World number one and defending French Open champion Serena Williams begins her historic quest for a 22nd Grand Slam title and a fourth here at Roland Garros against Slovak veteran Magdalena Rybarikova. Williams and Rybarikova have met once before, back in 2013 at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, with the American cruising past her Slovak opponent 6-1, 6-1.
Williams' subpar--by her standards--first half of 2016
Williams began her year withdrawing from her opening tournament of the season at Hopman Cup due to a knee injury. At the first major of the year, the Australian Open, Williams made it all the way to the final, before an Angelique Kerber in the form of her life was too much to handle for the world number one, with Kerber taking her maiden Grand Slam title.
The 21-time major champion did not play until Indian Wells, where she again made the title match, but fell short, that time to Victoria Azarenka. In Miami, a tournament Williams had won a record eight times, the American's struggles worsened, losing in the fourth round to an in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The world number one was not scheduled to play until Madrid but was forced to withdraw with the flu at the WTA Premier Mandatory event. Most recently, the three-time French Open champion claimed her fourth title in Rome with a straight sets win over fellow American Madison Keys in the final.
Williams' past French Open results
While Williams has won the title in Paris only three times, over the past decade she holds the most titles on the terre battue with five-time major winner Maria Sharapova behind her with two. With Sharapova not playing this year, Williams enters as a heavy favorite.
Despite the world number one's three titles at Roland Garros, Paris has not always been a happy hunting ground for the part-time Paris resident. Williams crashed out for the first time ever in the opening round back in 2012 and also fell in the second round to Garbiñe Muguruza in 2014. Oddly enough, book ending her second round loss two years ago were wins in 2013 and 2015. Last year the Amercian defeated Czech Lucie Safarova in a thrilling, three-set match to win her third title in the French capital.
Rybarikova's past French Open results
Rybarikova first played in Paris back in 2008, coming out of the qualifying draw to make the second round, getting destroyed by Dinara Safina in the round of 64. The following two years the Slovak again fell in the second round, this time to Jelena Jankovic and Alona Bondarenko respectively. After two first round losses in 2011 and 2012, the 27-year-old made three more second rounds in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Last year, Rybarikova fell to eventual US Open champion Flavia Pennetta.
With Williams high on confidence after a title run in Rome and Rybarikova playing her first tour-level clay court match of the season, the top seed should get through with ease. Fortunately for the Slovak, Williams has a tendency to start slowly in matches and if the 27-year-old can build an early lead she could have a slight chance. Even if there is a slow start from the American, Rybarikova has very little chance of winning this match and Williams should move through to the second round with ease.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets