2017 French Open women's preview: Garbiñe Muguruza returns as defending champion

The second Grand Slam tournament of the year is upon us at the French Open. Here is a breakdown of the women's singles draw, who will lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen on June 10th?

2017 French Open women's preview: Garbiñe Muguruza returns as defending champion
Kerber (Photo by Gareth Copley / Getty) will look to go on a strong run at the French Open (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty) but reigning champion Muguruza (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski / Getty) will have something to say about that.

This year's edition of the French Open will be the 116th instalment of the second Grand Slam tournament of the year. There are many storylines heading into this year's French Open. Three-time champion and world number two Serena Williams will be missing from the event due to pregnancy. The FFT refused to hand two-time champion Maria Sharapova a wildcard into the draw, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka will also be absent from the tournament. The former world number one played her last competitive match in Paris when she had a knee injury, and a couple of months later, she announced that she was pregnant. The Belarusian announced that she will return during the grass court season in preparation for Wimbledon. Another absentee from the tournament is Laura Siegemund. Unfortunately, the German suffered a horrific right knee injury after falling over in Nurnberg.

This will be the first Grand Slam tournament since the Australian Open in 2002 without Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka. However, there is some good news in Paris as two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova makes a miraculous return to tennis at the French Open. The Czech got stabbed at home last December by an intruder. The world number one ranking will be on the line as world number one Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep are all in contention to attain the top spot. However, Kerber is most likely to keep it as she lost in the first round last year.

Could defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza find the form in Paris to mount another title challenge? Could world number one Angelique Kerber find her best tennis, and win a third Grand Slam singles title? This year's French Open is wide open with plenty of the top players on the WTA tour being inconsistent. Action gets underway on Sunday, May 28th, which promises to be an exciting Grand Slam tournament.

Kerber's Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Kerber (1) v Kuznetsova (8)

For the second consecutive Grand Slam tournament, Kerber will be the top seed at the French Open. The German failed to defend her Australian Open title in January after losing to Coco Vandeweghe in the fourth round. The 29-year-old lost in the first round of the French Open last year to Kiki Bertens, and she is in serious danger of doing so once more. The two-time Grand Slam champion has a tricky first round encounter with two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova. Should Kerber get past the Russian lefty, she should get past Lesia Tsurenko or Kateryna Kozlova in the second round. Moreover, Kerber's projected third round opponent is the 31st seed, Roberta Vinci. The Italian may not reach the third round as she has a difficult first round clash with Olympic champion Monica Puig. The winner of the Vinci-Puig first round encounter will play feisty Latvian Jelena Ostapenko or Louisa Chirico in the second round.

This section of the draw continues to be wide open as 23rd seed Sam Stosur is lurking in this part of the draw. The 2011 US Open champion has a good record at Roland Garros, as she reached the final in 2010 losing to Francesca Schiavone. The Australian number one reached the semifinals in 2009, 2012 and last year, when she lost to eventual champion Muguruza. Nonetheless, the former world number four should reach the third round at least, as she begins her campaign against Kristina Kucova. The 23rd seed should meet 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens or Mandy Minella in the second round, which are winnable ties for the Aussie.

However, Stosur's projected third round opponent is 15th seed Petra Kvitova. The Czech number two has announced that she will return to competitive tennis at the French Open. The tennis world is all in rejoice to see Kvitova play competitive tennis again. It will be intriguing to see how she fares in her first round clash with Julia Boserup. Kvitova reached the third round in Paris last year, and she was a semifinalist in 2012 when she lost to Maria Sharapova. The two-time Wimbledon champion's appearance at the French Open is special, and a clash with Stosur in the third round could be an enticing encounter.

This section of the draw also features former world number one and 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane has struggled at the French Open only reaching the quarterfinals once in 2010. The former world number one has two winnable matches, as she tries to find some form on the clay courts in Paris. She plays Australian wildcard Jaimee Fourlis in the first round. Her second round adversary could be a Canadian qualifier, Francoise Abanda or French wildcard Tessah Andrianjafitrimo. However, Wozniacki is looking to reach the second week in Paris for just the second time in her career. She may fail to achieve that as the 18th seed Kiki Bertens, who reached the semifinals last year is comfortable on the red dirt in Paris and could go another deep run. The Dutchwoman has a tricky first round encounter with Ajla Tomjlanovic. The Croat-born Australian has caused an upset at the French Open in the past when she defeated Agnieszka Radwanska in 2014 to reach the fourth round of a Slam for the first time. Catherine Bellis could await in the second round if she gets past Bertens' compatriot Quirine Lemoine, who is competing in the main draw of a Slam for the first time in her career.

