Halep the headline act among French Open title contenders

Roland Garros hosted a thrilling women’s singles event in 2017. There was drama throughout as defending champion Garbine Muguruza was stunned by Kristina Mladenovic in round four and bookies’ favourite Simona Halep fought back from a set and 5-1 down to beat Elina Svitolina in the quarter-final.

However, the most remarkable thing about the tournament was the incredible run of Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian, who turned 20 on the day of her semi-final, beat Louisa Chirico, Monica Puig, Lesia Tsurenko, Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky to earn a chance at the title. She then produced a breathtaking array of shots to fight back from a set and 3-0 down and beat Halep in a very exciting final.

So who will lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 2018? These are the leading contenders:

Simona Halep

Will Halep finally lift her first Grand Slam title?

The Romanian, 26, has come so close to major glory on three occasions. In the 2014 French Open final, she pushed Maria Sharapova all the way during an epic three-set encounter. Then, last year, she was the victim of one of Roland Garros’ great upsets. And in the 2018 Australian Open final, she matched Wozniacki for most of the match before eventually succumbing 6-4 in the decider.

Halep has responded well to her disappointment in Melbourne. She reached semi-finals in Doha and Indian Wells, quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, and the final in Rome. She is also the World No.1 and the best performer on clay on the WTA tour in recent years, so she should be feeling confident of success in Paris.

However, there are two opponents she will be very wary of. The first is Ostapenko, who she cannot face until the final. The second is Svitolina, who beat Halep in the last two Italian Open finals and almost beat her at last year’s French Open.

Elina Svitolina

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Speaking of the Ukrainian, she could hardly be in better form ahead of Roland Garros. The World No.4 only lost one set on her way to winning the Italian Open title for the second successive year. Even more impressively, it was her third title of 2018 and her 12th WTA title.

But Svitolina is yet to translate her success in WTA events to the Grand Slam stage, and her best showings so far are three quarter-finals. So can she go further this time? She is certainly capable of doing so, but she might face a very tough last-eight clash once again as she is seeded to meet Ostapenko in the quarter-final.

That could be a great match, but it is exactly the kind of encounter the Ukrainian has lost at previous majors. Five of her last eight losses at Grand Slams have been to very good players: Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Madison Keys, Halep and Ostapenko.

To take the next step and win a Grand Slam title, Svitolina will have to beat such high-calibre opposition. There would be no better time to start than this fortnight in Paris.

Jelena Ostapenko

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Since her surprise success at Roland Garros in 2017, the explosive Latvian has cemented her place in the world’s top ten. She won her first WTA tour title in Korea last September and followed it with consecutive Premier semi-finals in Wuhan and Beijing.

The World No.5 has not been in such great form in 2018, but she can take great confidence from reaching her first Premier Mandatory final in Miami in March. She is also very much the fearless type, so entering the French Open this year as the defending champion is unlikely to faze her.

If Ostapenko is to win it again, she will need to get on a roll. She could face a major test early on in the shape of Victoria Azarenka in the second round, and Svitolina might be waiting in the quarter-final. It is a tricky draw but no-one will be writing her off. Last year’s final showed just how dangerous the Latvian can be when the odds are stacked against her.

Petra Kvitova

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The tall Czech has a poor record at Roland Garros as she has only made it past the fourth round once. However, she must be considered a contender for the title this year due to her outstanding form in 2018.

Kvitova has won four WTA titles this year and boasts an outstanding win-loss record of 30-6. The two-time Wimbledon champion could run into a few potentially difficult opponents in her quarter of the draw as it contains Caroline Wozniacki, Anastasija Sevastova, Daria Kasatkina and Anett Kontaveit. If she negotiates those challenges, she may be very hard to stop.

Garbine Muguruza

It is always tough to gauge how likely it is that the 2016 champion will perform well at a tournament, as she frequently enters an event in patchy form and goes on to win it.

In fact, Muguruza’s results in the lead-up to Roland Garros 2018 have actually been worse than those before her two Grand Slam wins, but that does not mean she should be counted out. At her best, the Spaniard arguably has the complete tennis game: she has a big serve, brilliant groundstrokes on both sides, excellent movement and the priceless ability to turn around an apparently hopeless rally. She can also volley well and remains calm under intense pressure.

 

 

 

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