If the men’s qualifying draw was all about new faces, then the women’s side is all about old friends. These 12 sections of qualifying is so littered with former Top 50 players, Grand Slam quarterfinalists and otherwise recognizable names that it could send Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to an endocrinologist as fast as it could make up an attractive field anywhere — from Washington DC to Baku. If the WTA were looking for some free advertising, they would stream what promises to have a plethora of dramatic encounters and utterly theatrical affairs. David and Victoria reunite once more to preview the best excuse for flying to France since foie gras.
Q1: The Code Violator
David Kane: The men’s qualifying draw was loaded with promise, but it seems to me like the women’s draw is more about potential. I mean, the first name on this draw sheet was just defaulted for accidentally throwing her racquet so hard that it flew into the stands.
Victoria Chiesa: Saint Gaudens is an unfortunate blip on Teliana Pereira’s year, and it’ll be interesting to see how she handles a tricky French veteran in her first match — the bespectacled Stephanie Foretz.
DK: Famously bespectacled.
VC: Foretz isn’t the only French hope in this section, as the FFT have handed a qualifying wildcard to a woman exactly half her age in 17-year-old Harmony Tan. Sandwiched between those two are a solid group a veterans who’ve played a ton of Grand Slams between them, and this section could really be up for grabs.
Davey’s Pick: Laura Pous-Tió (ESP)
The veteran clay courter is no stranger to Grand Slam draws — be they main or qualifying. Pous-Tió has done well to rebuild her ranking from outside the Top 300 in the last 18 months, starting the season with an ITF title in Saõ Paulo. A lot will depend on whether Pereira can get out of her own way, since Panova isn’t the mostest, mentally speaking.
Vika’s Pick: Alexandra Panova (RUS)
The Russian had a dramatic first Grand Slam of 2015, where she failed to convert match points against Maria Sharapova in the second round. The Russian is a clean ball-striker, lists clay as her favorite surface, and is undefeated against her potential QR2 opponent Pereira on clay.
Q2: The Cahill Kid
DK: One of the most surprising names in the qualifying draw has to be Sorana Cirstea. Her precipitous fall from grace practically mirrors the rise of compatriot Simona Halep, but the former French Open quarterfinalist hasn’t necessarily excelled in the shade. Cirstea will be looking for a turnaround, and fast — the Romanian hasn’t won a match all year.
VC: While Cirstea has a quarterfinal in Paris to her name, the clay-court heavyweight in this section is No. 2 seed Mariana Duque-Marino. The Colombian could be lined up for a second-round encounter with Cirstea, which would provide an interesting contrast in styles if the Romanian has found her feet. In the lower half of this section, American darling CiCi Bellis will be making her Roland Garros debut, but has a tough dirtballer of her own to handle in Veronica Cepede Royg.
Davey’s Pick: Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
It may be a lot to expect of a player yet to win a match in 2015 to suddenly win three, but Cirstea undoubtedly has the talent to hit her way through this field. The question is whether her game will click when it needs to.
Vika’s Pick: Mariana Duque-Marino (COL)
The Colombian comes into Roland Garros fresh off a doubles title in Saint Gaudens, and has two semifinals on clay to her name this season — including at her home WTA event in Bogota. While the clay of her home country is a world away from the environment she’ll encounter in Paris, it’s tough to find someone in this section who might match wits with her on the dirt.
Q3: The Showstopper
DK: There’s so much going on in this one section that I don’t even know where to begin. Anchoring this part of the draw is another former French Open quarterfinalist and girl’s singles winner, Sesil Karatantcheva. The re-christened Bulgarian has re-emerged from several years in the Kazakh wilderness — following a two-year doping ban — and appears poised to break back into the Top 100 for the first time since 2013 after reaching the semifinals of Acapulco as a qualifier.
VC: I love this section.
DK: I know, right? I want to marry it.
VC: If I was on site, I’d watch everything. But, since I can’t kayak to Paris on such short notice, this section is all about the comebacks. The biggest story here is the return of French darling Aravane Rezai, who returns to pro tennis after over a year away. It really seems longer than that, as the 28-year-old put together her best year on tour in 2010, and her form and fitness are the biggest of question marks.
