Paris | Women’s Preview – Swiatek firm favourite but top spot is on the line

The French Open draw is complete for the 2023 edition, now that the qualifiers and lucky losers join the direct entries in the 128-woman field led by Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka.


I know that there are players that are more solid throughout the whole season. You can see that from rankings, also from how they play. I’m more focused on myself. I don’t really look at other players that are playing well. Doesn’t really make much sense for me to over-analyse that. Iga Świątek

The top two seeds currently hold 3 of the 4 Grand Slam titles between them, with 4th-seeded Elena Rybakina in possession of the other one. These are the newly-minted ‘Big Three’ in women’s tennis.

A notable absentee is former World No 2 Paula Badosa, who withdrew from the French Open due to a spinal stress fracture she sustained during the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“Just when everything seemed to be fine again, I received bad news just before starting a Grand Slam,” Badosa wrote on Twitter and Instagram. “At the tournament in Rome I suffered a stress fracture in my spine. It has been very hard news after such a difficult start of the season with injuries.

“This is going to keep me out of the competition for some weeks. Thanks to all of you who were with me no matter what. I’ll keep you posted.”

Badosa is joined on the sidelines by Amanda Anisimova (mental health issues), Jennifer Brady (foot injury), Emma Raducanu (right hand injury) and Daria Saville (knee injury).

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina overpowered Swiatek in the Indian Wells semi-finals, while Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka beat her on clay in the Madrid final.

Swiatek has also been troubled by a thigh injury that flared up in Rome where she retired during a quarter-final scrap with Rybakina.

She has given optimistic updates on that injury and will be desperate to be firing on all cylinders in Paris.

For Swiatek, though, her World No 1 ranking hangs in the balance, and she could have 4 consecutive Grand Slam finalists to navigate past as she tries to defend her French Open title.

“I know that there are players that are more solid throughout the whole season,” Swiatek said. “You can see that from rankings, also from how they play.

“I’m more focused on myself. I don’t really look at other players that are playing well. Doesn’t really make much sense for me to over-analyse that.”

While she has a relatively straightforward opening week, a succession of players with past success at Roland Garros and beyond are slated to await her in the second.

The red clay of Roland Garros, of course, suits her multi-faceted game, and it remains Swiatek’s most successful playground.

The Pole, who turns 22 on Wednesday, will be the favourite for a 3rd French Open title in 4 years in Paris, although she is facing some stiffer opposition this time round than 12 months ago when she was simply unstoppable, dropping just one set in reclaiming the title that launched her career into the stratosphere in 2020 when she became her country’s first Grand Slam singles champion.

She crushed Coco Gauff in the final last year, part of a 37-match winning streak that eventually ended at Wimbledon.

This year the top seed opens her campaign against Spain’s Cristina Bucsa, against whom she dropped only one game in the 3rd-round of the Australian Open in January, but the road gets progressively bumpier from there on in.

She could face No 13 seed Barbora Krejcikova in the 4th round, who won the title here in 2021, and has defeated Swiatek in their last two meetings, in the 2022 Ostrava final and 2023 Dubai final.

In their only clay-court meeting, Krejcikova held match points before falling in the 2021 Rome 3rd-round.

Former World No 1 and seeded 18 is Victoria Azarenka, who opens up against 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, with the winner possibly being Krejcikova’s 3rd-round opponent.

Swiatek’s projected quarter-final opponent is No 6 seed Coco Gauff, in what would be a rematch of last year’s final.

The young American starts against Rebeka Masarova, whom she defeated 6-1 6-1 in this year’s Auckland final to claim her 3rd career title.

Lurking in Gauff’s section are two players who have been resurgent on clay in recent weeks, with Rome finalist Anhelina Kalinina, the No 25 seed, her projected 3rd-round opponent, while No 11 seed Veronika Kudermetova, a back-to-back semi-finalist in Madrid and Rome, could await in the last 16.

First round matches to watch: [18] Victoria Azarenka vs. Bianca Andreescu; Lesia Tsurenko vs. [13] Barbora Krejcikova.

Aryna Sabalenka has been narrowing the gap on Iga Swiatek in the rankings and could overtake her in Paris

©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Swiatek will expect to see Sabalenka across the net in the final against her, although the Belarusian has lost in the 3rd-round in each of the last editions of Roland Garros, but she is a transformed player after winning her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January.

With the trio of Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina increasingly touted as the next ‘Big Three’, much is made of which half 4th seed Rybakina landed in, and the top seed could meet the Kazakh, who has beaten her 3 times this year, in the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, Sabalenka will need every ounce of her new-found confidence to overcome one of the highest ranked unseeded players in the draw in her opening match against Marta Kostyuk, who is ranked 39 in the world and is a vocal opponent of Russian and Belarusian players being allowed on tour, and has repeatedly complained that few of them have shown any sympathy for the plight of Ukraine, even privately.

The 4th quarter sees the 25-year-old Belarusian, who has reached at least the final of 5 of her 8 tournaments this year, projected to face former World No 1 and No 16 seed Karolina Pliskova in the 4th-round this time, but the Czech will have to navigate a marquee 1st-round tangle against 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens first.

No 19 seed Zheng Qinwen could pose the biggest threat in this section after reaching her first WTA 1000 quarter-final in Rome.

Zheng enjoyed a breakout run to reach the 4th-round here last year, where she was the only player to take a set off eventual champion Swiatek.

