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TTI Talks: State of the WTA (French Open Edition)

Part II of TTI’s Roland Garros preview has arrived, fresh from our secret lair. A follow-up to our ATP roundtable, keep scrolling for all of our pre-tournament favorites, predictions and surprises. Check out our full picks compiled into an easy-to-follow grid at the bottom.

Of the WTA, who is/has:

1. The Biggest Darkhorse?

RENÉ

I asked a similar question before Indian Wells and I will ask it again — is Timea Bacsinszky a dark horse? In similar fashion — is Svetlana Kuznetsova a dark horse? Probably not. Anyways, I’m going to go with Caroline Garcia who has been handed an absolute dream of a draw. Both Ana Ivanovic and Ekaterina Makarova have truly dropped off of the radar after Australia and played well below their top 10 ranking. Garcia making the second week out of that section of the draw? Not unlikely at all.

ANDREW

Angelique Kerber has had a fantastic clay season to recover from an otherwise terrible run of form at the beginning of the year. Her championship win in Stuttgart during which she defeated Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki, among others, has left her looking like a confident entry into this draw. The draw has been kind to Kerber — she has a winnable potential R4 match up vs Carla Suarez Navarro. Both of these players could be described as in-form-but-unreliable but I’d pick Kerber to come through that match should they both make it. A quarterfinal vs. Sharapova would be a fascinating revenge match.

DAVID

Nestled in the bottom section of the draw is a pint-sized powerhouse in Daria Gavrilova. The Rome semifinalist has been serving notice in a major way this spring, and the WTA has quickly embraced their exciting new prospect, giving her free reign as Vlogger extraordinaire. But entertaining as the Aussie is off the court, she has been even more dynamic on it, nabbing statement wins over Belinda Bencic, Ana Ivanovic, and Timea Bacsinszky before playing Maria Sharapova tough for two sets. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Gavrilova make the most of her section and make the second week, and with a 1-1 head-to-head against the defending champion, the rising star might truly shine on the game’s biggest stage.

NICK

Timea Bacsinszky has had a breakout year in 2015 and her game is perfectly suited for clay. On her forehand, she plays with an extreme western grip and is able to handle high balls and generate a lot of topspin off that wing. Even though she hasn’t found the same success on clay that she found earlier in the season, being put in the Petra Kvitova-Eugenie Bouchard section could open up some opportunity given how up and down those to have proven to be.

JANE

Timea Bacsinszky will settle into Paris, as if it’s her home. She broke through to qualify here a year ago upon her “return” to tennis, and has had a marvelous run this spring, winning two titles. Her section of the draw has its bumps — aka Madison Keys (No. 16) or Belinda Bencic — however, Keys is not without health concerns and Bencic has been up and down this season, but can wreck havoc on any given day.

JEFF

Both a pro and con of WTA tennis is its unpredictability, which makes choosing a darkhorse a shot in the dark for completely different reasons than on the ATP. There are a handful of talented players who could cause chaos in the top-heavy French Open draw, from Ana Ivanovic’s kryptonite Caroline Garcia (a potential R3 match) to the ruthlessly efficient Elina Svitolina. Although she has had confusingly early exits at her recent events where I would have picked her to make a run, I’m going with Garbiñe Muguruza to make another deep run this year; her draw is decent and the court and ball conditions suit her heavy groundstrokes, just as they have the last three women’s singles champions.

VIKA

I rolled with her at the Australian Open, and she made me look like a genius. Irina-Camelia Begu upset Angelique Kerber en route to making the fourth round Down Under, but is even more at home on red clay. Begu, the No. 30 seed, is looming in that Kvitova/Bouchard quarter — one which I truly feel is anybody’s game. Begu is Kvitova’s projected third-round opponent, and although Kvitova handed her a 7-5, 6-3 loss in the Madrid quarterfinals, the environment in Paris might suit her a little bit more for the upset.