She opens against countrywoman Julie Coin, and the winner of that match will face either Hsieh Su-wei or another comeback kid in Tamira Paszek, who’s been fed a bagel in each of her three comeback matches.
Davey’s Pick: Tamira Paszek (AUT)
This is a group of women you wouldn’t immediately bet on, but each of them are capable of making the main draw at their best. Picking another player who hasn’t won a match in 2015 seems like a decidedly low-percentage bet, but Paszek likely has the fewest limitations of the crop. Despite her more memorable grass court achievements, the former Wimbledon quarterfinalist can play on clay, and should she make it past the French cluster, could overpower Karatantcheva — who still sometimes struggles for pace on her forehand — should each make it that far.
Vika’s Pick: Hsieh Su-wei (TPE)
While the former doubles No. 1 has had a tough time of things in singles of late, she plays the kind of game that can give all the women in this section a headache. Much like Chung Hyeon on the men’s side, Hsieh came to the European clay on a winning streak — taking two $25,000 ITF titles on hard court in Asia before coming to the red clay of Strasbourg. She qualified there and lost her opening match, but her extended time to adjust to the surface could hold her in good stead.
Q4: The Bouncer
DK: Leading this section of the draw is China’s Zhu Lin, a player who earned internet infamy when she apparently refused to own a double-bounce on set point against Francesca Schiavone. But the player to watch hear is likely Beatriz Haddad Maia, who was perilously close to up-ending Sara Errani just a few months ago on clay. A few spots down is the always-confident Patricia Mayr-Achleitner and…Olivia Rogowska? Shouldn’t she have gotten a wildcard?
VC: The big news coming out of the early days in Paris was that Tennis Australia declined to use their reciprocal women’s main draw wildcard, and France happily took it back and offered it to Manon Arcangioli. Rogowska made a name for herself when she upset Maria Kirilenko here six years ago, but isn’t one I’d pick to make it out of this group. Shoutout to 16-year-old Frenchwoman Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, who has the greatest name in tennis.
Davey’s Pick: Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR)
This lesser-known Belorussian showed she could clock the ball in a straight-sets loss to Caroline Wozniacki at last year’s US Open, and has proven she can play good clay court ball with runs to the quarters and semifinals in back-to-back French ITF tournaments — including a win over top seed Pereira in Cagnes-Sur-Mer. With a softer draw through the first two rounds, she could qualify for her second-ever Grand Slam main draw here.
Vika’s Pick: Nastassja Burnett (ITA)
A sentimental pick, the hard-hitting Italian is starting her road back from surgery, but won her way into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome last week via their wildcard playoff event. Although she opens against No. 4 seed Zhu, the Chinesewoman didn’t win a match on the European red clay heading in. Burnett’s never made the main draw in Paris, so why not start now?
Q5: The Inspiration
DK: The otherwise ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm has been showing signs of wear lately, and though she may be aiming for a final flourish at the Rio Olympics, will likely continue struggling through as long as the main tour continues on clay. I’m surprised that she’s at the French Open at all, considering her last event was in Fukuoka…on grass.
VC: Sitting just one line above Date-Krumm in this draw is Croatian Petra Martic, who hasn’t quite found the form that took her to the second week here in 2012. She’ll face “Russia’s Hingis” (© US Open fans) Marina Melnikova, who beat her in convincing fashion earlier this year in Stuttgart. Urszula Radwanska and Ons Jabeur are the seeds in this section.
DK: Along with Chan Yung-Jan, better known as Latisha, who hasn’t played singles since February but did reach the final of the Australian Open women’s doubles event.
Vika’s Pick: Ons Jabeur (TUN)
Jabeur had Andrea Petkovic on the ropes in her Grand Slam main draw debut at the US Open last year, and successfully showed her mettle by navigating through qualifying at the Australian Open. The 20-year-old Tunisian is on the rise, and has fond memories of Paris: she reached back-to-back girls’ finals in Paris in 2010 and 2011, taking home the crown in 2011.
