Monday, May 16, 2022

Iga, Ons and ??--just add red clay and mix vigorously

The recipe for French Open deliciousness is a bit of a mystery--but not by too much. Now that world number 1 Iga Swiatek has won Stuttgart and defended her title in Rome, she is the stand-out favorite to again win at Roland Garros. In defending her Rome title, Swiatek didn't drop a set--and she delivered two bagel sets. In Stuttgart, she dropped only one set--to Liudmila Samsonova. 

The other strong contender is Madrid champion Ons Jabeur, whose climb up the rankings (she is currently number 6 in the world) has been dramatic. Both Jabeur and Swiatek (the finalists in Rome) are excellent examples of what happens when players make commitments to improve various parts of their games. Hard work really does pay off, and all eyes will be on both of these players in Paris.

Who else?

Six weeks ago, I would have said that the two to watch would be Swiatek and Paula Badosa, but the Spaniard's spark has dimmed since then. But that doesn't mean that it won't come back in time for the French Open; she definitely has the game to go far in my favorite major. Former champion Simona Halep is another question mark: Right now, she doesn't look like a top contender, but it would be unwise to rule her out.

Unfortunately, last year's champion, Barbora Krejcikova, has been injured for a while, and has withdrawn from the recent clay tournaments that she entered. It's questionable whether she'll even be competing in Paris, which is sad under any circumstance, but especially when I consider her unforgettable 2021 performances. The Czech star's overall dominance in Paris last year was unforgettable.

There are other contenders, of course. Dasha Kasatkina, once considered a potential clay court star (she did win Charleston in 2017) kind of dropped off for a long time, but she's back, and her considerable show-womanship has been augmented by more solid serving and hitting. The USA has two potential contenders--both Amanda Anisimova and Jessie Pegula (the runner-up in Madrid) have looked very good on red clay this year.

Maria Sakkari is always hovering in the "contender" area, and Bianca Andreescu is back (again), and looking better on clay than maybe some would have expected. My biggest hope for the Canadian star is that she stays healthy.

Of course, there are many players who may not be contenders but who can cause trouble on clay courts; the list is too long to publish. Last year, it was Maria Sakkari who took out Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. Sakkari has a 3-2 record against Swiatek, and none of their matches has ever gone past two sets. Their match in Paris last year was the only match they have ever played against each other on clay. However, the 2022 version of Swiatek is even more deadly than the 2020 version that swept through Roland Garros like a red dust storm.

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