2. The Early Exit?

RENÉ

No one is in greater peril than sophomore slumper Eugenie Bouchard, who’ll take on a game Kristina Mladenovic in the first round. The Frenchwoman has been playing good ball this week in Strasbourg and is about as dangerous a perennial floater as they come after upsetting Li Na in last year’s French Open. Canada’s marquee player, who made the semifinals last year, could be in for a rough couple of weeks.

ANDREW

Eugenie Bouchard is, I imagine, most people’s pick for this honor. Bouchard has been losing matches at an alarming rate throughout 2015, and although there are some signs that she might be picking up her game again, I think the clay season is very much a write-off for the Canadian. A first round loss to home player Kristina Mladenovic, probably on a major show court, would come as no surprise to me at all.

DAVID

There are quite a few names who easily fit this category — likely fewer as the rankings continue to shift. But for sheer number of first week landmines, I have to go with Ana Ivanovic. Her draw is loaded with players who can and have given her trouble. If No. 31 seed Caroline Garcia sounds like a passé pick, look no further than Yaroslava Shvedova. The former French Open quarterfinalist plays a Golden Set kind of game, and with Ivanovic’s confidence issues, this could be yet another Grand Slam to slip away — and fast.

NICK

Eugenie Bouchard. Without even looking at the draw, this was an easy answer given how poor she’s played this season. The Canadian has not provided any reason for us to think she is less vulnerable than another Top 8 seed. She was handed Strasbourg finalist and local favorite Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, and things don’t get easier from there.

JANE

Ana Ivanovic meets a dangerous Yaroslava Shvedova out of the gate. Shvedova has been injured and, thus, has not had much time for matches. However, she is capable of upsetting Ivanovic and just about any woman, if on. If Ivanovic advances, a confident nemesis in Caroline Garcia (No. 31) will probably be waiting in the third round. Garcia has deated Ivanovic three times this year: Monterrey, Indian Wells, and Stuttgart (indoor red clay) — all in straight sets.

JEFF

It seems too easy to choose the slumping Ana Ivanovic or the even more slumping Genie Bouchard to make an early exit – and I won’t, since the former is due for a decent run at the site of her greatest career triumph and the latter has made a habit of turning up at big events. Instead, I’m going with Petra Kvitova, who has an okay draw but somehow manages the make the worst out of easy situations. Her relative lack of success at majors not named Wimbledon has to be a monkey on her back, and I don’t think she’ll be able to shake it off just yet despite her recent sort-of-resurgence.

VIKA

With little time to settle into her role as a Top 8 seed, I could see Carla Suarez Navarro sent out early in Paris — despite the great form she’s showed heading into the second major of the year. For someone who thrives on her opponent’s pace, the Spaniard couldn’t have been all that happy to see she opens against the crafty, endearingly wonky Monica Niculescu (then again, who would be?). It doesn’t get easier for CSN from there — with Virginie Razzano and Flavia Pennetta lurking in her path just to get to the second week.

3. The Toughest Draw?

RENÉ

Ana Ivanovic got hosed by the draw, big time. Not only is Yaroslava Shvedova a difficult first round opponent, but she also ended up in the same section as her 2015 nemesis Caroline Garcia. Even if the 2008 Roland Garros champion was in good form, this wouldn’t be an enviable road into the fourth round by any means. Ivanovic made it into the third round in 2014, losing to career nemesis Lucie Safarova, and I don’t see her improving significantly this year either.

ANDREW

Although her first two rounds should pass with relative ease, Serena Williams then faces a monumentally difficult draw for the rest of Roland Garros. Her potential opponents in R3 and R4 include Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. That’s quite a challenge, and things don’t look much easier from then onwards.
But, if anyone can break out of that packed a section, it’s Serena Williams.