Davey’s Pick: Tereza Mrdeza (CRO)
Like Sasnovich, Mrdeza has been tearing it up on the ITF circuit, getting deep in 50Ks in Colombia and Turkey. The 24-year-old Croat has yet to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, but has made the final round in Australia and Flushing, and so could be poised to break the duck in Paris.
(VC: Did you know Tereza Mrdeza has a winning head-to-head against former player, and current WTA umpire Anja Vreg? #TTItruths)
Q6: The Charleston
DK: Playing one of the best matches of any given season doesn’t typically mean you’re stuck in slam qualies, but such is the case for Jana Cepelova, who has been dealing with injuries since her breakthrough tournament in Charleston. Her opening match against Anastasiya Vasylyeva — who I got to see wearing Maria Sharapova’s US Open kit a week early last summer — shouldn’t be too tough, but another Ukrainian likely looms in the second round…
VC: Kateryna Bondarenko.
VC: But there’s more.
DK: Do tell.
VC: Bondarenko returned to tennis just over a year ago and is looking to come back to a Grand Slam main draw for the first time. Cepelova watched the Australian Open from a hospital as she recovered from pneumonia, but found her feet on clay just in time to make the final of Saint Gaudens last week. Unfortunately, only one of them will have the chance to make the main draw. Olga Govortsova, the No. 16 seed, retired after qualifying just days ago in Strasbourg, but her first round match against American Alexa Glatch could be fun if both bring their best.
Davey’s Pick: Jana Cepelova (SVK)
Cepelova has shown us what she can do when she’s healthy, and she didn’t look like she was struggling physically in Saint Gaudens. But look out for Sachia Vickery, American fans; the youngster is still maturing, but could play spoiler in a section full of storylines.
Vika’s Pick: Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)
No one in this section is a threat to blow the steady Ukrainian completely off the court, and a return to the main draw of the Grand Slam is the last box the former Top 30 player has to check in her return.
Q7: The Rising Star
DK: Elizaveta Kulichkova is Russia’s latest young talent, and showed off her big game a few weeks ago in Katowice, where she reached the quarterfinals as a lucky loser (dropping four games in her two main draw wins). If she runs hot, she is an exciting one to watch. The other names in the section lack consistency, but more than match Kulichkova in entertainment value.
Four words: Michelle Larcher de Brito.
VC: Even though Roland Garros is the only one of the four majors to charge for qualifying, Larcher de Brito is certainly worth the price of admission. The 21-year-old, who’s seemingly been toiling away at this level forever, opens against French wildcard Clothilde De Bernardi, but there are plenty of big hitters and retrievers in this section who could send her into hysterics.
DK: I’m living for the potential Larcher de Brito second round against Estonia’s Annett Kontaveit; the young junior prodigy is slowly transitioning onto the senior circuit, but the two could nonetheless collide into a highly dramatic affair. There may be blood in other sections, but this one all but guarantees tears.
Vika’s Pick: Johanna Konta (GBR)
First inclined to pick Kulichkova, I was wary because the young Russian has seemed more at home on faster surfaces thus far in her career. One player who doesn’t have that problem is Australian-born Brit Johanna Konta, whose past two losses on clay came to the streaking Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and Daria Gavrilova. With no shame in that, the sometimes fragile Brit could end up being the strongest player standing — which is saying something.
Davey’s Pick: Jovana Jaksic (SRB)
Jaksic began 2015 poised to crack the Top 100, but is suddenly struggling to keep her place in the Top 300 after a series of early losses erased most of 2014’s inroads. The young Serb can certainly play on clay, having pushed Daniela Hantuchova to three tough sets in her French Open debut last year, but needs a dose of confidence. A hard fought win over Konta, a notoriously weak closer on these stages, could be that medicine.
Q8: The Twin
DK: Of all the head-turning twists in this draw, can you believe Pliskova still has to qualify for the French Open?
VC: Honestly, what does a girl have to do to get some respect around here?
