May 24, 2019
Naomi Osaka is the new superstar of women’s tennis, she has won the last two Grand Slam titles, and she is top seed for Roland Garros.
But guess what? Almost no one fancies her to win the French Open.
It’s a strange situation, isn’t it?
And if Osaka does step it up yet again when it really matters, we will all look back to this moment before the tournament began. And we might just berate ourselves for our lack of faith.
But there are reasons why the top seed is far from favourite.
Since she split from her coach and struck out alone, Osaka hasn’t looked quite the force she was at the start of the year.
Then there is the fact that Osaka doesn’t have the most comfortable of relationships with clay.
She admits herself that she isn’t yet the same, confident, natural player on clay or grass as she is on hard courts.
Add to that the realisation that she will face a stiff test early in the first week.
Osaka’s second-round opponent will be the winner of Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka. The surprise 2017 French Open champion and the resurgent Azarenka will provide the best of the first-round entertainment.
And there is another cracking match in Venus Williams against Elina Svitolina.
But back to the big, burning question. Which woman will win Roland Garros?
A popular pick is Simona Halep, the reigning champion who always seems to be there or thereabouts when it comes to the French Open.
She loves the clay, she plays her best tennis at Roland Garros and you can bet she will go deep.
Another favourite among the experts is Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands.
She is playing great tennis, although British fans will remember with pride Johanna Konta’s recent semi-final victory over Bertens in Rome.
Therefore, by logic, Konta must also be a contender for French Open glory, if only as an outside bet.
More likely to wear the crown is Karolina Pliskova, who beat Konta in that Italian Open final. And Petra Kvitova has the game and experience to take the title too.
But we haven’t even mentioned the greatest player of them all, Serena Williams. A legend, a woman looking to equal the all-time record by winning her 24th Grand Slam.
Like Osaka, Serena is short of expert backers when it comes to tipping her for the Roland Garros title.
Serena simply hasn’t played enough matches, they all say. She pulled out of the recent Italian clash against sister Venus with knee trouble.
Her body won’t sustain her through a gruelling fortnight at the French Open. That’s the pre-tournament opinion of the pundits.
In theory, Osaka should have another showdown with Serena in the quarter-finals in Paris.
Few expect that match to happen.
Just think about that. The top seed and the world’s greatest ever player, Osaka and Serena, both struggling to find believers before Roland Garros.
Will one of them prove us horribly wrong? We’ll soon find out!