2009 champion and eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of three former champions in the draw. The two-time Grand Slam champion has had a good clay court campaign in 2017 as she reached the semifinals in Madrid. The Russian begins her quest for a second French Open title against Christina McHale. Kuznetsova's tricky draw continues into the second round against Camila Giorgi or France's Oceane Dodin. Should Kuznetsova reach the third round, she has a projected clash with 32nd seed Zhang Shuai. The Chinese number one has struggled for form in 2017, and she hasn't been the same player since she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last year. An early exit could be on the cards for Zhang as she begins her campaign against Donna Vekic.

There are two French players in this section of the draw, and there are some mouthwatering first round encounters. Based on current form, you should expect to see 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur and former champion Kuznetsova meet in the quarterfinals with Kuznetsova coming out on top.

The Russian is one of the favourites for this year's French Open. Kuznetsova last won the title in 2009 (Photo by Ryan Pierse / Getty)
The Russian is one of the favourites for this year's French Open. Kuznetsova last won the title in 2009 (Photo by Ryan Pierse / Getty)

Quarterfinal: Stosur - Kuznetsova

Semifinalist: Svetlana Kuznetsova

First round matches to watch out for: Kerber - Makarova, Chirico - Ostapenko, Puig - Vinci, Flipkens - Minella, Boserup - Kvitova, Tomljanovic - Bertens, Zhang - Vekic, Golubic - Sasnovich, Giorgi - Dodin, McHale - Kuznetsova

Muguruza's Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Muguruza (4) v Cibulkova (6)

Defending French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza will have pressure coming into the French Open. It will be the first time, that she will be defending a Grand Slam title. The former world number two has only reached two semifinals in 2017 in Brisbane and Rome. Leading up to the French Open, Muguruza suffered a stiff neck during a practice session before her semifinal match with Elina Svitolina in Rome. The Spaniard was forced to retire at 1-4 down in their semifinal encounter. Nonetheless, the fourth seed is fully fit, and raring to go in Paris.

Muguruza's title defence will not be easy as she begins her campaign against 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. It is a tough match for the fourth seed but it may be the test that Muguruza needs to build up some confidence. Should she get past the veteran, she has another difficult test in the second round. Anett Kontaveit, advanced to the quarterfinals in Rome, thrashing Kerber along the way. The unorthodox Romanian, Monica Niculescu could also be her second round opponent, should she get past the Estonian. Muguruza's projected third round opponent is last year's quarterfinalist, Yulia Putinsteva.

The Kazakh is the 27th seed and she begins her campaign against French wildcard Myrtille Georges. The Frenchwoman played Muguruza in the second round last year, and she is a talented young player. Furthermore, the feisty Kazakh should defeat the wildcard, and set up a second round clash with Johanna Larsson. Putintseva almost beat Serena Williams at the French Open last year, ultimately losing the match in three sets. She is more than capable of upsetting the defending champion if they meet in the third round.

Also lurking in this section of the draw is France's home hope and 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman has been in scintillating form in 2017. Mladenovic won her first title at the Premier event in St.Petersburg. She also advanced to her first Premier Mandatory final in Madrid losing to Halep in three sets. The 24-year-old also reached two more finals losing to Lesia Tsurenko in Acapulco and to Laura Siegemund in Stuttgart. Mladenovic is yet to reach the second week at the French Open after losing in the third round in the last three successive years. She begins her campaign against the USA's Jennifer Brady, and Misaki Doi or 2012 finalist Sara Errani, who came through qualifying, could be Mladenovic's second round opponent. The 24-year-old will have the pressure of the crowd but she should advance to the third round.

Mladenovic's projected third round opponent is 22nd seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The Croat is now 35 but she is still producing world-class tennis. Lucic-Baroni advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal in 17 years at the Australian Open at the start of the year. However, her draw is a nightmare. Her first round opponent will be Cagla Buyukakcay. Last year's French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers or Marina Erakovic could pose some problems in the second round.

2002 finalist Venus Williams is one of the headline acts in this section of the draw. Clay is her least favoured surface, even though she advanced to the second week in Paris for the first time since 2010 last year. The 10th seed has two winnable matches to start off her staggering French Open campaign with Qiang Wang being her first round opponent. Should the former world number one, get past the Chinese player, Kurumi Nara or her compatriot Amanda Anisimova awaits. Williams is projected to face 24th seed Daria Gavrilova in the third round.

The Russian-born Australian has reached the final in Strasbourg, and she faces Elise Mertens in the first round. Gavrilova's path doesn't get any easier as former world number one Jelena Jankovic could put a halt to her progression in the second round. This part of the draw is full of quality players and is anyone's for the taking. For the second successive year in Williams could meet 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky in the fourth round. The Swiss number one reached the semifinals in 2015 losing to Williams' older sister Serena. Bacsinszky begins her campaign against Spain's Sara Sorribes Tomo. Things get tricky in the second round as Julia Goerges or Madison Brengle awaits. Nonetheless, Bacsinskzy's quality should see her reach the third round at least. The Swiss' projected third round opponent is sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova.

The 2014 Australian Open finalist advanced to the semifinals of the French Open in 2009, and the quarterfinals in 2012. Moreover, Cibulkova clashes with Spain's Lara Arruabarrena in the first round, and lucky loser Ons Jabeur or Romanian qualifier Ana Bogdan could pose some problems in the second round. The reigning WTA Finals champion hasn't performed as well in 2017 as she did last year but she will be hoping to turn things around in Paris. Therefore, we should expect to see a Rome quarterfinal rematch between Muguruza and Williams.

The defending champion has a tough draw but she will have to play her best tennis from the start if she is to retain her title (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty)
The defending champion has a tough draw but she will have to play her best tennis from the start if she is to retain her title (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty)

Quarterfinal: Muguruza - Williams

Semifinalist: Muguruza

First round matches to watch: Muguruza - Schiavone, Kontaveit- Niculescu, Lucic-Baroni - Buyukakcay, Erakovic - Rogers, Brady - Mladenovic, Williams - Wang, Mertens - Gavrilova, Brengle - Goerges, Arruabarrena - Cibulkova

Halep's Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Svitolina (5) v Halep (3)

The reigning Internazionali BNL d'Italia champion Elina Svitolina comes into this year's French Open as the form player. The Ukranian leads the race to Singapore leaderboard, and she has reached four finals in 2017 and has won all of them. She claimed two Premier 5 titles in Dubai and Rome. Along with International-level titles in Taiwan and Istanbul. However, Svitolina has a tricky start at the French Open. She opens up her campaign against 2012 quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova. The 22-year-old should win this match as the Kazakh has struggled for form only winning a mere two matches on tour. Svitolina's potential second round opponent will be Mona Barthel or last year's quarterfinalist Tsvetana Pironkova. The Ukranian beat Barthel in Rome in three sets.

Should Svitolina come through those matches, she could have a third round encounter with 29th seed Ana Konjuh. The Croat reached her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open last year. The 19-year-old has reached the second round in Paris on her last two visits. Danka Kovinic stands in her way of reaching the second round. Magda Linette or French wildcard Alize Lim, have a good chance of making the third round, in this wide open mini section.

17th seed Anastasija Sevastova is also placed in this section of the draw. The Latvian defeated Muguruza and Johanna Konta at the US Open last year to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Sevastova begins her French Open against Annika Beck. She could have a mouthwatering second round encounter with 2014 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard. Bouchard's participation in Paris is currently in doubt as she is suffering from a bad right ankle injury. 12th seed Madison Keys is another player who is lurking in this section of the draw, and she has come back from her own injury problems. The American has a mouthwatering first round clash with Ashleigh Barty. Kateryna Bondarenko could be waiting in the next round for the American. 

The third seed Simona Halep has dominated the clay court season with a 14-2 win-loss record on this surface. Halep retained her title in Madrid and lost to Svitolina in the final at the Foro Italico. However, the Romanian has revealed that she has a 50/50 chance of competing in Paris due to rolling over on her ankle last week in that final against Svitolina. Nonetheless, she has a tricky first round encounter with Grand Slam giant-killer Jana Cepelova. The Slovakian upset Halep in the first round of Wimbledon in 2015 and upset Muguruza in the second round last year at SW19. If Halep is fully fit, she should reach the fourth round as 26th seed Daria Kasatkina looms in the third round.

14th seed Elena Vesnina has struggled since winning her first Premier Mandatory title in the Californian Desert. The Russian has only won one match on clay in Stuttgart. Vesnina could be set for another early exit in Paris as she begins her campaign against Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia. Furthermore, Varvara Lepchenko or 2014 semifinalist Andrea Petkovic could send her packing in the second round. 21st seed Carla Suarez Navarro is Vesnina's projected third round adversary but the Spaniard could suffer an early exit too. Suarez Navarro, a two-time quarterfinalist in Paris plays Maria Sakkari in the first round. 2009 quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea or 2014 US Open semifinalist Shuai Peng are capable of beating the Spaniard in the second round.

Once again we could see a repeat of a match in Rome, should Svitolina and Halep both be in fine form, expect there to be a close encounter with the Romanian getting her revenge. 

The Romanian reached her solitary Grand Slam singles final at the French Open in 2014 (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty)
The Romanian reached her solitary Grand Slam singles final at the French Open in 2014 (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty)

Quarterfinal: Svitolina - Halep

Semifinalist: Halep


First round matches to watch: Svitolina - Shvedova, Barthel - Pironkova, Kovinic - Konjuh, Sevastova - Beck, Barty - Keys, Cirstea - Peng, Lepchenko - Petkovic, Kasatkina - Wickmayer, Cepelova - Halep

Pliskova's Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Konta (7) v Pliskova (2)

This bottom section of the draw is certainly wide open. Seventh seed Johanna Konta is yet to win a main draw match at the French Open. However, the Brit is likely to win her first round encounter with Hsieh Su-Wei. Konta's second round opponent is most likely to be Taylor Townsend. The American's strongest surface is hard courts, and Konta should fancy her chances of recording back-to-back wins in Paris for the first time. Konta's projected third round opponent is 28th seed, Caroline Garcia. The hard-hitting Frenchwoman will have the pressure of the crowd but she will be looking to perform well in Paris. She opens up against Nao Hibino, and Kristyna Pliskova is a possible second round opponent. Garcia beat Konta in the third round in Indian Wells earlier this year, and she will liken her own chances of beating Konta again on clay.

The ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska returns to Roland Garros with hardly matches played on clays as she suffered a right foot injury that ruled her out of Madrid and Rome. The Pole's furthest run on the Parisian clay courts was in the quarterfinals in 2013. The former world number two could be set for another early exit at the French Open. French wildcard Fiona Ferro is her first opponent, and Naomi Osaka has the tools to upset her in the second round. Radwanska's projected third round opponent is 20th seed Barbora Strycova. Strycova and Radwanska clashed in the third round last year. The Czech won't be looking too far ahead in the draw as the 2014 Wimbledon quarterfinalist opens up against Alison Riske. Should Strycova overcome the American, she has a tricky second round clash with France's Alize Cornet or Timea Babos.

The final section of the draw sees 16th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have a winnable first round tie with Patricia Maria Tig. However, she could be set for a second round exit as she faces 2015 finalist and former doubles partner, Lucie Safarova. The Czech defeated Pavlyuchenkova, in their first round clash in 2015, and Safarova will be hoping to do it once again. Australian Open semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe faces Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round. Moreover, she could have an early second round exit as she faces the experienced clay-courter in Irina-Camelia Begu.

The unpredictability of this section of the draw continues as it is headlined by second seed Karolina Pliskova. The Czech's struggles on this surface are evident as she doesn't move well on clay, Nonetheless, last year's US Open finalist will play Zheng Saisai in the first round. The lanky Czech's second round opponent could be compatriot Katerina Siniakova, who almost beat Kerber in Madrid. Due to Pliskova not feeling comfortable on clay, there is a big opportunity for someone to take advantage. Pliskova's projected third round opponent is the diminutive American and 25th seed Lauren Davis.

Davis has a tricky first round encounter with Carina Witthoeft. France's Pauline Parmentier will feel motivated to go through this draw as she begins her campaign against Russian's Irina Khromacheva. This is a great chance for Safarova to go far at the French Open again, and as a dangerous unseeded player, the 2015 finalist may just take advantage of it.

The Czech is unseeded at this year's French Open but she is more than capable of putting together a strong run in Paris (Photo by Dan Istitene / Getty)
The Czech is unseeded at this year's French Open but she is more than capable of putting together a strong run in Paris (Photo by Dan Istitene / Getty)

Quarterfinal: Garcia - Safarova

Semifinalist: Safarova


First round matches to watch: Konta - Hsieh, Hibino - Garcia, Strycova - Riske, Cornet - Babos, Rybarikova - Vandeweghe, Davis - Witthoeft

Semifinals and Final prediction

Muguruza defeats Kuznetsova

Halep defeats Safarova

Final: Muguruza defeats Halep