DK: We hope you enjoyed our impression of “authentic media,” but we’re really talking about Karolina’s twin sister, the left-handed Kristyna. In their junior days, the two managed to maintain eerily similar results, each capturing a junior Grand Slam title. But Karolina has since lapped Kristyna in a big way, which could trigger the latter towards putting together some bigger wins in the next few weeks.
VC: The “other” Pliskova has had some strong results of late, and finds herself nearly back in the Top 100. However, her prep for the second major of the year has been most curious. She played two ITF Circuit events a continent away — in Japan. On grass.
She headlines an interesting section of the draw — one that features a promising teenaged talent in 2014 junior Wimbledon champion Jelena Ostapenko, and the return of Russian veteran Vera Dushevina to singles play. It’s just Dushevina’s second singles match since losing 10-8 in the third to Melanie Oudin in Wimbledon qualifying a year ago.
Davey’s Pick: Dinah Pfizenmaier (GER)
Two years ago, Pfizenmaier was in the third round of the French Open as a qualifier and en route to a major jump in the rankings, peaking inside the Top 80. A protracted dip in form saw all that progress slip away. The German has a game perfect for clay, plays with a lot of spin and, has good instincts around the court. Pfizenmaier just might be inspired in the shadow of her biggest success.
Vika’s Pick: Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
The 17-year-old seems to be committed to putting the junior circuit behind her, and has slashed her ranking by more than half in a year. Ostapenko beat top 100 players in Yanina Wickmayer and Tereza Smitkova en route to the semifinals of a $100,000 ITF event in Slovakia earlier this month, and with KrisPlis coming to Roland Garros from grass, she could be ripe for the upset.
Q9: The Peer
DK: In a dirtballer-friendly section, former No. 11 Shahar Peer was playing solid ball to start the spring, winning a hard court title in Turkey and beating the aforementioned “other” Pliskova in the final. But the Israeli has stalled on the Tour’s turn to clay, losing each of her opening round matches in the last two weeks. Peer shouldn’t be too intimidated by the clay, having reached the second week of the French Open in her career breakthrough in 2006, but will likely have to get past a certain Spaniard to make it back into the main draw…
VC: She’ll have to get past more than one, actually. Peer opens against teenaged talent Sara Sorribes Tormo, who has the game and the attitude to take out a slumping counterpunching on the dirt. Looming at the top of this section is Sorribes Tormo’s battle-tested countrywoman, Lourdes Dominguez Lino, who’s done nearly everything there is to do on a clay court.
Davey’s Pick: Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP)
Sorribes Tormo should be feeling confident heading into her first major tournament of the season. The Spaniard had a nice run in Charleston, reaching the round of 16 as a qualifier and pushing Errani to three sets. Dominguez Lino provides the experience, but may be lacking the physical capabilities at this late stage of her career.
Vika’s Pick: Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP)
Sorribes Tormo has hit several milestones in her professional career this season. Her first WTA main draw (Rio), her first WTA main draw match win (Charleston) and her first Fed Cup victory (Argentina) all have one thing in common — clay. Her first Grand Slam main draw would be a nice addition to top off the set.
Q10: The Villain
DK: On top of not receiving a reciprocal wildcard from her federation, Anastasia Rodionova will be even more unhappy to find she’s drawn nemesis Julia Glushko in the opening round. The young Israeli stopped the infamous Aussie in the final round of not one, but two Grand Slam qualifying draws in 2013, the first being an 8-6 final set decision on the terre battue. This is a section where we may in fact, to quote Rodionova herself, “have blood.” The other interesting opening round comes at the bottom of the section, featuring a doubles specialist and a spurned Slovak…
VC: Kristina Kucova probably got an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu somewhere in Slovakia when Eugenie Bouchard again refused to shake hands with an opponent — Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania — ahead of a Fed Cup tie earlier this year. The original woman spurned, Kucova won a $25,000 ITF event on clay in February, but only recently snapped a four-match losing streak on the surface. She opens up against Andrea Hlavackova, who dropped outside the Top 200 in singles earlier this year — a far cry from the form she showed to reach the second week of the 2012 US Open. Looming for the winner of that match could be Italian Alberta Brianti — who famously led top seed Victoria Azarenka 7-6(6), 4-0* in the first round here three years ago.
