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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, May 25, 2023


We highlight the race for world No. 1, Iga Swiatek's tough test, celebrating top contenders and the blockbuster French Open first-rounders to watch.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty

When she isn't rampaging on red clay, Iga Swiatek spend some of her spare time reading novels.

The Roland Garros draw presents some puzzling potential plot lines for the defending champion.

More: Three Men Who Can Win Maiden Major in Paris

World No. 1 Swiatek joins tournament director Amelie Mauresmo on stage for the draw ceremony staged at the Auteuil Greenhouse​ adjacent to ​​Simonne-Mathieu court.​

When Swiatek takes center stage on Court Philippe Chatrier she knows some high hurdles may well spring from the red clay.

Here are our Top 5 Takeaways from today's Roland Garros women's draw.

Rivalry Renewal in Race for No. 1

​Even if world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka don't face off in the French Open final, their rivalry will reverberate beyond Paris.

The world's Top 2 squared off in riveting red clay rivalries in Stuttgart and Madrid in recent weeks.

Australian Open champion arrives in Paris trailing Roland Garros and US Open champion Swiatek by about 1,400 ranking points, which means only Swiatek or Sabalenka will leave the city of light as world No. 1.

The prospect of a pulsating third clay-court final between No. 1 and No. 2 would be a major thriller and a historic final—the top two seeded women last faced off in a French Open final a decade ago when No. 1 Serena Williams swept No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4.

​Both Swiatek and Sabalenka must navigate major obstacles to make it happen.

​A year ago, Swiatek crushed Coco Gauff 6-1, 6-3 in the Roland Garros final.

Launching her title defense, Swiatek opens against Spaniard Cristina Bucsa before ​the clay-court cauldron could start heating up.

​Swiatek could face the 2021 French Open singles and doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round, followed by a potential rematch with Gauff in the quarterfinals before what could be a blockbuster semifinal showdown vs. Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina in the semifinals.​

​That's all just to get to Swiatek's Madrid conqueror Sabalenka in the final. ​

Though clay is not Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina's favorite surface should she get another shot at Swiatek in Paris, the heavy hitter would carry the confidence that comes from beating the three-time Grand Slam champion three times this season.

​Swiatek owns a 28-6 record this year. Three of her six losses have come to Rybakina, who swept the Pole on hard courts in the Australian Open fourth round and Indian Wells semifinals then defeated her on Rome's red clay when the top seed retired with a leg issue in the third set.​

​Applying all-court acumen, Krejcikova beat Swiatek in the Dubai final in February, her second straight win over the world No. 1.​

Still, even with a bulls-eye on her back, Swiatek says she's feeling the good vibes back in her happy space.

​"​I love it honestly. It's like my favorite tournament i​n the​ whole year so I'm always excited to come back​," Swiatek said. "​I get this extra motivation to come back. Being here is really a pleasure. I love Paris​,​ but this place has so much positive energy that I love coming back.​

​"​For sure it's a rollercoaster​, ​especially for me​, ​I'm one of the more emotional people. It's not easy to handle it but I always remind myself why I started playing tennis. I j​ust try to ​have fun on court.​"

​​If Not Iga, Then Who?

​World No. 2 Sabalenka is chasing Swiatek for the top spot in the rankings.​

World No. 4 Elena Rybakina has already passed Swiatek on court.

They are the two women with the most damaging weapons to threaten Swiatek's reign.

Belarusian Sabalenka, who faces Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in a bad blood opener, has already beaten Swiatek in a clay-court final this month.

Commanding the center of the court with a stinging serve and jolting forehand, the second-ranked Sabalenka ran through the final three games defeating world No. 1 Swiatek 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to capture her second Mutua Madrid Open crown in the past three years​ earlier this month.

​Sabalenka, who is second on the WTA in service games held (83.4%) to Caroline Garcia (83.6%) could face the fifth-seeded Frenchwoman in the quarterfinals. If it comes off, that match would be a rematch of Garcia edging Sabalenka in the WTA Finals championship match last fall. Garcia has won three of five meetings vs. Sabalenka.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina has beaten Swiatek three times in a row, including a straight-sets win on hard court at the Australian Open last January. Although clay is not Rybakina's favorite surface, she's coming off her second career clay-court title in Rome.

In that Rome run, Rybakina beat back-to-back French Open champions conquering Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko and also beat former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova as well.

Factor in Rybakina leads the Tour in aces (278) and is among the Tour leaders in service games held and you must take her as a serious threat in Paris, particularly since she's reached the finals in two of her last three Grand Slam appearances.

Former French Open singles and doubles champion Krejcikova has beaten Swiatek in both the Dubai and Ostrava finals in recent months and cannot be underestimated on Roland Garros' red clay.

Former Champions in the Field

​There are only three former French Open singles champions returning in the women's field:

(1) Iga Swiatek (2022 and 2020)

​(13) Barbora Krejcikova (2021)

(17) Jelena Ostapenko (2017)

As mentioned, the top-seeded Swiatek opens against Spain's Cristina Bucsa.

The 13th-seeded Krejcikova, who beat Swiatek earlier this season and resides in her top quarter of the draw, meets Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko in her first-round match.

Ostapenko will play Tereza Martincova in her opening match.

Who's Out?

​Four lucky losers will make it into the 128-player Roland Garros women's main draw following the withdrawals of ​​Paula Badosa​,​Jennifer Brady​​, ​​Patricia Maria Tig​​ and ​​Ajla Tomljanovic​​.​

The 2018 Roland Garros champion Simona Halep continues to be sidelined serving a provisional doping suspension. Halep has vehemently denied knowingly ingesting any banned substance.

First-Round Matches to Watch

(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Marta Kostyuk (UKR)

(3) Jessica Pegula (USA) vs. Danielle Collins (USA)

(16) Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. Sloane Stephens (USA)

(18) Victoria Azarenka vs. Bianca Andreescu (CAN)

(​8​) ​Ma​ria ​Sakkari (GRE) vs. Karolina Muchova (CZE)

(​21) ​Ma​gda ​Linette​ (POL) vs. Leylah Fernandez (CAN)

​Alize Cornet​​​ ​(FRA) vs. Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Elina Svitolina (UKR) vs. (26) Martina Trevisan (ITA)


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