DAVID

It’s somehow hard to believe that Carla Suarez Navarro is a Top 8 seed. But with every result, the Spaniard does that much more to justify her rapid rise in the rankings. That said, I don’t think it will be easy for Suarez Navarro to shante into the second week. With higher seeding comes higher responsibilities, and with tricky seeds like Flavia Pennetta and Angelique Kerber looming in the third and fourth rounds, Suarez Navarro could undo a lot of her progress. With the grass court season typically a wash for the undersized and underpowered clay courter, this is the Spaniard’s last chance for a Big Bang before the hard courts. It’ll be interesting to see how she handles the pressure.

NICK

No other top eight seed will have to be forced to go through Victoria Azarenka to make the second week, and because Serena Williams likely will, she has to be the player with the toughest road to the second week. Azarenka should have beaten Williams in Madrid and will relish the opportunity to get another shot at the World No. 1 at Roland Garros.

JANE

Victoria Azarenka lurks for Serena Williams in the third round; sister Venus could pop up in round of 16; and there’s Serena’s buddy, Caroline Wozniacki (whom everyone seems to have forgotten about) as a possible quarterfinal match-up. If Serena remains healthy, however — always the qualifier — she’ll will her way to the semifinals.

JEFF

The glaring choice would have to be Serena Williams. While her first two rounds should be a breeze, she’s scheduled to meet the former No.1, Madrid match-point-holder and continuously-on-the-comeback Victoria Azarenka in the third round. While Azarenka’s climb back to the top has been slow and littered with difficult draws, Williams has proven to be her most vulnerable during the first week of a slam and might face some trouble if the Belorussian is dialed in.

VIKA

While Serena Williams might have the most difficult draw on paper, the American’s made a career of raising her game against the very best. While her draw is certainly full of players with the pedigree to beat her, she also knows just how to beat them. Therefore, my pick is Ana Ivanovic. The Serb has looked like a shadow of herself for much of this year, and I could see any one of Yaroslava Shvedova, Lesia Tsurenko, or Bojana Jovanovski testing her — or possibly taking her out — if Caroline Garcia isn’t the one to get fourth crack at her.

4. The Most Exciting 1R?

RENÉ

So many. Sloane Stephens/Venus Williams could be fun, while Aleksandra Krunic/Yulia Putintseva is a hipster-matchup dream come true. Lesia Tsurenko/Bojana Jovanovski could be entertaining, while Sharapova-Kaia Kanepi should be good.

But nothing is quite as mouthwatering to me as the battle of Thunder vs. Glitter — aka Sesil Karatantcheva vs. Jelena Jankovic. The Bulgarian-turned-Kazakh-turned Bulgarian again qualified for the main draw at the slam where she made the quarterfinals a decade ago, and this draw has really thrown down the gauntlet.

ANDREW

Much has been made of matches between Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams in the past, with Stephens having defeated Serena at this level of event before. Stephens has never played a match against Venus Williams, despite having drawn her in Miami in 2013 — Stephens progressed to the next round by virtue of a walkover. It will be fascinating to see the dynamic between Stephens and V. Williams, especially with Stephens’ form having picked up in recent weeks.

DAVID

This is like picking your favorite child. The first week is always my favorite part of the Grand Slam season: everyone gets their moment. And no one is more ripe for a moment than Yulia Putintseva, who opens her first main draw appearance in far too long against US Open heroine Aleksandra Krunic. Neither are the tallest, but with their fight and grit, they easily stand over seven feet tall. A grinding affair that will likely take place away from the spotlight it deserves, I know I will be glued to my live scores to see if Krunic can hold her nerve, and if Putintseva can put on a show.

NICK

Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens. This is far and away the first round match that contains the two highest profile names in the draw. Stephens has had a bit of regression over the last year or so whereas the elder Williams has found a second wind towards the latter stages of her respective career. This could be very good…or very bad. Either way, this will be hard one not to tune in to.

JANE

A first-round match between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens could not have been scripted better. The veteran, at 34, against the woman the world expects to rise to every tennis occasion and disappoints consistently will kick off the fortnight with a bang. Venus knows better than anyone, except sister Serena, how to measure her competitive nature at the start of a slam.

