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Roland Garros 2019: Major storylines to follow in an intriguing French Open women's field

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 21 May 2019
  • The 2019 French Open is live from Roland Garros from 26 May - 9 June
  • We examine the major storylines to follow in an intriguing women's field
Serena Williams (PA Sport)

There has been an exciting unpredictability about women's tennis over the last few seasons, and this year's French Open further accentuates that trend.

It's another wide open field at Roland Garros, with a host of top players making a justifiable claims to be considered favourites, and at the very least, contenders for the title, but who will go away with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?

We examine the most compelling story lines as we build up to the French Open.

Can Simona Halep defend her title?

Simona Halep has made the French Open final in each of the past two seasons, losing to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 and edging Sloane Stephens last year to finally claim her maiden Grand Slam title. 

Halep was a fairly clear favourite for the title in 2018, given her form, and her history at the tournament, but she's looking a lot more vulnerable this year. The Romanian has not won a title since last August, and is coming off a second round loss to Marketa Vondrousova in Rome. She did make the final in Madrid, but with Kiki Bertens winning in Madrid, Karolina Pliskova winning Rome, Petra Kvitova winning Stuttgart, there are other players who look better placed on the form scale heading into the French Open. I still think Halep is the best clay-court player going around at the moment, and I absolutely believe she can win the title, but she appears to have lost some of the ruthlessness and conviction that characterized her rise to No. 1 last season.

Is Kiki Bertens the favourite for the French Open title?

Simona Halep remains the bookmakers' favourite for Roland Garros, just ahead of Kiki Bertens, but should that order not be the other way round?

Bertens won the Madrid Open- the biggest clay-court tournament outside Roland Garros in magnificent style, blasting through four Grand Slam champions- Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep (the latter trio doubling as top-ten players) to become the first woman to win the Madrid title without dropping a set. Either side of that result, she made semi-finals in Stuttgart and Rome. In terms of consistency on the European clay, she has clearly been the best player this season, and the world No. 4 has also got a bit of French Open history to lean on as she made the semi-finals in 2016. Overall, her Grand Slam record is mediocre, which continues to count against her, but it takes just one tournament to correct that. Can Bertens go all the way at Roland Garros?

Naomi Osaka seeking the Grand Slam hat-trick

It's Grand Slam time, and that means it's time for Naomi Osaka to come alive. The world No. 1 enters the French Open on a 14-match winning streak in majors, having won each of the last two Slams (US Open last year, and the 2019 Australian Open). 

Osaka's post Melbourne form was initially wobbly, and gradually improved into the clay-court season, but haven't we learnt not to reckon with all of that when it comes to the Japanese and the majors?

It's been a curious clay-court season for Osaka- she has had her most consistent spell on her least favourite surface, making the semi-finals in Stuttgart, and consecutive quarter finals in Madrid and Rome, but she has had to withdraw from two of those tournaments, quitting Stuttgart with an abdominal problem, and pulling out of a clash with Bertens in Rome because of a thumb injury. I don't expect Osaka to win the French Open (she has never been past the third round), but she will definitely make a compelling follow as she goes for a hat-trick of Grand Slam titles!

Karolina Pliskova is still slam-less

It's something that has not been mentioned maybe as much as it should be, but shouldn't it be slightly concerning that Karolina Pliskova is still yet to win a major? Pliskova is not exactly a youngster any longer- she turned 27 in March. 

The Czech is one of four players in the current top-ten yet to win a major, but she is the longest serving top-ten player in that group. Kiki Bertens and Ashleigh Barty are relative newbies in the top ten, Elina Svitolina first joined the bracket in February 2017, while Pliskova has been a top-ten player since August 2016. She even had a brief stint at No. 1 between July and August in 2017.

This isn't a criticism against Pliskova, but rather a concern, as it appears to me that she's in danger of drifting through her career without winning a major. The talent is definitely there, as she has shown time and again, and she has been one of the most consistent players on the tour in the last few seasons, but she is yet to find that extra push to get her over the Grand Slam line. With the exception of the odd major, maybe Wimbledon 2017, she has rarely been considered amongst the absolute favourites for these titles as there always seems to be a couple of players ahead of her in these conversations. Here we go again at Roland Garros- she's the No. 2 player in the world, and fresh off a big title in Rome, her second title of the season, but does anyone really believe Pliskova will win Roland Garros?

Can Petra Kvitova end her Grand Slam drought?

Petra Kvitova has put together a superb season, winning titles in Sydney and Stuttgart, reaching finals at the Australian Open and Dubai, and making quarter finals in Madrid, Miami and St. Petersburg. 

It's been a remarkable return to the top echelon of the women’s game, considering that she almost lost her career after that infamous knife attack in her home in December 2016. Can she crown it all by winning her first Grand Slam title since Wimbledon 2014?

Roland Garros has never been her favourite hunting ground- she made the semi-finals in 2012, but she has been to the fourth round just once in her last six visits. However, with the openness of the WTA field, Kvitova must surely be considered among the players capable of going all the way in Paris.

Can Serena Williams finally win her 24th Grand Slam title?

Or better still, will Serena Williams play Roland Garros? Even if she plays, will she be fit enough to put together seven wins in a tough women’s field? 

She’s only played four tournaments this year, but she has retired or withdrawn from her last three. Williams opened her season with a quarter-final run at the Australian Open, where she lost a 5-1 final-set lead against Karolina Pliskova, but she is yet to complete back-to-back matches since then. The legendary American scored a fine win over Victoria Azarenka in her opening match at Indian Wells, but she retired with illness in the second set of her round of 16 meeting with Garbine Muguruza. She exited at the same stage in Miami and Rome, pulling out of both tournaments with a knee injury. Can that knee heal quickly enough to enable her make a sustained push for another Grand Slam title in Paris? Serena has done some super-human things through her career; this would probably be the greatest of them all- in the very unlikely event that she pulls it off. 

The 2019 French Open is live from Roland Garros from 26 May - 9 June

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Roland Garros 2019: Major storylines to follow in an intriguing French Open women's field

Ahead of the 2019 French Open, we look at the major storylines to follow in an intriguing women's field

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