Rain washed out a couple of men’s quarterfinals at the 2017 French Open on Tuesday. However, the women’s draws advanced, and the field winnowed down to six players with two quarterfinals still to come. The players remaining in the draw are Simona Halep, Timea Bacsinszky, Jelena Ostapenko, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, and Caroline Garcia. Astute tennis fans will note that there is not a previous Grand Slam winner in the remaining field. In fact, Roland Garros 2017 was guaranteed to produce a first-time champion after the results from the 4th round completed.
In that round of play four former Grand Slam champions still lurked in the field. However, they all saw elimination. Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sam Stosur all lost in the middle round. While neither Williams nor Stosur had won a title at the French Open specifically, both Muguruza and Kuznetsova had. As they went so went the last of the former champions in the field at Roland Garros this season.
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The betting favorite (source: bet365) is Simona Halep of Romania, a player with some significant clay-court credentials. She may not have won a major before, but she has been to a final of a Grand Slam, and it was a final at the French Open (2014 – l. to Sharapova). In a field now absent of any Grand Slam title, someone who has made a final has a significant credential, but on top of that result, Halep has won at the Premier Mandatory-level. Of the six players remaining in the draw, Pliskova is the only other player besides Halep to have made a Grand Slam final. She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final of the US Open last fall. Pliskova, known for her excellent serve, seems more suited for grass and cement, but she certainly could make her way to the French Open final this weekend.
Otherwise, the pickings are slim for players that have previously done well in majors. Svitolina, Halep’s opponent in the quarters, has never won a Grand Slam quarterfinal before. Caroline Garcia, France’s last hope for a title, is making her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut. Bacsinszky, who beat Kristina Mladenovic on Tuesday, has been to the semifinals at Roland Garros before but she’s never won a match in that round in any Grand Slam draw. Meanwhile, upstart youngster, Jelena Ostapenko is into her first semifinal and looking like she has a future in the top five. She’ll be delighted about her run at Roland Garros this season after suffering a meltdown loss to Pliskova in the third round of the Australian Open early in 2017.
Ostapenko’s run at the French Open does warrant some attention. She’s still just 19 years old, however, she will turn 20 years old on Thursday. It should be clear that we are witnessing the emergence of a special player. Heretofore, it’s mainly been Belinda Bencic that has been considered the future of women’s tennis. However, Bencic’s troubles with injuries make her very low-key at this point. If Ostapenko should go on and make the French Open final, surely that will be considered more significant than Bencic’s Premier Mandatory title from Toronto a couple years ago.
Williams, Kuznetsova, Stosur, and Muguruza all losing in the fourth round is a part of the reason why there is going to be maiden Grand Slam champion in Paris this weekend. However, the other part is just who didn’t enter the tournament at all. There’s no Serena Williams, no Maria Sharapova, and no Victoria Azarenka for various reasons. Arguably the tennis hasn’t been all that great as a result. In my view, the Bacsinszky/Mladenovic quarterfinal is a case in point. The Swiss played like a pusher for big parts of the match, keeping the ball in play without going for risky shots. It was a good move as Mladenovic struggled in the match. However, I don’t think we’re watching great tennis in the women’s draw right now – a pusher was able to win a quarter.
If many were tasked with projecting a final, then I think most would go with Bacsinszky and Halep. However, Halep has the draw from hell at this point as she faces year-to-date No. 1 Svitolina in the quarters. Surviving that and it’s either home-country favorite Garcia or Pliskova. When it comes to Bacsinszky and Ostapenko – don’t be quick to pick the former. I’d take a baby-faced assassin in tennis 4 times out of 5 against a 27-year old veteran that’s never won a Grand Slam semifinal. It’s probable that Ostapenko is the most talented player left in the draw and, if that’s true, she’s going to have more upstairs when the going gets tough.