JEFF

Ana Ivanovic vs. Yaroslava Shvedova. The Kazakh has posted some big wins and big runs at Roland Garros over the years and has the firepower and shotmaking to cause the former champion much trouble. Ivanovic, however, must be eager to reverse her poor performances here over the years and will be looking to rectify a disappointing season. Both tennis talent, combined with the stakes, might make for an entertaining first round match.

VIKA

It’s a match some might’ve glossed over on paper, but the BFF-battle between the former doubles partners of Lucie Safarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova intrigues me. Roland Garros is the beginning of an important stretch for the Czech, as she reached the second week here last year before her career-best run to the Wimbledon semifinals. It’s strange to see Pavlyuchenkova unseeded, as the Russian missed out on the Top 32 by mere inches, and this match between two players who know each other well is a good start to the women’s tournament.

5. The Unheralded Opposition?

RENÉ

Look out for Teliana Pereira to continue her success in recent months. She might have been defaulted last week in Saint Gaudens but the Brazilian has been stringing together good results on the clay. The qualifier, who’s safely in the Top 100 but got hosed by the “six-week rule,” hit the jackpot with her draw as well. With Ekaterina Makarova’s form nose-diving, don’t be surprised to see the 26-year-old Brazilian exploit the opportunity and navigate her way into the third or fourth round.

ANDREW

I’ll resist the temptation to pick Madison Brengle, who seems to have caused a stir everywhere she’s placed her feet in 2015, and instead pick Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. The young Slovak finds herself in a very open part of the draw, with the out-of-form Eugenie Bouchard and No. 32 seed Zarina Diyas her biggest competitors for a spot in the third round. From there, she would likely have to face Svetlana Kuznetsova or Karolina Pliskova, tough matches which she could make a challenge of.
Who knows who she’d then face in the final eight, in a section topped by the brilliant or disastrous Petra Kvitova.

DAVID

I’m going to go with qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva. The re-christened Bulgarian swept through the qualifying tournament with the loss of one set, and was particularly ruthless against the resurgent Tamira Paszek. Few may remember, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of Karatantcheva’s major breakthrough. A year removed from winning the girl’s singles title, Karatantcheva up-ended Venus Williams in three nutty sets before getting tight against the more experienced Elena Likhovtseva in the quarterfinals. Opening against the lately injured Jelena Jankovic, something tells me Karatantcheva is due to finally make good on her promise of a “thunderous return.”

NICK

Given her section of the draw, Monica Puig could find her way through the first week at Roland Garros. “Pica Power” hasn’t done much this season, but if she’s able to get through the unpredictable Sabine Lisicki in the first round, there may be an opening for her to sneak through to the second week.

JANE

Keeping in the vein of qualifiers, Johanna Konta of Great Britain swept through the “pre-tournament” without the loss of a set. The Aussie-born Brit opens against rising Czech Denisa Allertova, to face either Barbora Strycova or Tsvetana Pironkova. None of those names should strike fear in her on a clay court, and because of that, she could put together her best career showing at a major.

JEFF

My heart wants the slowly fading Francesca Schiavone to make another miracle run here, but my head says she has another meek first round loss coming her way. Instead, Bethanie Mattek-Sands is at Roland Garros with a protected ranking and has an interesting — but manageable — draw if she can summon the form that has seen her beat some of the best in the past.

VIKA

I’ve apparently fallen into a theme, but keep an eye out for unseeded Romanian Andreea Mitu. She might’ve sent waves when she beat Eugenie Bouchard on an indoor hard court in Fed Cup, but Mitu is much more at home on the dirt. She opens against French wildcard Alizé Lim, who hasn’t done much winning of late, and could face Karolina Pliskova in round two. Despite winning the title in her home country of Prague, Pliskova and a clay court have a rocky relationship and Mitu could be just the player to exploit the Czech’s improved, but still sometimes sluggish, movement on the surface. With the always unpredictable Svetlana Kuznetsova as the other seed in this section, and Roland Garros’ penchant for surprise packages, Mitu could be the right pick as the latter.

