Iga Swiatek heads to the French Open trying to become the first player since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2016 to successfully defend a women’s Grand Slam singles title, with injuries and poor clay form clouding hopes of several of its main rivals.
Following her victory in Rome, which culminated with a ruthless withdrawal of Karolina Pliskova in 46 minutes, Poland’s first Grand Slam singles champion returns to Roland Garros seven months later with much greater weight in the wait.
Swiatek, who turns 20 next week, was the lowest-ranked woman, then 54th in the world, to win the French Open, which left its traditional slot from May to June last year due to the pandemic of Covid-19.
Like Jelena Ostapenko in 2017, it was her first touring title. Unlike the Latvian, who has struggled to consistently reproduce her best tennis, Swiatek seems better equipped to stay on top.
She entered the top 10 for the first time last week and cited the consistency of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer as a goal she can strive for.
“I’m really proud of myself that I’m starting to be more consistent because that was my goal from the start,” Swiatek said.
“I feel right now that I am making tremendous progress in this area. But it was actually a little frustrating after Roland Garros, because sometimes you can’t see the result of your work.
“Obviously winning a Grand Slam is great, but after that comes the standings, and this year it was different.
“I’m really proud to have in my CV that I’m in the top 10, because I’ve always wanted that. I also want to be consistent. So now our goal is to keep me in this place and go further. . ”
# photo1Ashleigh Barty quit her Roland Garros title after skipping much of the 2020 season citing health and travel risks.
The world number one has won three titles this year and reached the final in Madrid, but an arm injury at the Italian Open forced her out of the quarter-finals and cast doubt on her fitness in Paris .
“The pain was getting too intense so it was important that I listen to my body and of course try to do the right thing,” Barty said after retiring from 17-year-old Coco Gauff.
“It does come up from time to time,” she added, “but we are confident that we know how to handle it. “
– Halep excluded –
While the Australian seemed optimistic, the same cannot be said of Simona Halep, the 2018 Roland Garros winner and defending Wimbledon champion who will miss the event with a torn calf muscle.
“The thought of not being in Paris fills me with sadness, but I’m going to focus my energy on recovery,” tweeted Halep, who was beaten by Swiatek in the last 16 games of the tournament last year.
As for Williams, now 39, she has won just one of three clay court matches this month after returning after almost three months of absence after the Australian Open.
# photo2The American remains on 23 Grand Slam titles, one behind Margaret Court’s all-time record, and hasn’t gone past the last 16 in Paris since his loss in the 2016 final to Garbine Muguruza.
His trainer Patrick Mouratoglou admitted that Williams was unlikely to win his first major tournament since the 2017 Australian Open in Paris.
With few obvious viable candidates for the trophy, this edition could offer Naomi Osaka a chance to get on clay.
However, his seven career titles, including his four majors, have come on hard surfaces.
The Japanese star was eliminated early in Madrid and Rome. His best performance at Roland Garros in four attempts is the third round.
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won her biggest title yet at the Madrid Open. She will look to build on her last 16-game run in Melbourne, knowing that nine of the last 15 women’s majors have taken first-time victories.
2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu might be one to watch if she’s fit, but she has suffered injuries. On Tuesday, she withdrew from the clay court tournament in Strasbourg after winning her round of 16 declaring “I don’t want to take any risks” before Roland Garros.
© 2021 AFP