The best tennis players in the world are in Paris for the second Major of 2015. Roland Garros (or French Open, s’il vous préférez) represents the ultimate test of the clay court season. Instead of the usual rundown of picks in seeded order, I’m going to first talk about my four top favorite players (Madison Keys, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova) and then take a look at a few of the high seeds. Luckily, two of my top favorites (Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep) just happen to be the defending champion and last year’s runner-up.
After spending her early career lamenting her questionable clay court ability, Masha has become the reigning Queen of Clay. She has reached the last three women’s singles finals at Roland Garros, taking home the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 2012 and again last year in 2014. Some shaky results coupled with an early exit on the clay in Stuttgart had me worried about Sharapova’s chances this year. However, she bounced back in style to win in Rome. While there are some tricky players in her quarter of the draw, any loss prior to the semis would be an upset.
Since giving Maria Sharapova all she could handle in last year’s Roland Garros final, Simona Halep has continued to be a force on the WTA tour. The diminuitive Romanian star already owns 3 titles in 2015, including Indian Wells. She also took Serena Williams to the brink in the Miami semifinals before falling in 3 tough sets. Although all of those best results this season came on hard courts, Roland Garros is probably the Major where I would expect Simona to break through. She almost took the title last year. We’ll see if she can take that final step this year.
Simona at 51 second mark
If Petra Kvitova plays the way she did in the Madrid semifinals and final, blowing out Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova, she can beat anyone, anywhere. But should she play as she did early in the Madrid draw or as she did in Rome, she will go home early at Roland Garros. That’s just how it is with Kvitova. She has all the talent in the world to win every championship and all the inconsistency to lose in the first or second round. As one of my top favorites, I hope she makes a deep run in Paris.
Although she made the Australian Open semifinals, and she is my top favorite player, 20-year old Madison Keys isn’t quite ready yet…at least, I don’t think she is. I would so love to be wrong, but it seems she is still working on consistency and shot selection. She also always seems to be dealing with an injury of some sort. If she were a cake, Madison would be one with the most delicious talent and skills as ingredients. However, she hasn’t quite finished cooking yet. She still needs a little more time to come out just right.
AND THE REST…
Obviously, Serena is the favorite every time she walks onto the court. Despite that and her 2013 title at Roland Garros, this is a tournament where she is maybe the most vulnerable. She could potentially run into Victoria Azarenka in the third round and Venus Williams or Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Vika very nearly beat Serena in Madrid, holding several match points. Carla Suarez Navarro also has been playing some of her best tennis. Nobody should want to see her in their way. Angelique Kerber has also had great clay court success this year, winning Charleston and Stuttgart. Yes, I know Charleston was on the American green clay…but Stuttgart wasn’t. Another name that can’t be counted out is Caroline Wozniacki. Much has been made of her time at #1 without ever winning a Major. Barring injury, I think she will win one (or more) eventually. Why not start here? And the last two players I’ll mention are Eugenie Bouchard and 2008 Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic. Both Bouchard and Ivanovic had wonderful results in 2014, but have struggled mightily in 2015. There’s nothing like a big run at a Major to turn a year around.
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MARIA SHARAPOVA at pre-Roland Garros Porsche Taste of Paris event