Damien Kayat previews the 2022 Women’s French Open and looks at the favourites, the dark horses and some long of long shots who may just upset the applecart.
2022 WTA Tour
Women’s French Open Preview
Stade Roland Garros, Paris, France
22nd May- 5th June
I think it’s fair to say that the entire tennis fraternity was stunned by the sudden retirement of undisputed World No.1 Ashleigh Barty. It harkened back to the time that Bjorn Borg inexplicably hung up his racquet at the age of 26.
Borg’s retirement was more understandable: who would want to spend excess time across the net from the maniacal ramblings of John McEnroe? In any event, Barty’s retirement left a vacuum in the already tumultuous world of women’s tennis.
Few could have envisaged how eagerly Iga Swiatek would fill that void. The 20-year-old Pole has embarked on a blitzkrieg campaign in recent months, winning five consecutive titles and firmly underlining her status as the French Open favourite.
This must be the first time in over a decade where the destiny of the women’s title looks more fixed than that of the men. But if there’s one thing that recent tennis history has taught us: never make assumptions about a women’s Grand Slam.
Especially in this event. Just look at the last five years. Ostapenko, Swiatek and Krejcikova all came from relative obscurity to win the Roland Garros title. Add recent finalists such as Vondrousova and Pavlyuchenkova and you get some idea of how insane this particular Grand Slam has been.
I think we can safely assume that former World No.1 Naomi Osaka will not be in the mix this year. She has barely played this season and has never gone beyond the 3rd round in Paris before.
2021: Barbora Krejcikova bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (6-1, 2-6, 6-4)
2020: Iga Swiatek bt Sofia Kenin (6-4, 6-1)
2019: Ashleigh Barty bt Marketa Vondrousova (6-1, 6-3)
2018: Simona Halep bt Sloane Stephens (3-6, 6-4, 6-1)
2017: Jelena Ostapenko bt Simona Halep (4-6, 6-4, 6-3)
Clay-court precursors this season
Charleston Open: Belinda Bencic bt Ons Jabeur (6-1, 5-7, 6-4)
Copa Colsanitas: Tatjana bt Laura Pigossi (6-3, 4-6, 6-2)
Stuttgart Open: Iga Swaitek bt Aryna Sabalenka (6-2, 6-2)
Istanbul Cup: Anastasia Potapova bt Veronika Kudermetova (6-3, 6-1)
Madrid Open: Ons Jabeur bt Jessica Pegula (7-5, 0-6, 6-2)
Italian Open: Iga Swiatek bt Ons Jabeur (6-2, 6-2)
Morocco Open and Internationaux de Strasbourg: in progress
Swiatek’s to lose?
It’s really impossible to look past Swiatek. It would be easier to dismiss the World No.1 had she not already won a French Open title. She is on a crazy winning-steak that is reminiscent of Serena Williams in her pomp.
She has won 28 consecutive matches during this golden period. That includes four WTA 1000 titles. She is unbeaten on clay this year (winning titles in Stuttgart and Rome). And she hasn’t been simply grinding out these victories.
She has lost an accumulative total of 19 games over the course of those five finals. She isn’t overawed by any occasion and I actually do think she will take home the title this year.
In interviews you are reminded of just how young and charmingly guileless she can be. But on court she is an absolute killer. But who could pose a legitimate threat to her dominance this year?
Top 10 threats- Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka and Danielle Collins
As I alluded to earlier, rankings are often slightly misleading when it comes to the women’s game. Second seed and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova has barely played this year due to injury.
And the likes of Paula Badosa and Maria Sakaari have endured pretty uninspiring clay-court campaigns. I would be more inclined toward players who have looked competitive on clay this season. And nobody has looked more threatening to Swiatek’s dominance than Tunisian Ons Jabeur.
Breaking barriers at every turn, the 27-year-old Tunisian is having a clay-court season to die for. She has reached three finals in four events. She lost to Bencic in the Charleston final before claiming the biggest win of her career in Madrid.
She then made it back-to-back WTA 1000 finals in Rome (where she lost emphatically to Swiatek in the final). She has wisely sat out in this lead-in week and I think she’s primed for a huge fortnight in Paris.
One thing that works against her is a relative lack of Grand Slam success. But I just think she has the mental edge over more hyped players such as Badosa and Kontaveit.
