Bertens the biggest challenge to Halep’s French Open defence

What's the French equivalent of strawberries and cream? Snails and camembert all round!

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We’ve reached Paris and the second grand slam of the year. While it’s hard to pick a potential French Open women’s champion with huge confidence, there have been some standout performers on the clay of late.

Here are four players that have the tools to claim the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen and a couple of outsiders who could do a lot of damage.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 16: Simona Halep of Romania serves against Marketa Vondrousova of Czechia in their Women’s Singles Round of 32 Match during Day Five of the International BNL d’Italia at Foro Italico on May 16, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Back Halep to defend her title at 4/1 on PaddyPower.com

Simona Halep – 4/1

It makes sense to start with the defending champion and two-time finalist. Now on her best surface in her favourite major, the former world no.1 will play a significant role in Paris unless there’s a massive upset.

The Romanian comes into Roland Garros in good form. While she hasn’t lifted a title this season, Halep made the finals of Doha and recently Madrid. In the Spanish capital, the 27-year-old defeated Jo Konta, Ash Barty and Belinda Bencic before falling to the red hot Kiki Bertens on the last day.

The draw looks kind for Halep as she starts against Ajla Tomljanovic and should get to the fourth round without major fuss. There, she’s projected to meet Qiang Wang or 2018 quarter-finalist Daria Kasatkina. The first big test is likely to come in the quarters when Petra Kvitova or Anett Kontaveit could appear.

Kiki Bertens – 15/2

I would have made the Dutch woman joint-favourite with Halep were it not for her difficult draw.

Along with the Romanian, Bertens is the best performer on clay and has proved that again in recent weeks. After a run to the last four in Stuttgart, the world no.4 won Madrid and then made the semis of Rome.

Bertens comes to Paris brimming with confidence and she’ll need all of it to navigate a tricky route to the final stages. She starts against Pauline Parmentier and will be concerned by a potential third-round meeting with Jo Konta. The revitalised Brit knocked Bertens out of Rome just last week. A fourth-round clash with Belinda Bencic could also be a real challenge for the 2016 semi-finalist.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 19: Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic poses for a photograph with her winners trophy after her straight sets victory against Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the women’s final during day eight of the International BNL d’Italia at Foro Italico on May 19, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Karolina Pliskova – 14/1

Now back to world no.2, the powerful Czech is one of the game’s most consistent performers and also in great form.

After a brilliant run to the final of Miami, the 27-year-old took a while to get going on the clay before surging to the title in Rome. It was her second trophy of the season after Brisbane in January.

The 2017 semi-finalist has a decent start to her draw in Paris with an opener against Madison Brengle, and a potential second round with former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova or a qualifier. Watch out for red hot Kiki Mladenovic however, who could spring an upset over the Czech in the third round.

Petra Kvitova – 14/1

While Kvitova’s game is better suited to fast surfaces, she’s actually a handy performer on the clay. The 29-year-old has five titles on the dirt and made the semi-finals of Roland Garros seven years ago.

The Czech began this year’s clay campaign impressively with a title in Stuttgart. That was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Madrid before a worrisome retirement in Rome. Let’s hope that it was just a precautionary move ahead of Paris rather than a serious issue.

Kvitova will certainly need to be healthy to get past Nurnberg semi-finalist Sorana Cirstea in the first round. There are more potential obstacles in her path including Mihaela Buzarnescu (third round) and Anett Kontaveit (fourth round). If she makes the last eight, expect Halep to be on the other side of the net.

PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 09: A general view inside Court Philippe Chatrier during the ladies singles final between Sloane Stephens of The United States and Simona Halep of Romania during day fourteen of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 9, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Belinda Bencic – 33/1

The Swiss has been around for ages but is incredibly still only 22. A magnificent timer of the ball, Bencic has been perfectly in sync lately with a title in Dubai and deep runs in Hobart, Indian Wells, Charleston and Madrid. The world no.15 is in the Bertens/Sloane Stephens quarter and has some very winnable matches into the fourth round.

Anett Kontaveit – 66/1

The 23-year-old made a big impression in Miami where she made the semi-finals. A run to the final of Stuttgart boosted her confidence even more. Early losses in Madrid and Rome could be concerning but I think Kontaveit will bounce back in Paris. She is in the Halep/Kvitova quarter and can take advantage if the section opens up.

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