6/1 Elena Svitolina can take home the French Open title

With the French Open set to get underway in Paris, we look ahead to the women's draw...

While there may only be a handful of legitimate contenders for the men’s trophy, a case could be made for ten or more potential champions in the women’s draw.

There are five current or former holders of the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in this year’s event: Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. That could rise to six if 2010 winner Francesca Schiavone emerges from qualifying.

And let’s not forget dangerous grand slam winners like Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and the most in-form player of 2018, Petra Kvitova.

Oh, by the way, there’s also the world no.1 and two-time finalist Simona Halep, the surging world no.4 Elina Svitolina and last year’s semi-finalist, Karolina Pliskova.

Did I mention Victoria Aza…actually, let’s just go ahead and break down the draw!

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Top half of the draw

No.1 seed Simona Halep is probably still unsure how she lost last year’s final from a set and 3-0 up. That was a much more painful loss than her most recent major final appearance in Melbourne. Caroline Wozniacki emerged from that brilliant contest with a long-awaited first major. But can the Romanian, who has lost all three major finals she has contested, diverge from Fleetwood Mac and break the chain?

Well, the 26-year-old has received no help from the draw.

While Halep should defeat Alison Riske first up, her quarter gets awful messy from there. Some of the sharks floating in her section include two-time major-winner Angelique Kerber and home favourites Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.

Elise Mertens and Kiki Bertens, who have won four titles between them this season, are also lurking in Halep’s quarter. The world no.1 will have to be in excellent form to escape from a horrible section.

But if you thought that quarter was tough, you won’t believe the next one.

No.3 seed and 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza leads a ridiculous section that contains former world no.1s Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Karolina Pliskova, 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and previous finalists Sam Stosur and Lucie Safarova.

There will be absolute carnage in this half and some big names could fall early.

Bottom half of the draw

Wozniacki is the second seed in Paris and she will hope to find a path to the semi-finals for the first time. It will be a difficult task for the tireless Dane as she is less effective on clay than other surfaces and has troublesome players in her section.

The greatest challenge to Wozniacki, and arguably the rest of the field on current form, is Petra Kvitova (currently 10/1 outright).

The 28-year-old returned to tennis 12 months ago after recovering from a horrendous knife attack that severed her playing hand. Just one year on, the inspirational Czech has ripped up the tour with four titles this season and a 14-match unbeaten streak during the Spring.

Wozniacki and Kvitova are likely to advance to the quarters but don’t be surprised if US Open champion Sloane Stephens (currently 66/1 outright), Anett Kontaveit or Daria Kasatkina disrupt things.

Defending champion Jelena Ostapenko resides in the remaining quarter and it would be an incredible feat if she repeated last year’s shock win.

It is still remarkable to think that Roland Garros 2017 was the first title of the young Latvian’s career. Ostapenko went on to lift another trophy in Seoul at the close of last season and has had a decent 2018 with a run to the final of Miami and three quarter-final appearances.

Naomi Osaka (currently 50/1 outright), another exciting 20-year-old with a powerful game is also in this quarter. If the Japanese pulled up some trees in Melbourne by making the fourth round, she took out the entire forest with her maiden victory in Indian Wells. Under the Californian sun, Osaka beat seven players including Halep, Pliskova and Sharapova.

Her clay campaign has been disappointing thus far but she is an immense talent.

The chief threat in this quarter to Ostapenko, and my pick for the tournament overall, is Elina Svitolina (currently 6/1 outright). The 23-year-old Ukrainian has steadily progressed over the past few years and now finds herself in the world’s top four. Svitolina is an excellent all-round player with reliable groundstrokes, a decent first serve, spectacular speed around the court and impressive focus.

This was evident last week as she dismantled Halep in the first set of the Rome final, refusing to cough up a game. Svitolina is a serial winner with three titles already this year on top of the five she earned in 2017. What she lacks is a breakout performance at a grand slam.

Svitolina has made three major quarter-finals – two of them in Paris – but she looks ready for the next step. With the majority of big names located in that battleground top half, I think that this steely Ukrainian could take advantage and find a route to the final.

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