertens def. Simona Halep

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: May 24, 2019 10:11:48 IST