Roland Garros Women’s Draw: Danger Lurking Everywhere

With World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, the reigning Roland Garros singles champion, not returning to defend her title due to coronavirus concerns, and newly crowned US Open titlist and No. 3 Naomi Osaka recovering from a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago, all eyes are upon No. 2 Simona Halep.

The 2018 Roland Garros champion from Romania has been seeded No. 1 for this year’s French Open and is an early favorite to win her second Coupe Suzanne Lenglen when the Parisian fortnight begins Sunday. The Roland Garros draw reveal was televised live to a worldwide audience Thursday night from Paris.

Halep is fresh off winning the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Monday and enters Paris on a 14-match, three-tournament winning streak. Two of her titles have come on clay since the WTA relaunch last month, in Prague and Rome.

This year, only six of the current women’s Top 10 players will compete on the terre battue at Roland Garros. Missing besides Barty and Osaka are World No. 7 Bianca Andreescu and No. 10 Belinda Bencic. Nonetheless, there’s still danger lurking everywhere throughout the 128-player draw – and it still takes seven victories to win it all.

As the women’s draw unfolded shortly after 6 p.m., some very interesting first-round matches throughout each quarter came into focus. They include: No. 9 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain versus unseeded American teen sensation Coco Gauff; No. 6 seed and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams against fellow American and Tik-Tok queen Kristie Ahn in a US Open redux; No. 8 seed Aryna Sabalenka opposing unseeded American Jessica Pegula, and No. 31 seed Magda Linette of Poland against 17-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez, who a year ago won the 2019 French Open junior girls’ title.

At the top of the draw, Halep was drawn to face No. 70 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the first round, while at the bottom, No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova will face a qualifier first and could meet 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round.

Gauff is in Halep’s quarter of the draw while French favorite Caroline Garcia, who beat Pliskova in the second round at the US Open, is in the second quarter and will face No. 17 seed Anett Kontaveit. The second quarter is where World No. 3 Elina Svitolina is as well as No. 16 seed Elise Mertens. It’s also where Serena Williams was placed and she could meet Victoria Azarenka, her US Open semifinal opponent, in the fourth round. Meanwhile, Venus Williams, who at age 40 will be the oldest competitor in the women’s draw – and brings a 48-22 lifetime record into this year’s Roland Garros – will face Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the first round. She’s also part of Svitolina’s quarter.

The third quarter includes No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin and Sabalenka as well as 2016 champion and No. 11 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. And don’t forget No. 21 seed Jennifer Brady and No 30 seed Ons Jabeur, too. Finally, the fourth quarter features a couple of past Wimbledon champions, No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova and No. 18 Angelique Kerber, who is going after a career Grand Slam. It also includes No. 12 seed Madison Keys and No. 13 seed Petra Martic in addition to No. 2 seed Pliskova.

Among other popcorn-worthy first-round matches to follow: No. 28 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the 2009 French Open, drew fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while No. 15 seed Marketa Vondrousova, last year’s runner up to Barty, begins against 19-year-old Polish teen Iga Swiatek.

Among the storylines to follow: Serena Williams, who turns 39 on Saturday, continues her pursuit to win an elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title that would tie Margaret Court’s record. She has won the French Open three times in her storied career – in 2002, 2013 and 2015. However, clay remains the weakest surface for her. Since returning from maternity leave two years ago, Williams withdrew in the fourth round in 2018 and last year she lost to Kenin in the third round.

Normally the second major, this year’s French Open is the third and final Grand Slam of the abbreviated 2020 tennis calendar and it commences in just three days amid plenty of uncertainty. That’s because this year, everything will be different due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on professional tennis. Not only is the French Open taking place in autumn instead of late spring, which will affect the court conditions as well as how the ball bounces, but sunset times will also be different by about two hours. Ironically, the temperature may be a little warmer but that could change, too.

“The tennis world, and the world planet, has been affected by an uncertainty affecting all human existence,” said French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli in his introductory remarks to the French Open draw reveal.

Indeed, and this year’s last major will be conducted with a very limited number of fans allowed on the Roland Garros grounds, if any – the numbers that will be admitted have fluctuated in recent days based upon recent spikes in Covid-19 cases in and around Paris and all of France – and players will be competing in a quarantine bubble, housed at sanctioned hotels with strict rules and protocols to follow. Everyone will mask up – from players to line umpires and, certainly the players when they enter and exit the courts.

Any way you look at the women’s draw, there’s danger awaiting in every round and there will be pitfalls and pratfalls, too. After all, isn’t that what makes every Grand Slam a magical fortnight?