France’s 5th seed Caroline Garcia, Sabalenka’s projected quarter-final opponent, faces a series of stern tests as she carries her nation’s hopes, opening against another heavy-hitting young Chinese who has found form on clay, Wang Xiyu.

Garcia’s section also contains both of last year’s semi-finalists, No 9 seed Daria Kasatkina and 26th seed Martina Trevisan, although a potential 2nd-round encounter between Kasatkina and 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova could prove significant.

Also in this section is 2017 champion and perennial chaos agent Jelena Ostapenko, and the No 17 seed arrives in Paris fresh off the Rome semi-finals, with the power to take the racket out of any opponent’s hands.

First round matches to watch: [5] Caroline Garcia vs. Wang Xiyu; Elina Svitolina vs. [26] Martina Trevisan; Jule Niemeier vs. [9] Daria Kasatkina; [16] Karolina Pliskova vs. Sloane Stephens; Marta Kostyuk vs. [2] Aryna Sabalenka

Elena Rybakina Rybakina comes into Paris as an all-court threat, and has beaten Iga Swiatejk this year

©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Elsewhere, No 4 seed Rybakina comes into Paris as an all-court threat, having built on her Wimbledon title last year to win WTA 1000 trophies on both the hard courts at Indian Wells and on the clay of Rome, while she also reached the Australian Open and Miami finals.

Rybakina opens against a qualifier, 16-year old Brenda Fruhvirtova, with No 14 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia her projected 4th-round opponent.

Danger to Rybakina could come as early as the 2nd-round when she could meet another Czech teenager in 18-year old Linda Noskova, who made an eye-catching debut as a qualifier, stretching Emma Raducanu all the way in a 3-set thriller in her first ever tour-level match.

The big-hitting Noskova, who has gone on to establish herself in the Top 50, opens against Danka Kovinic.

In the quarter-finals, Rybakina could face a rematch of either last year’s Wimbledon final, against No 7 seed Ons Jabeur, or this year’s Miami final, against 10th-seeded Petra Kvitova, but both have had their clay preparation disrupted by calf and foot injuries, respectively.

A pair of Italian clay-courters could be poised to take advantage, with Jabeur starting against 2022 Palermo finalist Lucia Bronzetti, while Kvitova opens against another Italian, Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

Meanwhile, Haddad Maia could face a contrasting start to the tournament as the Brazilian opens against the slice-and-dice wiles of Wimbledon semi-finalist Tatjana Maria, but, in the 2nd-round, she will face either heavy-hitting 19-year-old Diana Shnaider or big-serving Rebecca Marino.

In this quarter, only Kvitova has previously made the Roland Garros semi-finals.

First round matches to watch: Petra Martic vs. [32] Shelby Rogers; Tatjana Maria vs. [14] Beatriz Haddad Maia; [10] Petra Kvitova vs. Elisabetta Cocciaretto; Lucia Bronzetti vs. [7] Ons Jabeur

World No 3, Jessica Pegula's projected quarter-final opponent is No 8 seed and 2021 semi-finalist Maria Sakkari

© Matt King/Getty Images

The third quarter sees No 3 seed Pegula heading into an intriguing quarter packed with looming threats.

Off the bat, she faces Danielle Collins, the 2021 Australian Open runner-up, although Pegula will be bolstered by her 4-0 record against her American compatriot, who has been absent from competition since Charleston.

It does not get any easier for the 5-time major quarter-finalist as, in the 2nd-round, she will face either French veteran Alizé Cornet, whose scrappiness has long made her a home crowd favourite, or the ever-dangerous Camila Giorgi.

Potential 4th-round opponents include much-improved No 24 seed Anastasia Potapova, whom Pegula has needed to come back from the brink of defeat twice this year, and 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose come-back from injury has gained pace this week in Strasbourg.

Pegula’s projected quarter-final opponent is No 8 seed and 2021 semi-finalist Maria Sakkari, but the Greek will first have to navigate one of the toughest unseeded players in the draw in her 1st-round.

Former World No 19 Karolina Muchova’s talent has never been in doubt, but the Czech has been repeatedly set back by injuries and, this year, she is on the come-back trail again, already having reached two WTA 1000 quarter-finals in Dubai and Indian Well, as well as the Rome Last 16.

Additionally, Muchova has won both of her tour-level meetings with Sakkari to date, including in the 2nd-round here last year.

First rounds to watch: [8] Maria Sakkari vs. Karolina Muchova; Sara Errani vs. Jil Teichmann; [21] Magda Linette vs. Leylah Fernandez; Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Linda Fruhvirtova; Alizé Cornet vs. Camila Giorgi; Danielle Collins vs. [3] Jessica Pegula

Aryna Sabalenka (L) and Iga Swiatek will be vying for the World No 1 spot over the two weeks of Roland Garros

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

All told, Swiatek and Sabalenka will battle for the top spot in the rankings at Roland Garros and either one or the other will leave Paris with the No 1 ranking.

Swiatek will be spending her 61st and 62nd consecutive weeks at No 1 during the clay court Grand Slam, having come into Paris with 8,940 points, while Sabalenka has been methodically narrowing the point difference and enters with a total of 7,541 points.

The Pole will have to reach the quarter-finals to have a chance of holding onto her top spot, but, if Sabalenka reaches the Round of 16 or the quarters, then Swiatek will need to make the semi-finals.

Should Sabalenka make it into the semi-finals, then Swiatek has to reach the final to stay ahead, and, if they both arrive in the final, then the Pole must win the title to retain her No 1 status.

It is going to be a fascinating championships.



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