|clockwise from top: Errani, Begu, Goerges, Siegemund, Cornet (photos by Daniel Ward)|
The thing about a major is that the tension begins with the first ball hit. When the first round of the French Open commences on Sunday, there will be several first rounds that could be especially tense:
Angelique Kerber (6) vs. Mona Barthel: Kerber has had a tough time of it since she had her glory year in 2016, when she was number 1 in the world and won two majors plus an Olympic silver medal. Back then, she certainly seemed in place to win at Roland Garros, given her clay court skills. Recently, she has elevated her game again, but it can't be too thrilling for her to learn that her very first opponent will be countrywoman Barthel. It's not that Barthel has done anything in particular lately, but when she's "on," she can be dangerous on a clay court. And you never know when Barthel's "on" switch will be tripped.
Irina-Camelia Begu vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova: Schmiedlova recently, dramatically, resurrected her career. The last thing she needs to face someone like Begu in the first round in Paris. The Romanian player can be quite tricky on clay, and this has the potential to be a really good match.
Garbine Muguruza (3) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: There's nothing like having two former French Open champions meet in the first round. Muguruza won in in 2016, Kuznetsova in 2009. Both are prone toward "going off," and both are outstanding clay court performers. This is the first round match I most want to watch.
Laura Siegemund vs. CoCo Vandeweghe (15): If it weren't for her accident and lengthy rehab, I'd look for the German to go deep into the tournament. She hasn't returned to her deadly form on clay, however, and Vandeweghe has suddenly begun to perform well on it. One way or the other, it will be worth watching.
Julia Goerges (11) vs. Dominika Cibulkova: The German's outstanding form has dropped a bit lately, though I still consider her someone who could do very well in Paris. And while Cibulkova tends to shine on hard courts, she could prove to be a problem if Goerges doesn't arrive in top form.
Alize Cornet (32) vs. Sara Errani: Errani is 4-3 against Cornet in general, but Cornet is 2-1 against the Italian on clay. The outcome of this match probably depends on which Cornet shows up. The Cornet who took out top seed Caroline Garcia in Charleston last month could beat any number of players. The problem is that the Frenchwoman's nerves often don't permit that Cornet to play her game.