Among the usual seeding of 32 players, the 2017 French Open women’s field had only half-a-dozen players with previous experience of being a Major champion. As the first week whittled down to the tournament’s business end, none of these six players remained in contention to win yet another Major, making it clearer that there would be a first-time champion emerging from among the remaining players.
On one hand, this left the much-talked about vulnerability in the women’s tennis field – beginning with Angelique Kerber – widely exposed all over again. On the other, the unpredictability that these ousters generated have become the very reason to keep your eyes trained on the women’s draw alongside watching the Rafael Nadal-predictability manifest in the men’s section.
Simona Halep: A contender... and a draw analyser?
In her press conference after her loss in the Rome Open final to Elina Svitolina, right before heading to Paris, Simona Halep was asked whether she considered as one of the favourites to win at Roland Garros. Braving an ankle injury as she was then, the world No 3 went on to wryly state that there were about 15 favourites who stood to take home the title.
Halep may have gone on a limb and put out a ball-park number. But, the point the Romanian was trying to make – of no one player being a contender – did get across, even as the quarter-finalists have come to be determined, including her as well, one after the other.
In a way, this resulting open-endedness to the draw also levels the field equally, without giving any player a head-start over the rest. Although this adage holds true for the last two highest seeds left in the draw – the second-seeded Karolina Pliskova and the third-seeded Halep, it narrows down pointedly on Caroline Wozniacki.
The 11th seeded Dane pulled off a one-sided win against the ninth seeded – and erstwhile French Open champion – Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round on Sunday, starting the cascade of past Grand Slam champions’ exits on the day in the first place. While it remains debatable whether her win over the Russian qualifies as an out-and-out upset there’s, however, no disputing the fact that Wozniacki is the only player who has made it to these last, all-important penultimate rounds at the Slams, despite her resume showing a lack of trophies.
Wozniacki will then face a first-time quarter-finalist in Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, who took out the 23rd seeded Australian Samantha Stosur in a tame straight setter in the third round. Granted the Australian was blighted with an injury to her arm, but given that the tournament has seen its share of players rebounding from injuries to keep venturing ahead in the draw – from Halep, to Kristina Mladenovic and to Wozniacki herself – Ostapenko’s reaching the last-eight, therefore, bears to be duly recognised.
As such, with nothing to lose for in her upcoming quarter-final matchup – even against a better placed rival – there’s nothing stopping Ostapenko from making yet another example of an opponent in this tournament. Just as there’s nothing to say that the Wozniacki-Ostapenko clash would be added to the list of memorable matches that we have witnessed this year in Paris.
Newer champions, newer horizons for women’s tennis?
In the days counting up to the start of the second Slam of the year, there was a lot of ruing – good-natured, though it was – about Serena Williams’ absence. Quite contrarily, the French Open has been the one Slam where the American has under-performed, with only three of her haul of 23 Grand Slam titles being added on the French dirt.
Her results in the last handful of years, specifically in 2015, when she was bidding to complete the career Slam, heightened the focus on Williams. Yet, the scrutiny directed as a comparison between Williams and the other players is unjustified. Not only to the players being compared to her, but also to Williams herself.
Williams’ break from the certainty she has had come to represent – regardless of its superficiality in Paris – is, thus, a coincidental-yet-welcome turnaround for the remainder of the playing order. A tough fight to the finish it will be, for the one who remains the last woman standing. Going with the predictability that has co-existed in women’s tennis along with Williams’ domination, the eventual French Open champion may not last the entirety of the next Grand Slam.
For the first time in a seemingly long time, women’s tennis is about to be defined by variety and not longevity, with the former adding a varying texture of competitiveness but not all of it has come from the usual suspects.