French Open first round preview: Angelique Kerber vs Ekaterina Makarova

Two-time Grand Slam singles champion Angelique Kerber has been struggling for form in 2017. The German is still the US Open champion but she was unable to successfully defend her title at the Australian Open due to losing in the fourth round to Coco Vandeweghe. Kerber returns to the French Open looking to set the record straight after losing in the first round to Kiki Bertens last year. The French Open will be the 29-year-old's second Grand Slam singles title, where she'll be the top seed.

Kerber has to get off to a good start in Paris as she will be up against two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian has suffered from injuries and a loss of form, which has seen her slip down to number 40 in the world. Makarova reached the fourth round of the French Open in 2011 and 2015. The unseeded lefty is no stranger to recording big wins at Grand Slams. She defeated Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2012. Makarova also dispatched former world number one, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2015.

Kerber's clay court results leading up to Roland Garros

The former world number one's 2017 campaign has been inconsistent. She's reached a solitary final of the year in Monterrey. She lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in that final. Nonetheless, Kerber returned to clay courts in preparation for the French Open. The two-time Grand Slam champion was unable to win three consecutive titles at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. She lost to an in-form Kristina Mladenovic in the opening round. The German recorded two back-to-back victories at the third Premier Mandatory event of the year at the Mutua Madrid Open. The lefty eased past Timea Babos in the first round but suffered an almighty scare in her second round encounter with Katerina Siniakova. Kerber is currently on a two-match winning streak on clay as she retired at 0-5 down in her third round match with Eugenie Bouchard. At the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, she was comprehensively beaten by Anett Kontaveit.

The world number one will need to play some good tennis to past Makarova in the first round (Photo by Gareth Copley / Getty)
The world number one will need to play some good tennis to past Makarova in the first round (Photo by Gareth Copley / Getty)

Makarova's clay court results leading up to Roland Garros

The 28-year-old began her clay court campaign in Stuttgart against former world number two Agnieszka Radwanska. Makarova cruised past the struggling Pole, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round in the German city. Despite almost taking the opening set against compatriot Maria Sharapova. Makarova lost to Sharapova, 7-5, 6-1 in the second round. The former world number eight travelled to Rabat to continue her clay court preparations. Makarova defeated Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets in the opening round. She lost to another countrywoman and eventual champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round. The Russian lost to last year's French Open semifinalist Kiki Bertens in the first round in Madrid and the third round in Rome.

The Russian won the doubles title with Elena Vesnina in 2013 (Source: NurPhoto)
The Russian won the doubles title with Elena Vesnina in 2013 (Source: NurPhoto)

Breakdown of their rivalry

The two left-handed players have met on 11 occasions, and Kerber has the upper hand in their rivalry by leading 7-4.

The Russian won their first two encounters on the grass courts of Birmingham in 2008 and in the Bronx in 2010. Kerber would win their next two meetings on the grass courts of Eastbourne in 2012 and in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012. The German would take the upper hand in their rivalry for the first time when she defeated Kerber in straight sets in Montreal. Makarova would take the upper hand in their rivalry dispatching Kerber in the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2013. Makarova would gain her revenge by defeating the German in Eastbourne. The world number one would win their next four successive meetings in the fourth round of Miami in 2014. Followed by wins in Eastbourne and Cincinnati in 2014 and Stuttgart in 2015.

Who reaches the second round?

The reigning US Open champion will need to get off to a quick start against Makarova as she has been struggling to find a way to win tight matches in 2017. Nonetheless, Kerber will rely on her fine returning, and the forehand winner down the line shots to defeat the Russian. However, clay is the top seed's weakest surface, and Makarova will be trying to move Kerber around the court. The former top ten player will use the angles to produce a passing shot winner, and her lefty serve is a good serve, as she will mix it up to keep Kerber guessing. The former world number eight is also a good player at the net as she plays doubles with Elena Vesnina.

The Russian uses a left-handed sliced serve to drag out her opponents on the court, to find winners. Makarova hits her forehands and backhands aggressively, and she will be looking to take advantage of Kerber's weak second serve.

This will be the second match scheduled on Court Philippe Chatrier. The winner of this match will face Lesia Tsurenko or qualifier Kateryna Kozlova in the second round.

Prediction: Kerber in three sets


 

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