I have been jumping up-and-down for the past few weeks loudly informing everyone and anyone that the French Open is about to start; while I have in recent years been particularly appreciative of men’s tennis, it is seeing how the women’s draw pans out, that I’ve been most looking forward to.
While women’s tennis has in the recent past been plagued by irregularity and the inability of the top players to perform well consistency, this trend seems to have been bucked in 2012. The top three players have been dominating for the most part, with Victoria Azarenka carrying a very impressive win-loss ratio for the year of 35-3. Maria Sharapova has won several titles, while Agnieszka Radwanska has 36 wins thus far this year. Other than the top three, the sole player viewed as one of the dominant players prior to the French Open was Serena Williams.
She had a 17-0 record on clay coming into the French Open – hands down the best lead-up to the tournament of any player, male or female. Yet she lost in the first round to a French player, Virginie Razzano, currently ranked outside of the top 100, resulting in a draw that likely favours the top three women.
Siberian-born Sharapova is the player who likely benefits the most from Serena’s loss as she would have met the top ranked American in the quarter finals had they both progressed to that point. Since Sharapova habitually loses in emphatic fashion to Serena each time they meet, this is a major boost to her title chances as she will not have to face her Achilles hill in order to win the title. When considering her form during the clay court season, Sharapova – with her wins in Rome and Stuttgart – deserves to now be considered the favourite.
Other players with a significant chance to win include the world number one Azarenka, who has blown to smithereens the image of inconsistency that has dogged the number one players on the WTA tour the past few years. Add a fairly easy draw and she has to be considered a serious title threat. Radwanska’s movement on the dirt and ability to consistently play at a high level means that she too could make serious inroads into the second week of Roland Garros. Defending champion Li Na did not look to be in great shape coming into the French Open, but her ability to move on the dirt and love of the Roland Garros courts, means she cannot be discounted from defending her title. Her showing in the first two rounds has been impeccably and quite befitting a defending champion. A number of seeds in her section of the draw lost early – further opening up the draw for Na.
Were Caroline Wozniacki not seeded to meet Sharapova in the quarter finals, I would have considered her a title contender; I cannot however see her beating Sharapova and then going on to win against two more great players in one week. There are of course a few other players such as Sam Stosur, former champ Ana Ivanovic and the top German player, Angelique Kerber, whose title chances ought to be considered too.
While the top three players are favoured to win, there are many other players capable of winning seven matches at Roland Garros and walking away with the title. These are my picks of the players I expect to progress from each quarter.
The top quarter
Azarenka was a few points away from exiting the French Open in her first round match against the Italian veteran, Alberta Brianti. She however managed to turn things around and pull off a fairly impressive comeback victory and followed it up with an emphatic win in the second round. Her draw from here seems fairly simple, with Dominika Cibulkova a potential fourth round opponent. The 5-foot-3 Slovakian has however had a season blighted by inconsistency and I expect Azarenka to ease to a comfortable win over her to reach the quarter finals.
In the other section of this quarter, Sam Stosur is the definite favourite to progress. The Australian player is quite possibly the best player on clay that remains in the draw. While her third round match against Nadia Petrova could be a tricky one, the Russian player’s form on clay is not on par to what is has been in the past. Stosur’s serve and confidence ought to dispel any challenge provided by Petrova. As such, it is likely that the players seeded to reach the quarter finals in this part of the draw, will do so.
Quarter final 1: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sam Stosur
If this quarter final is realized, I expect a very tough battle between the two most recent grand slam winners to unfold. Azarenka holds a superior 6-0 head-to-head record over Stosur and with her greater run of form I expect her to overcome Stosur’s exemplary clay court abilities after a significant battle.
Semi finalist 1: Victoria Azarenka
The second quarter
The standout match of this quarter is the pending fourth round encounter between third seed Radwanska and former French Open champion, Ana Ivanovic. While recent statistics seem to indicate that Radwanka should be favoured to win and potentially go on to take the title, my dark horse for the title is Ivanovic. She has regained her confidence as a tennis player and as such I believe her capable of taking Radwanska – a delicate player of the ball against whom Ivanovic will have to employ sound strategy – out of the tournament.