Davey’s Pick: Anastasia Rodionova (AUS)
Rodionova’s best (or better) days might be behind her in singles, but the Aussie can still turn a qualies draw upside-down. At last year’s US Open, she battled through two tough three-setters before beating Richel Hogenkamp (and umpire Marija Cicak) in straights to qualify and eventually reach the second round. Rodionova doesn’t mind playing the villain, but she also likes being the underdog, which playing the top seed in her section allows her to be.
Vika’s Pick: Cagla Buyukakcay (TUR)
Buyukakcay was one match away from making the main draw in Paris a year ago, and the woman from Turkey has had a breakthrough season of sorts in 2015. She recorded her career-best wins in Fed Cup zonal play against Elina Svitolina and Heather Watson en route to winning a Heart Award, and although she hasn’t shown the greatest form on clay thus far, the soft section of the draw — along with her willingness to fight — is to her benefit.
Q11: The Dirtballer
DK: Paula Ormaechea was looking like one who could bust up many a clay court draw just a year ago, reaching her second straight French Open third round. But the Argentine hasn’t really been the same since losing 6-0, 6-0 to eventual champion Maria Sharapova, and is just barely hanging onto the Top 200. Losing those third round points will see her ranking really take a tumble. She’s still the most accomplished clay courter in this section; who can stop her?
VC: While it was quite jarring to see the Argentine unseeded in this section, she’s lucky to be where she is. She’s the best clay court player in this qualifier by far, but this section also features Maryna Zanevska, a Justine Henin Academy product; Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan, who was once coached by Sergey Demekhine, owns a pretty one-handed backhand and has gone W-SF-F in her last three ITF events; and Stephanie Vogt, the pride of the tiny nation of Liechtenstein.
Davey’s Pick: Paula Ormaechea (ARG)
A Grand Slam draw always features a qualifier or two who makes an out-of-nowhere run. There couldn’t be less expectations on Ormaechea at the moment. Let’s see if she takes advantage.
Vika’s Pick: Margarita Gasparyan (RUS)
Winning is contagious, and this Russian has been doing a fair bit of it of late against opponents of this level. Knocking on the door of the world’s Top 100, the Russian is a bit more polished since taking a set off Lucie Safarova in her WTA main draw debut three years ago and seems poised to take the next step.
Q12: The Outfit
DK: The anchoring seeds in this draw are known more by meme than mini-break. China’s Duan Ying-Ying earned some Internet acclaim when a Tennis Forum nickname made it all the way to a commentary box, while Alla Kudryavtseva earned infamy after beating Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon and sneering at her fashion choices. Neither are spectacular clay courters so this section, more than any other, is anyone’s game.
Special shoutout to Victoria Kan; the Russian teenager has been dogged by some terrible luck, but will finally make her major debut.
VC: She reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane as a lucky loser, but Kudryavtseva is on a staggering 0-11 streak at the moment. I expected Poland’s Paula Kania, herself endearingly quirky, to deliver the on-paper upset in the first round.
Davey’s Pick: Jessica Pegula (USA)
America’s Jessica Pegula was yet another rising star from 2013. Injuries took her out of the game for far longer than she would have liked, but the daughter of a multi-billionaire has been putting in the hard yards once more. The 21-year-old has been cutting her teeth at the smaller tournaments and it paid off once more in Charleston when she qualified for her first WTA main draw in nearly two years. For a player who must be dying to prove herself, this is her big chance to make a splash.
Vika’s Pick: Yuliya Beygelzimer (UKR)
The 31-year-old Ukrainian has experience on her side, and that could be the deciding factor in a section of the draw that’s almost a crapshoot. It’s the main draw of slams that have been Beygelzimer’s Achilles’ heel — in her career, she’s never won a match.
Which women do you think will make it through to the main draw? Sound off in the comments!