Aryna Sabalenka has been the bane of my prognostic existence over the last few years. I was sure that she was destined for a period of greatness. But she has consistently underwhelmed on the biggest stages. But there have been some signs of encouragement for the musclebound Belarusian.
She showed some previously unseen Grand Slam mettle last year, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. But it has been her clay-court form in 2022 that has really surprised.
She reached the final in Stuttgart and the semi-final in Rome (on both occasions she was absolutely thrashed by Iga Swiatek). She seems to be moving better and her serve has been steadier of late.
In addition, she is playing more controlled tennis as the expectations have dissipated.
My final pick from the current top 10 is Danielle Collins. This choice deviates slightly from my general trend of picking in-form clay-court players. Collins is 2-2 for the clay-court season. But the American is a true fighter who seems to find her best form in big events.
She reached her maiden Grand Slam final earlier this year in Melbourne. Her results have been slightly erratic since. But Collins has previous clay-court form and I think she could find that this week.
She won her maiden title in Palermo last year and reached the French Open quarterfinals in 2020. I expect her to power her way deep into the tournament.
Dangerous Dark Horses- Belinda Bencic, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina
Reigning Olympic Champion Belinda Bencic has tended to underdeliver on the Grand Slam stage. You can’t deny that. But perhaps her Olympic success could propel her to more consistent results in top-tier events.
Crucially, she won her maiden clay-court title this year in Charleston (beating Ons Jabeur in the process). I just love her variety and think she could pose a threat to more fancied players.
I think people were slightly short-sighted when Patrick Mouratoglou stepped in to help Simona Halep. Halep- the 2018 French Open champ and two-time beaten finalist- is one of the greatest clay-court players of her generation.
But there was always going to be a bedding-in period for this burgeoning relationship. But she has started to look a bit sharper under the guidance of the enigmatic Frenchman.
She hadn’t dropped a set in Madrid before running into an inspired Ons Jabuer in the quarterfinals. And Collins simply overpowered her in Rome last week. But I fully expect Halep to be at her best this week. Halep is at the stage of her career where she will naturally conserve her best tennis for the biggest occasions.
Daria Kasatkina’s form has just been building up beautifully for a surprise tilt at this year’s French Open crown. Kasatkina has been described by many as one of the most complete clay-court players out there.
She mixes up her game with a wide variety of heavy topspin, drop shots and lobs. She won her maiden WTA title at the 2020 Charleston Open. She is fresh off a semi-final run in Rome (where she pushed Ons Jabeur all the way in three sets).
Kasatkina will not be a thirrd round opponent you would want to face this year. Also, she reached her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal here in 2018. She will also be motivated by the fact that Russian players are currently not allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
Longshots- Amanda Anisimova and Bianca Andreescu
A year ago, I would have probably been putting Coco Gauff into this category. But this year I’m opting for her compatriot Amanda Anisimova. I kept on noticing the 20-year-old’s name when I was doing my research for some of the higher-ranked players.
She has picked up some huge scalps during this clay-court swing. She is 10-3 on the clay this year. But look at some of the scalps she has taken. She has beaten the likes of Collins, Bencic and Sabalenka (twice).
Anisimova is a proven clay-court entity who just seems to be getting stronger and stronger. She was a surprise semi-finalist here in 2019 and she also won her maiden WTA title at the 2019 Copa Colsanitas (also played on clay).
This one is a bit of a leftfield option. Former World No.4 Bianca Andreescu just returned from an extended absence following last year’s Indian Wells. Injury and personal demons have kept her off the court for the better part of six months.
But the Canadian has actually looked surprisingly assured since returning to action. She has been 6-3 on the clay since returning to competition. This included a victory over Danielle Collins as well as a three-set defeat to Aryna Sabalenka.
The former US Open champion hasn’t really established herself as a clay-court presence. But she certainly has the game to thrive on clay. She hits the ball as hard as anyone and she mixes up her shot-making adroitly. Along with her US Open success, Andreescu is an Indian Wells and Canadian Open champion.
She also reached the final in Miami last year. She loves the big stage and has zero pressure coming into this.
Amanda Anisimova has captured people's attention since winning a US Open qualifying match at 15yo.— Tick Tock Tennis (@TickTockTennis) May 12, 2022
A LOT has happened since then - both incredible and heartbreaking. But, the fight never left.
The fight brings her to new heights once again, defeating Danielle Collins, 6-2, 6-2 pic.twitter.com/FcsnWjLEnz