French Open 2020 Women's Singles preview: Favourable draw, spectacular form make Simona Halep firm favourite
Ahead of Roland Garros' return, Firstpost takes a look at the Women's Singles draw and attempts to determine the potential outcome of all four quarters
For nearly half a year, any and all tennis action was completely off the table, as we collectively dealt with the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Lately though, it seems like there's more tennis than we know what to do with. After the slightly strange experience of watching a US Open that was completely devoid of fans, we were thrust straight into another huge tournament in the shape of the Italian Open, and now, it's the turn of the rescheduled French Open to deal with the challenges of staging a global event in the midst of these trying times.
Ahead of Roland Garros' return, Firstpost takes a look at the Women's Singles draw and attempts to determine the potential outcome of all four quarters:
The women's singles category hasn't had a standout clay specialist for a while now, but amongst the current crop, perhaps Simona Halep is the best bet. The Romanian enjoys a pretty decent record at Roland Garros, having reached the final thrice and winning once, in 2018. She's also had an impressive return to tennis from the coronavirus -induced break, and currently finds herself on a 14-match winning streak, with her last defeat coming in the Australian Open semi-final back in January.
The Italian Open winner has also been blessed with a fairly straightforward draw, with her first tricky match-up only likely to come up in the third round against 25th seeded Amanda Anisimova of the United States. Anisimova got the better of Halep at last year's Roland Garros, but with the form Halep is in right now, she should see it through. Marketa Vondrousova is another challenge that awaits Halep, and the Czech has more than enough in her locker to give Halep a run for her money, but she has been dealing with the after-effects of a wrist injury for some time now.
The second-highest seeded player in this quarter is Kiki Bertens, whose last win came all the way back in February at the Qatar Open. Bertens was also forced to retire in her recent first-round match against Jelena Ostapenko at the Italian Open, after injuring her Achilles tendon. The 2016 French Open semi-finalist does have a fairly open draw though, with the first real sign of trouble likely to come in the third round, where she could face 2009 French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
First-round matches to watch: Ajla Tomljanovic vs Maria Sakkari, Johanna Konta vs Cori Gauff
Potential semi-finalist: Simona Halep
The US Open semi-final match pitting Serena Williams against Victoria Azarenka was an absolute thriller, in which the Belarusian battled back from a set down to book her place in the final. Just a few weeks later, Williams could have the opportunity to exact revenge on her long-time rival, with both players on a collision course in their section of the quarter. Of course, their meeting is far from guaranteed, and Azarenka will have to get through a potential second-round match-up against Venus Williams, as well as a probable third-round clash against US Open quarter-finalist Yulia Putintseva. Serena has a slightly easier run in the first few rounds, in which Barbora Strycova — who Serena enjoys a 4-0 record against — is the only real threat to the American.
In the other half of this quarter, third-seeded Elina Svitolina looks favourite to reach the quarter-finals, especially considering the lack of consistent performers in her path. The biggest challenge awaiting her is Elise Mertens, the 16th-seeded Belgian who lost in three sets to Karolina Pliskova in the Italian Open quarter-finals. A couple of other names that stand out are those of Anett Kontaveit and Ekaterina Alexandrova, both of whom are capable of springing an upset on their day.
First-round matches to watch: Anett Kontaveit vs Caroline Garcia, Serena Williams vs Kristie Ahn
Potential semi-finalist: Victoria Azarenka
In comparison to the plethora of star-studded names in the second quarter of the draw, this one looks a bit dull. Sofia Kenin and Aryna Sabalenka both began the year in incredible fashion, with the American winning the Australian Open and the Lyon Open, while Sabalenka beat Petra Kvitova in straight sets to lift the Qatar Open. Since the halt and subsequent resumption of tennis, however, things have not gone too well for the pair. Sabalenka won just three matches over the course of three tournaments before what looked like a promising run in Strasbourg ended in a semi-final defeat to Elina Svitolina. Kenin too managed to win just three matches over three tournaments, all of those victories coming at the US Open, and her latest result was an embarrassing 0-6, 0-6 thrashing at the hands of Victoria Azarenka at the Italian Open.
Their paths to the semi-final aren't easy either. For Sabalenka, the very dangerous Spaniard Garbine Muguruza lies in wait for what could be a blockbuster fourth round tie. While Muguruza has had a challenging few years since having won the French Open in 2016, she looked back to her best at the Italian Open, reaching the semi-final where she was beaten by eventual champion Simona Halep in three sets. For Kenin, the first major challenge that she could face is Donna Vekic, who she could face as early as the third round, while there's also the prospect of running into the young Kazakh star Elena Rybakina, who was beaten by Elina Svitolina in the final of the Strasbourg Open.
First-round matches to watch: Aryna Sabalenka vs Jessica Pegula
Potential semi-finalist: Garbine Muguruza
This is another quarter that has more than its fair share of stars vying for a place in the semi-finals, with three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, two-time Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens and World No 4 Karolina Pliskova all in the mix. In addition to some of the best-known names in women's tennis, there's also a healthy heaping handful of potential dark horses, with Madison Keys, Petra Martic, Alison Riske and Alize Cornet all having shown in the past that they can hang with the best of them.
So who makes it through this mine-field of a quarter? To be honest, it could just about be any one of these talented athletes. Karolina Pliskova is the highest-ranked of those competing, but she is notorious for going missing at major tournaments at the best of times, and at this tournament, everything already seems to be going against her. While she showed great fight to reach the finals of the Italian Open, she was ultimately forced to retire from the match due to a lower-back injury. And as if an injury isn't bad enough, she also has a very, very difficult run to the semi-finals. She could face Jelena Ostapenko in the second round, Sloane Stephens in the third round and Petra Martic in round four.
In the other section of the draw, Kerber could run into Keys in the third round, in what would be a very interesting match-up, while Kvitova's only possible match against a seeded player until the third round is a tie against Poland's Magda Linette. The fourth-round is interesting though, because that's when we could see a heavyweight clash between Kerber and Kvitova. Kvitova has the edge over Kerber in terms of their head-to-head, and with the tournament being held on clay, you'd have to give the edge to the Czech.
First-round matches to watch: Angelique Kerber vs Kaja Juvan
Potential semi-finalist: Petra Kvitova
Watch the French Open from 27th September 2020 onwards at 02:30 PM, exclusively on Star Sports Network & Disney+ Hotstar
The four-time Grand Slam winner, seeded second in the Italian capital, had received a first-round bye, but was unable to find her way back into the match after losing the first-set tie-break to her 31st-ranked opponent.
French Open organisers said players will have the chance to get out for a jog or enjoy some fresh air during their stay in Paris.
Williams is preparing for the French Open, which starts at the end of the month.