Draws for the 2017 French Open are out. Thus, it is time for the predicting to begin. I like a challenge, so it will be ladies first.
World No. 1. Angelique Kerber is struggling to win matches and is among several top players entering Paris with injury concerns. The trio of Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are all absent at a major for the first time since 2002.
This makes for the most wide open Grand Slam draw in recent memory. A list of “sleepers” is unnecessary. It really is anyone’s ballgame. Here are a few first-round matches to watch.
(1) Angelique Kerber vs. Ekaterina Makarova
A top seed exiting in the first round of a major is very rare, but this is a decent chance for it. Makarova is a former top-ten player, who has beaten her fellow lefty four times in 11 meetings. That is a very solid record against any World No 1. Kerber has won just two matches on red clay this year. If she does not find some form in a hurry, her stay in Paris will be very brief for the second year in a row.
(31) Roberta Vinci vs. Monica Puig
We have two struggling players here. The seeded Italian has never fared all that well at Roland Garros. The Olympic Gold Medalist has been rather ordinary since earning that title in Rio, but has the power to hit a crafty player like Vinci off the court if she has her act together.
(4) Garbiñe Muguruza vs Francesca Schiavone
The fourth-seeded defending champ has been searching for form all year long. She finds herself drawn with the 2010 winner, who is playing her final French Open. This is the match of the opening round for me. Any athlete looking for a final moment in the sun is always dangerous.
(15) Petra Kvitova vs Julia Boserup
The result is irrelevant. The story here is that Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champ and frequent winner of the WTA’s sportsmanship award, has returned after being stabbed by a burglar in the offseason. While picking a Grand Slam as her first event back is odd, just being here is a huge accomplishment for Kvitova, and everyone involved in the sport is thrilled to have her back in the fold.
Kerber leads this part of the draw, but a first-round exit is more likely than a deep run. In that regard, the names coming up most often are 2009 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur, who won a title this week, Muguruza and former Grand Slam finalist Dominika Cibulkova.
Venus Williams is also placed here and always dangerous, but it has been 15 years since her one and only great result in Paris. Kristina Mladenovic has been one of the best players on tour this year, but anyone not named Andy Murray playing at their home Grand Slam with expectations makes me nervous. Qualifier Sara Errani was a finalist here just five years ago and is one of two additional players worth keeping an eye on.
The other is feisty 27th seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. She fears absolutely no one and had Serena Williams on the ropes last year. A potential third-round matchup with Muguruza is one that she would relish.
At the end of the day though, experience wins out in this half.
Semifinal prediction: Kuznetsova d. Cibulkova.
Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina are the big stories in this half. An ankle injury suffered in Rome is the only thing keeping many folks from picking Halep to win her first Grand Slam. For Svitolina it is a question of handling expectations. This is the first time the Ukrainian has ever gone into a major with people talking about her potentially winning it.
Svitolina has a very complete game and leads the tour in titles won this year, inducing Rome Assuming form holds Svitolina and Halep would meet in the quarters. This leaves room for one other player to earn their way into the semis.
Second seed Karolina Plíšková has never been past the second round in Paris and her playing style simply does not suit the surface. Also, a slew of other seeds in this half are really struggling, including ninth seed Agnieszka Radwańska and 12th seed Madison Keys.
That leaves the No. 16 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The Russian has always had all the talent in the world, but has been very erratic throughout her career. She has reached the quarterfinals at all four Grand Slams, but never gone beyond that. With this draw and having already won two titles on year, she could not ask for a better opportunity.
Semifinal prediction: Svitolina d. Pavlyuchenkova
Championship match: Kuznetsova d. Svitolina
The French Open starts Sunday at 5 a.m. ET. Television coverage will be split between Tennis Channel and NBC throughout the event.
Featured image by abc.net.au
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