If the 2019 Roland Garros men’s draw points to one and only one possible final — Djokovic versus Nadal — the women’s draw is the complete antithesis of the men’s bracket. A world of possibilities exists in the WTA half of Rolly G. This tournament could break in so many different directions, chiefly because of the tour’s quality depth, but also because of how the draw lined up.
You can look at that draw at the link provided here:
The #RG19 draw is here. Find out your favorite player's path to the final! 🏆
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 23, 2019
The big questions for both the women’s and men’s draws pertained not to who would be in another player’s half, but who would land in another player’s quarter.
Defending champion Simona Halep and fellow top-tier favorite Kiki Bertens were seeded third and fourth, ensuring they would be in opposite halves. The true drama of this draw lay in the nature of the quarterfinal matchups.
Would Halep and Bertens get defending runner-up Sloane Stephens or the always-dangerous Petra Kvitova in their quarters, OR… would Halep and Bertens avoid those challenges and get the less threatening Angelique Kerber (less threatening primarily due to recent injuries) and the not-elite-on-clay Ashleigh Barty in their quarters?
We now have the answers… but they come with some plot twists which might help them out.
Halep and Bertens did get the tougher quarterfinalists, the exact opposite of the men’s draw, in which the two top favorites received the easier quarterfinalists.
Halep was paired with Kvitova in the same quarter. Bertens was paired with Stephens. This left Naomi Osaka with Barty in the same quarter, and Karolina Pliskova with Kerber.
Given these combinations of top-8 seeds in the quarterfinals, Halep and Bertens did get tougher draws in the second week. However, Anett Kontaveit — who beat Kvitova at Roland Garros last year — is in Kvitova’s second and could pick off Petra again. Halep will root hard for Kontaveit if that rematch occurs.
Bertens did get drawn with Stephens, but Sloane could face Elina Svitolina or Garbine Muguruza in round four. Stephens might be drained entering a possible quarterfinal with Bertens… and that’s if she even gets out of the fourth round.
The other good news item for Halep and Bertens: Though their second weeks look rough, their first weeks do not have especially imposing draws.
The tough first-week draws went to the top two seeds, Osaka and Pliskova.
Osaka could play Victoria Azarenka in round two and Maria Sakkari in round three. Osaka’s draw is the toughest for a top-8 seed… and she is the No. 1 seed in Paris. That is brutally bad draw luck.
Pliskova could play Kiki Mladenovic in front of a raucous French crowd in round three. Given Mladenovic’s improvements under coach Sascha Bajin, that is a strong upset possibility. Pliskova’s quarter is the one most likely to deliver an out-of-nowhere major semifinalist.
The biggest overall question raised by this draw: Who will emerge from Osaka’s quarter? If Osaka somehow gets out of that quarter, she should be soaring with confidence entering a possible semifinal with Halep or Kvitova. If Azarenka is that person, her 2019 outlook will brighten considerably, and it would make a huge story in global tennis. If it’s Sakkari, the Greek tennis renaissance authored by her and Stefanos Tsitsipas will reach new heights.
Ash Barty might have Osaka in her quarter, but if Osaka’s section turns into chaos, Barty would have a real shot at a semifinal, which would likely vault her into the top five of the rankings for the first time. Barty’s first-week draw is not imposing. She can get some work done and make another solid point pickup.
So much of what happens in that Osaka quarter will ripple through the rest of the tennis community. The Stephens-Svitolina-Muguruza-Bertens quarter is almost as impactful, but the Osaka quarter carries the most intrigue.
If one match stands above the rest before the final, it’s Halep-Kvitova. Halep is the defending champion, while Kvitova has looked better on clay in recent years. If the weather in Paris is not too hot, Kvitova will have a real chance to win the whole thing, which would be an extraordinary story. Halep defending her 2018 title would be almost as big a global occurrence.
If one player carries a ton of pressure into this tournament, it is Kiki Bertens. The 2016 semifinalist is so noticeably at home on European clay. She is so adept at hitting heavy but high-percentage shots which overwhelm opponents. When she made the 2016 semis in Paris, though, she was playing with house money. She did not handle pressure well last year in a position of increased visibility. This event — easily Bertens’ best chance to win a major — will test her nerves in a way no other 2019 tournament will.
The WTA enters a world of possibilities at a wide-open Roland Garros. Expect the unexpected. Be prepared for all sorts of plot twists, including the idea that a player winning a third straight major title — Naomi Osaka — would rate as an unlikely development.