6. The Semifinalists?

RENÉ

There are so many “ifs” and “whens” and “maybes” in this draw, I don’t even know where to begin. I can see at least 12 women make the semifinals and I can find a (more or less) reasonable explanation for all of them. What will Kvitova do? Can Halep find her best tennis in Paris? Will Sharapova defend her title? So many questions.

In particular, the first quarter leaves me utterly puzzled. Is Serena healthy and will she prevail? And if not, who’s going to end up stumbling her way through the eventual carnage? I do think the tournament will come up with a number of surprise stories as a result of busted brackets, leaving us with: Sara Errani vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elina Svitolina vs. Maria Sharapova.

ANDREW

Despite her tough draw, I think that Serena Williams should make it through to the final four relatively unscathed. She’s facing great opponents but they are opponents she knows well and won’t be unsettled by. Petra Kvitova has been on good enough form and faces a weak enough section for me to feel she can emerge from her quarter the victor.
Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, last year’s finalists, have the clay court chops that should carry them through their draws. Kerber, Suarez Navarro and Ivanovic are potential stumbling blocks they should be weary of, but not afraid of.

DAVID

Much has been made about top seed Serena Williams‘ vulnerability. The American has entered the second major tournament of 2015 under a cloud of injury, having pulled out of Rome with an elbow issue. The two-time French Open champion was surely dealt a boon by the draw, though there could have been a situation where I could have seen Williams sashaying out before the second week. But with an abundance of hard courters in her section, I see her playing her way into form, where she will likely be ready for surprise semifinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova.

On the other half of the draw, things seem much straightforward, and I think Simona Halep will make good on her draw to make a second straight semifinal on the terre battue. Finally, you can’t bet against Claypova through what could be some potentially tricky first week opponents. A MariaSharapova-Halep rematch, it is.

NICK

Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova & Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep.

Yep, I’m taking the four top seeds. Weak pick, I know.

The only player that I feel poses a major threat to these four being the semifinalists is Victoria Azarenka. Sharapova and Kvitova are coming off significant clay court titles in Rome and Madrid, respectively, and should be feeling very confident entering Roland Garros. Halep was last year’s runner-up and is such a tough out on a surface that caters to her game.

JANE

Serena Williams/Petra Kvitova and Carla Suarez Navarro/Simona Halep. While this could be a big ask from Suarez Navarro with Sharapova in her quarter, the Spaniard is on a roll and confident. Her ability to create angles, come in, and fight through exhaustion should carry her through. For all intents and purposes, Halep has an ‘easy’ draw. Caroline Garcia could throw her off, if she advances, but the Frenchwoman is not consistent match to match. In the top half, Kvitova remains a question and may always carry that moniker around with her. But her performance in Madrid proved, once again, she has more than grass stains on her shoes; should she find her way through the draw, she should have a more than game Serena Williams waiting for her.

JEFF

Serena Williams vs. Eugenie Bouchard and Caroline Garcia vs. Maria Sharapova. Despite her loaded top quarter, Serena should be able to navigate it even if she plays less than her best for most of her first-week matches — I can’t see anyone other than Azarenka troubling her. As far as her opponent goes, well…I can’t believe I’m choosing Bouchard, but I’m choosing Bouchard. I don’t trust Kuznetsova or Kvitova in her quarter and if she can get past Strasbourg finalist Kristina Mladenovic, she might get on another Grand Slam roll. Halep played well in Rome but curiously folded in her semifinal, so I’m feeling a Cinderella run from Garcia in that quarter. To close it out, I find it impossible to pick against Sharapova considering the way she fought through questionable form to win the title last year.