In the other section of this quarter, Marion Bartoli was the top seed. Since she has however made an early exit from the French Open, I expect tenth seed Angelique Kerber, who has developed into a top ten player at alarming pace over the past six months, to comfortably reach her second grand slam quarter final.
Quarter final 2: Ana Ivanovic vs. Angelique Kerber Should this prediction be accurate, I anticipate Ivanovic to yet again be a semi finalist at Roland Garros, based purely on her status as a more experienced player, particularly on clay and in the second week of a grand slam, as their games are very closely matched. She should be able to maintain her composure and put in a sound performance to better the top ranked German player who has only reached the top 10 very recently. As a side note – if Radwanska comes through instead of Ivanovic, I expect she will be largely unstoppable and too much of a force to deal with for Kerber.
Semi finalist 2: Ana Ivanovic
Edit – following Ivanovic and Radwanska’s third round losses to Sara Errani and former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova respectively, I suspect the quarter final will be contested by Kuznetsova and Kerber. Kuznetsova not only won against Radwanska, but quite honestly destroyed her. She will be difficult to beat if she continues playing as she did in that match. Iexpect she should be able to overcome Errani in the fourth round, while Kerber should reign supreme over Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta in the third and Petra Martic in the fourth.
Quarter final 2: Angelique Kerber vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Kerber has a great opportunity to progress to her second major semi final. The young German has consistently improved her game and is favoured by me to proceed over the inconsistent but more experience Russian.
Semi finalist 2: Angelique Kerber
The third quarter
The third quarter contains the two most recent French Open champions, Li Na and Francesca Schiavone; they could possibly meet in what would be an intriguing quarter final matchup since their styles of play differ so drastically. While Li Na is a ferocious and modern clean hitter of the ball, Schiavone is famed for her one handed backhand and aptitude at changing up a match with her ability to slice the ball. Schiavone has however had a horrid season and before having the opportunity to face Na, she would likely have to overcome Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, in the round-of-16.
While a match between Na and Schiavone would make for entertaining viewing, I don’t expect the encounter to be realized as Kvitova should be able to stand as victor over the struggling Schiavone. Thus Kvitova versus Na is the likely quarter final match up from this division of the draw.
Quarter final 3: Li Na vs. Petra Kvitova
Prior to the start of Roland Garros 2012, I would have picked Kvitova to win this match with some ease, as her form – while by no means measuring up to her Wimbledon title run last year – has been superior to Na’s, who has seemingly accomplished very little since her win here last year. However since the start of the tournament Na has been hitting the ball incredibly well. As such, it is my prediction that the higher seeded player will lose, with the Chinese veteran progressing to the semi final.
Semi finalist 3: Li Na
The final quarter
The final quarter of the draw is perhaps the most fascinating section of the draw as it contains former world number ones, Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki, in addition to two great players with the potential to vie for grand slam titles in the near future in Anastacia Pavlyuchenkova and Julia Georges. Fourth round matchups between Sharapova and Pavlyuchenkova and Wozniacki and Georges seem quite likely. I favour the more experienced pair to proceed from these encounters into the quarter final. Sharapova’s game is developed far beyond Pavlyuchenkova’s and her mental resolve will also favour her against the younger Russian.
Georges versus Wozniacki has the potential to be a more closely contested battle. While neither is playing as well relative to the rest of the field coming into Roland Garros as a year ago, both are still some of the best young players on the tour. Wozniacki, without the pressure that followed her as world number one is who I favour to win this encounter as she will take advantage of the low expectations and beat a player who’s been off of her best of late.
Quarter final 4: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova
It is my opinion that this potential encounter will be one of the better ones to occur during Roland Garros 2012. Sharapova has held the upper hand in matches against Wozniacki and as such I expect her to win, albeit in three tight sets. Sharapova of course also has a far superior record on clay courts in addition to the immense confidence she carries as a result of her recent climb up the rankings following several years of battling injuries on-and-off.
Semi finalist 4: Maria Sharapova
There are certainly some interesting days of tennis to come over the next week or so whether these picks pan out or not. In any event I will evaluate the state of the draw and the relative chance of each player remaining following the quarter finals. Check back for my analysis of the men’s draw later today.
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