French Open 2019, women's singles preview: Struggling World No 1 Naomi Osaka faces tough task; Karolina Pliskova big contender for title

With the women’s draw now revealed at the French Open, the biggest story still is World No 1 Naomi Osaka. The 23-year-old is gunning to win three Majors in a row, something no one has achieved in the last 25 years apart from Serena Williams.

 French Open 2019, womens singles preview: Struggling World No 1 Naomi Osaka faces tough task; Karolina Pliskova big contender for title

File image of Karolina Pliskova. AP

Osaka may not particularly fancy her chances this time around. The top seed has been handed quite a tough draw at Roland Garros, opening with a match up against Anna-Karina Schmiedlova. A win there would mean Osaka plays one of two big match-ups, either against the 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, or two-time Australian Open winner and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

Greek professional Maria Sakkari, who is in form having played in a final at Italy, where she defeated Petra Kvitova, also has a clay court title at Rabat this season and is in the top half of the first quarter. The former No 1 has retired from two clay court tournaments this season and was ousted by Belinda Bencic in Madrid, so she may not fancy her chances here, despite having won the last three majors on the trot.

No matter how deep she progresses, Osaka will have it tough, with Madison Keys, who was responsible for her ouster from the 2018 French Open, up ahead.

Osaka has yet to prove herself at Roland Garros, having never proceeded beyond third round. Her draw at this year’s tournament does her no favours either, and it might be tough for the reigning World No. 1, who is also struggling with injuries, to throw herself into such a difficult draw.

Also in Osaka’s quarter is the Australian Ashleigh Barty, who has been in red-hot form, winning the singles titles in Miami and the doubles in Italy with Victoria Azarenka. And the biggest competitor of all could potentially see Osaka in the quarter-finals. Serena Williams, who needs no introduction, and who has repeatedly proven herself on every surface, has three French Opens and a wealth of experience like no other. Even though Serena has struggled with injuries this year and not played much, but she still made it to two Major finals in under a year after giving birth; if anyone can not be written off, it is her.

Another player being seriously watched this time around is the defending champion at Roland Garros, Simona Halep, who is in the same half as both Osaka and Serena Williams and could potentially meet either in the semis.

Should Osaka proceed through a tough road, however, we could be treated to yet another Osaka-Williams blockbuster, although this would be very early in the draw – in the quarter-finals.

If anyone is a safe bet at the French Open, it is Simona Halep. A finalist in 2017 and the winner in 2018, Halep made the finals in Madrid this year, losing to the in-form Kiki Bertens. She is around Daria Kasatkina and Lesia Tsurenko, both are struggling when it comes to form this season. The Romanian’s biggest challenge should come at the quarter-finals, and that will be a big one. Halep is forecast to play Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals, and with Kvitova taking the first clay title of the season in Stuttgart, that will be more than a big threat. The last, and only time the pair played on clay, it was Halep who came out victorious, with Kvitova just managing to win a set. Regardless, with the Czech’s current form, and the fact that she is one of the fans’ sentimental favourite, this will be quite a closely-watched contest, and one of the biggest ones going.

Last year's finalist Sloane Stephens, Kiki Bertens and 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza are all in the same quarter, but based on form, it would look to be a Bertens contest. The Dutch ace might be troubled as early as in third round, if there is to be a rematch of the semi-finals in Italy. Britain's Johanna Konta could trouble her yet again. Given Bertens’ recent form, and considering the stage, it is still more likely that she will come out victorious.

Belinda Bencic is also in their quarter, and the Swiss has found some pretty consistent form over the past months as well. This could be anyone’s quarter, but Bertens has a recent track record greater than any of her peers in this quarter, giving her the firm upper hand. A Bertens-Stephens quarter-final would be a solid contest, and one that could go either way. The two stand dead even on clay, but Bertens has been in better form recently, beating her American rival in straight sets in Madrid this past month.

Another big contender for the title is second seed Karolina Pliskova. Fresh after clinching singles title in Rome, the Czech has a relatively easy draw, with none of the biggest seeds around her in the greatest of form on the clay. Former No 1 Angelique Kerber could pose somewhat of a threat to Pliskova, but the Czech has emerged victorious both times the pair have played on clay. The two do not meet until the quarter-finals, so the draw looks extremely conducive to a deep run for the in-form Pliskova this time around.

Between the draw and recent form, Pliskova, Bertens and Simona Halep are three clear and very strong contenders for the title. With both Pliskova and Bertens in the same half, that semi-final looks to be quite the solid contest.

With no clearly delineated clay-court specialist in the women’s draw, but a number of players with very good results on the surface, the women’s singles at Roland Garros promises to be an exciting contest from start to finish, and with a number of newer, younger names thrown into the mix that have been playing well. We could see some big upsets in what could well prove to be an entirely unpredictable French Open.

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Updated Date: May 25, 2019 15:44:05 IST