VIKA

Not too many people seem to be talking about Caroline Wozniacki in the top quarter of the women’s draw, and with good reason. The Dane’s never had much career success at Roland Garros, but her path to the quarterfinals is wide open. Andrea Petkovic and Jelena Jankovic are huge question marks after retiring injured this week, and Sara Errani isn’t someone who Wozniacki would be intimated by. Does she have what it takes to take out Serena Williams if the World No. 1 gets to the last eight? There are no secrets when the two play, but they’ve faced off just once on clay, after all. The second quarter is the most unpredictable of the four, and who better to come out of that carnage than unpredictability embodied: Svetlana Kuznetsova?

I expect the bottom half to play out truer to seeding — with Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova both finding their way through.

7. The Champion?

RENÉ

The main question is whether Serena Williams will make it through to the semifinals; if she does — and based on the past decade, I’m not convinced she will — she’s got this.

However, given the younger Williams sister’s past struggles in Paris and her less than perfect run up to the tournament, there is a good chance she won’t feature at the business end of the fortnight. I don’t have her in my final four, and hence, I’ll go with the most reliable clay courter of the past few years — Maria Sharapova, to take the title. Her actual tennis in Rome wasn’t always convincing but her fight and fitness are there and that’s what’s probably an even bigger factor for the Russian. Much like in Australia, I’m picking the World No. 2 to win unless she runs into Williams in the finals.

ANDREW

Serena Williams faces a draw full of opponents that she’ll really want to win against. With Azarenka and sister Venus likely early opponents, Serena potentially faces four Grand Slam champions and a former World No. 1 in quick succession. Wins against such high calibre players are what Serena lives and breathes on the tour. There is no unfamiliar young pretender on the horizon to bamboozle her. It’s a tough draw for Williams but in many ways it’s just the kind of draw she ought to thrive in.

DAVID

Wise pundits have argued against using Madrid as a litmus test for French Open success. Wiser pundits have seen its greater correlation to victory at Wimbledon. But I see things jumping out of the Caja Magica and right into Paris for a, you guessed it, third Grand Slam title for Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 2009 champion beat Williams on the road to the title five years ago, and played her tough in 2013 before the American claimed her crown. No one expects this level from Kuznetsova this late in her career, and that may be the very thing the typically tense Russian needs to loosen up and serve her way to yet another Grand Slam victory aover not just Williams, but Sharapova in the final.

NICK

Serena Williams is my pick for every major and will probably be my pick for every major until she retires. It’s just so darn tough to pick against her, especially at a Grand Slam, where she is extra motivated. If she gets past Azarenka in the third round, I think it’s going an uphill challenge for anyone to take her down.

JANE

The break she took through Indian Wells and Miami might just be the ticket for Petra Kvitova to claim her first major off of the lawns of the All-England Club. We know that the Czech is capable of beating anyone on her day, and might find herself with enough reserve energy to battle her way through two weeks on the terre battue.

JEFF

Not sure if it’ll be as a result of finally beating Serena Williams or by beating another Grand Slam final debutante, but my choice is Maria Sharapova. Six more titles here and she might just catch Nadal.

VIKA

If there’s anywhere that I feel Simona Halep is the biggest threat to claim her first Grand Slam title, it’s at Roland Garros. The Romanian’s lead up to Paris was less than ideal, as she dropped her first match in Madrid to Alizé Cornet and never found the gear to put Carla Suarez Navarro away in the semifinals, but that could prove to work in her favor in Paris. She didn’t overplay ahead of the year’s second major, and should be fresh enough at the end of the fortnight to take out Caroline Wozniacki in a marathon final. #comeatme

TTI’s Picks:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 11.43.26 PM

Who would you have chosen? Sound off in the comments!

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About Victoria Chiesa (114 Articles)
One time, Eva Asderaki told me I was lovely. It was awesome. @vrcsports

1 Comment on TTI Talks: State of the WTA (French Open Edition)

  1. Witthoeft and Konjuh for my “unheralded competition”!

    Like

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