The Roland Garros women’s draw is out. You can look at it here. If you’re new to the art of bracket-scanning, realize that you are looking at one quarter of the draw and can click on the other three quarters to bring them up on your screen.
Take your time – the first ball won’t be struck in Paris until Sunday morning.
While (or before, or after) you engage in your own version of tennis bracketology, here are the five big stories to emerge from the draw. Yes, the reality of a bracketed tournament will frequently veer from the projected matchups or the hoped-for scripts. Yet, the draw shapes certain parts of a tournament regardless of the outcomes themselves.
5 – THE BEST FOURTH-ROUND MATCH THAT WILL GET THE LEAST AMOUNT OF ATTENTION
The bigger stories on this list are yet to come, but let’s not ignore the second quarter of the draw, particularly the top section. Agnieszka Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro could meet in the fourth round. Given the complexion of the women’s draw, neither woman would be favored to make the final, but a semifinal showing in Paris would rate as a solid achievement for the third seed from Poland or the 14th seed from Spain. This draw is an especially big opportunity for Suarez Navarro, because she’s never made a major semifinal in her career. In the other section of this quarter, the highest seed is Angelique Kerber, who has endured a rough clay season. The Radwanska/Suarez Navarro winner will be in good position to advance to the semis.
4 – THE QUARTER WITH THE MOST QUESTIONS
The third quarter of the draw — otherwise referred to as the upper quarter in the bottom half of the draw — is by far the most fascinating. This specific grouping of 32 players could turn into a chalkfest… and it could just as easily become a bomb-shelter bracket in which everything gets blown wide open.
A few basic questions to consider in this quarter:
Will Simona Halep be healthy after she withdrew from Rome as a precaution?
Will Sloane Stephens use a major tournament as a time to ramp up her level of focus?
Will Svetlana Kuznetsova — who won this tournament in 2009 — be match-fit after retiring against Jelena Jankovic in Rome?
Last but not least — this is an always-present question in women’s tennis — will Petra Kvitova live up to her immense talent for once?
Moreover, these questions don’t even touch on Ana Ivanovic, whose situation will be addressed shortly.
3 – THE “OTHER” BLOCKBUSTER QUARTERFINAL
The biggest potential quarterfinal — the one NBC Sports will not get to televise, it being in the middle of the second week of Roland Garros — is the No. 1 takeaway from the Roland Garros women’s draw (see below).
The third biggest takeaway from the draw is that Jelena Jankovic and Li Na, given great paths through the first four rounds of this tournament, should meet in the quarterfinals. They’re both in the bottom quarter of the bracket, far removed from Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. If either player fails to survive the first week, the tennis punditocracy will be shocked.
Unless Ana Ivanovic storms into the semifinals with a full head of steam, the winner of a Jankovic-Li quarterfinal (should it indeed come to pass) would be favored in the semifinals and should be playing on Saturday, June 7, at 9:11 a.m. on NBC.
2 – IVANOVIC’S OPPORTUNITY
The last time Ana Ivanovic made a major semifinal, she won Roland Garros in 2008. Six years have come and gone without another particularly distinguished performance at a major. Ivanovic did make the quarterfinals in Australia this year, but her body broke down in a loss to Eugenie Bouchard.
Ivanovic needed one basic thing in this draw: freedom from Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. She got that. She’s safely in the bottom half of the draw while Serena and Sharapova are in the top half. Moreover, Ivanovic — seeded 11th — drew an erratic 5th seed in her section, Petra Kvitova. The top-4 seed in her quarter — Halep — is a player whose fitness level might not be 100 percent just yet.
Caroline Garcia is admittedly a tough first-round draw, but if Ivanovic can steady her nerves enough to tiptoe past that landmine, the opportunity exists for a deep run and the revitalization of a career that has left so much money on the table. No player in the bottom half of the draw will receive more scrutiny than Ivanovic in the coming days. How she handles this test might (not will; might…) determine the extent to which she is able to rebuild her game at the highest levels of cutthroat competition.
1 – THE WOMEN’S FINAL… ON A WEDNESDAY?
The two best clay-court players in women’s tennis are Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Serena merits such respect because of her overpowering excellence, which spilled out in full flower at last year’s French Open. Serena’s march to another Roland Garros title — 11 years after her previous crown in 2002 — dispelled the notion that she couldn’t re-establish herself on terre battue. Sharapova is a top-two player on clay because of her 2012 Roland Garros championship and her consistency against non-Serena opponents on clay. She didn’t lose to a non-Serena foe on crushed red brick in either 2012 or 2013.
These are the heavyweights in women’s tennis, and the biggest question entering the draw — due to Sharapova’s No. 7 seed, the product of an injury-based absence from the WTA Tour for the final three months of the 2013 season — was if Sharapova would land in Serena’s quarter.
NBC executives were praying that Sharapova would land in the opposite half of the draw, not only to set up a possible final on live television, but to create separate-day programming on the first full weekend of the tournament. ESPN will happily gobble up a Serena-Sharapova quarterfinal, which will air either on Tuesday, June 3 or Wednesday, June 4… if it indeed occurs.
Sharapova’s movement on clay is so much better than it used to be — this is the central reason for her career transformation on the surface. However, Serena’s power and serving prowess regularly thwart all of Sharapova’s strengths. The only thing that might potentially change the calculus in the Russian’s favor is that Serena withdrew from the Madrid tournament a few weeks ago with a left thigh injury. If Serena’s body falters, Sharapova could advance.
This is not an unfounded worry, it should be emphasized. Serena suffered from back pain at the Australian Open. She nearly withdrew from the tournament in the first week, and when she lost to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, her level of movement was clearly impaired. Serena’s physical health is ultimately the biggest point of focus in this whole tournament. The best women’s player on the planet looked good enough in Rome. As long as her body cooperates, she’s the favorite to lift the trophy in Paris on June 7.