Why The So-Called Upsets In The French Open Women’s Singles Draw Are Not Shocking

It would be easy to look at the 2019 French Open Women’s Singles quarter-final draw and see a picture of carnage, where unheralded names have run amok while seeds have departed Roland Garros with their tails between their legs.

However, a bit of research into the players who have beaten stars such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka reveals that reports of chaos are greatly exaggerated.

The first thing to note is that seven of the eight quarterfinalists were in the World’s Top 40 before the tournament began. That means they are just outside the list of more familiar names that make up the Top 32.

Furthermore, that kind of status almost automatically makes you dangerous in the women’s game, which is arguably more open than it has ever been right now.

Sofia Kenin beat Serena Williams (Seeded 10) 6-2 7-5

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Kenin has been tipped to reach the top since her mid-teens when she reached a career-high of No.2 in the ITF junior rankings. She has an aggressive all-court style and a fearless demeanour which serves her well against high-calibre opponents.

The American, 20, is enjoying a good year so far. She won her first WTA title in Hobart, reached the final in Acapulco and then beat Madison Keys in Rome.

By contrast, Serena is struggling with her fitness and form. She has only played 16 matches in 2019 due to injuries, and she has not looked anywhere near her best since the Australian Open.

When you add all these things together, Kenin’s defeat of Serena is not a particularly surprising result.

Katerina Siniakova beat Naomi Osaka (1) 6-4 6-2

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Although she is the World No.1, Naomi Osaka is a long way from being the best player on clay. She is getting better on the surface, but she should never have been considered among the favourites to win the French Open.

As the Japanese has admitted, she is also struggling with stress as she fights to keep hold of her position at the top of the rankings.

Given all these factors, an early defeat at Roland Garros was always on the cards for Osaka. She almost lost in the first and second rounds but fought her way through.

However, she could not repeat the trick a third time, and Katerina Siniakova – the World No.42 – produced a very good performance to beat her in straight sets.

Anastasia Potapova beat Angelique Kerber (5) 6-4 6-2

Clay is Kerber’s weakest surface and she has been hampered in recent weeks by an ankle injury. The talented Russian teenager took advantage of both these things to seize an easy win.

Amanda Anisimova beat Aryna Sabalenka (11) 6-4 6-2

There are several candidates for the accolade of most talented teenager in the world, but surely none of them has a stronger claim than Anisimova.

The American, 17, is a good mover and a wonderfully clean hitter of a tennis ball. She announced herself to the tennis world in March 2018 with a stunning victory over Petra Kvitova at Indian Wells.

Since then, she has broken into the World’s Top 50 (she will be ranked inside the Top 40 after this tournament), won her first WTA title in Bogota and beaten Aryna Sabalenka twice at the Australian Open and French Open. Her potential is virtually limitless.

The Withdrawals of Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens

Ironically, the two most significant exits from the Women’s Singles draw had nothing to do with the tennis itself. Kvitova was forced to pull out on the morning of her first-round match with a torn muscle in her left forearm and Bertens retired from her second-round clash with a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.

Both women had a realistic chance of lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen at the end of the fortnight, so their withdrawals opened up the draw far more than any of the other so-called upsets.

So who are the favourites now?

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Simona Halep has been the favourite to win the French Open ever since she lifted the trophy last year. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Romanian is the best player on clay, and she has already taken part in three finals at Roland Garros. She has also seemed more relaxed ever since she won her first Grand Slam, so there is none of the on-court angst that characterised the early part of her career.

If Halep does not win, the obvious candidates are Sloane Stephens, last year’s beaten finalist, and Madison Keys, who has made it to the semi-final stage or further at Grand Slams on four occasions.

Neither American looked to be in great form heading into the French Open, but they have got better and better as the tournament has gone on.

Beyond those two, the next most likely is surely Johanna Konta. Despite her poor record on clay in previous years, the Brit has insisted that she has always believed in her ability on the surface.

In 2019, her results have backed up her words. She reached her first clay-court final in Rabat and then followed with an even more impressive run to the final in Rome. Could she eclipse those achievements by winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros?

 

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