The women’s singles draw for the French Open, which begins on Sunday, could pit defending champion Iga Swiatek against the 2019 champion and World No 1 Ash Barty in the semi-finals, while Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka, Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams are all drawn into the bottom half.
A lot can happen ahead of the last 4 at a Grand Slam, particularly on the clay of Roland Garros, and the opening rounds are often the most precarious.
Barty returns to Paris for the first time since her title run, and she arrives in fine form having, hopefully, got over the injury issues that prompted her mid-match retirement in the Rome semi-finals.
The Australian has won more matches on the clay than any other player, posting a 13-3 record, and took the title in Stuttgart and reached her first final in Madrid.
She is back on the practice courts in Paris this week, and felt well enough to play out points in a training session with Osaka on Wednesday.
While Barty’s confidence is high, the same can’t be said of the World No 2, Osaka having confessed that she is struggling on the clay and refusing to hold any press conferences in Paris for mental health reasons.
The Japanese has yet to convert her hard court dominance to clay, and suffered recent early exits in Madrid and Rome.
Seeing the two top players enjoying a hit and playing points together on the Court Philippe Chatrier is a rare occurrence in women’s tennis, but given their rankings, Barty and Osaka would both need to make the final to meet at Roland Garros.
They have split 4 meetings on tour since 2014, with Osaka claiming the only match at a major at the 2018 Australian Open, and their most recent meeting in Beijing in 2019.
Barty will open her campaign against Bernarda Pera, the No 70 ranked American, and the first seed the Aussie could face in the 3rd round is 25th seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia.
Based on form, she could get a rematch of her unfinished Rome encounter with Coco Gauff in the Round of 16, with the American teenager being the form player in her section of the draw, which could yield a 3rd-round encounter with Australian Open finalist and No 13 seed Jennifer Brady, who comes into Roland Garros having parted ways with her coach Michael Geserer.
5th-seed Elina Svitolina co-anchors the next quarter, and opens against French wild-card Oceane Babel.
The first seed the Ukrainian could face is the No 32 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia, although Czech Barbora Krejcikova could be the dangerous unseeded player in this section.
Providing Svitolina can navigate the first week successfully, she could face either Rome finalist Karolina Pliskova or Australian Open semi-finalist Karolina Muchova in the Round of 16.
Swiatek, who turns 20 on Monday, is not the top seed in her quarter but has a good chance of defending her title.
The Pole has only played 7 WTA clay-court events in her career and already holds two of the three biggest titles on tour so any thought that her triumph last year in Paris was a flash in the plan are banished, Swiatek having double-bagelled Karolina Pliskova in the Rome final last week.
Swiatek opens her defence against her good friend Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, and the first seed she could face is No 30 Anett Kontaveit from Estonia, with a potential Round of 16 against 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
After a fantastic run through the start of the season on hard courts, the Spaniard has had to battle a leg injury on the clay that forced her to retire from Charleston, and then she withdrew ahead of Madrid.
Seeded 12th in Paris, Muguruza opens against talented Ukrainian teen Marta Kostyuk, with the winner to face either Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo or Zheng Saisai from China, with 2019 quarter-finalist Petra Martic also looming in this section.
Last year’s finalist and No 4 seed Sofia Kenin will open her tournament against 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko, and with the American is still looking for her first win on clay this season, having gone 0-3 in the lead-up, this the section to watch.
The three remaining seeds in the section are No 14 seed Elise Mertens, No 17 seed Maria Sakkari and No 28 seed Jessica Pegula, each of whom have a big chance of making it into the quarter-finals, and it could well be Mertens and Sakkari that square off in the 3rd round in what would be a high-stakes encounter.
In the second half of the draw, Serena Williams continues her quest for that elusive 24th Grand Slam title but she will need to get past the likes of Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Sabalenka, and Osaka or Andreescu to have any chance of landing it.
Williams is looking to get past the Round of 16 in Paris for the first time since making the 2016 final and while she comes into the tournament with a 1-2 record on clay this season, taking losses to Nadia Podoroska in Rome and Katerina Siniakova in Parma, she could well play herself into form.
Serena opens against Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu, with the winner to face either Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands or Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, while the first seed to be faced could be 3-time major champion Kerber from Germany. with Kvitova, the No 11 seed, possibly waiting in the Round of 16.
A semi-finalist in Paris last autumn, Kvitova has had a solid season on clay, with back-to-back quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Madrid.
Sabalenka is seeded at No 3, the highest seeding at a Grand Slam in her career, and she comes into Paris as a legitimate threat for the first time following up a run to the Stuttgart final by winning the Madrid Open and beating Barty in the final.
The Belarusian faces a qualifier in the first round, with Bulgarian Aliaksandra Sasnovich or France’s Diane Parry waiting in the second, after which she could face Russia’s No 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a rematch of the Madrid semi-final, which Sabalenka won in straight sets.
The next section of the draw is anchored by her compatriot and 15th-seeded Victoria Azarenka and 23rd seed Madison Keys from the USA but, despite both being former semi-finalists, neither has been able to get traction on the clay so far this season.
Spain’s Paula Badosa, however, is 13-2 on the clay this season after making the semis in Charleston and Madrid before winning her first WTA title a week ago in Belgrade.
The 23-year old is the highest-ranked unseeded player and she faces Denmark’s talented teenager Clara Tauson for starters, and would face either Azarenka or Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round.
The bottom quarter of the draw is one full of opportunity and great for both No 2 seed Osaka and No 6 seed Bianca Andreescu, who could face each other in the quarter-finals as they both look to make the second week in Paris for the first time.
Osaka opens against Patricia Maria Tig from Romania, with the winner to face either another Romanian Ana Bogdan or a qualifier.
The first seed Osaka could encounter is American Alison Riske, who is looking for her first win on clay this season and was forced to retire due to injury in Rome, while in the Round of 16 Kiki Bertens and Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 Paris finalist, could be waiting.
20-year-old Andreescu has played just 3 tour-level main draw matches on clay during her entire career, and won them all, but she has yet to face a player ranked higher than No 118.
The Canadian comes into Paris after pulling out of Strasbourg due to an abdominal injury after her second-round win, and opens her campaign here against Tamara Zidansek from Slovakia, who made the final in Bogota in April, and then Andreescu could face Veronika Kudermetova in the third round.
Kudermetova, who is on form having surged on the clay this season, is the 29th seed and did not lose a set en route to her first WTA title in Charleston, going on to compile a 13-3 record on the dirt.
Play begins on Sunday and can be viewed in the UK on Eurosport.