Our tennis man Andy Schooler delivers his verdict on the women’s singles at the French Open and his outright preview includes a 66/1 each-way shot.
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- Venue: Roland Garros, Paris, France
- Surface: Outdoor clay
- Defending women's champion: Ashleigh Barty
- First round: Sunday September 27
- TV: ITV4 & Eurosport
Since the summer lockdown, SIMONA HALEP has had one focus – winning the French Open – and the bookies look to have the right favourite ahead of the 2020 tournament.
The Romanian, winner of the title here two years ago and a runner-up on two occasions, has won every match she’s played since the tour resumed, a run taking in tournament victories in both Prague and, most significantly, Rome.
Significantly she opted out of the US Open, preferring to remain in Europe and train on the clay.
Halep impressed in the Italian capital, beating Dayana Yastremska, Yulia Putintseva and Garbine Muguruza – the player rated most likely to pip here to the title here – en route to the final.
In that match, she was well ahead of Karolina Pliskova when the Czech was forced to call it a day due to injury.
Halep is arguably the best retriever on the WTA circuit and in what promise to be sluggish conditions, it will be hard to hit winners past her.
I’ve already gone into plenty of detail into why conditions will likely to slower than in previous years in my preview of the men’s singles so don’t want to go over old ground, but to put it simply, the different time of year will bring lower temperatures and greater moisture, leading to slower courts and balls.
In the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty – one of three top-10 stars missing, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu being the others – Halep is the top seed and thus heads up the top half of the draw.
Of course, there are players in it who could trouble Halep but not too many she’ll be concerned about.
The aforementioned Yastremska is a rising talent and she or last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova could be awkward last-16 opponents.
Kiki Bertens will be Halep’s quarter-final foe if the seedings play out, although that seems unlikely.
The Dutchwoman is another who is strong on the slow clay but she’s played little since lockdown and a long-standing Achilles injury flared up this week in Strasbourg.
As short as 9/1 at the start of the week, she can now be backed at 25/1 which says much.
And then there’s Serena Williams, still seeking that elusive 24th Grand Slam title, three and half years after securing number 23.
She could meet Halep in the semis but the veteran’s game has never been best suited to the clay and while the American is a three-time winner in Paris, I don’t envisage her challenging this time around.
Halep will be pleased to have avoided GARBINE MUGURUZA in the draw – the former champion pushed her hardest in Rome, with their semi-final being decided 6-4 in the final set.
The 2016 winner is regarded by the layers as the most likely finalist from the bottom half and given how she looked in Rome, it’s hard to disagree.
Her run there brought wins over high-quality opponents in Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Victoria Azarenka.
Longer term, she has proven ability on the clay and, in particular, Roland Garros – as well as her triumph here she’s been to the semis in 2018 and two quarter-finals.
I wouldn’t put anyone off backing her outright at 7/1 but my preference is for Halep and I can’t be backing the two favourites.
There is a way I like of getting with Muguruza though and that’s to back her to reach the last 16 which is offered at 10/11 by Sky Bet.
Muguruza meets Tamara Zidansek, playing for the first time since March, first up before facing either Kristyna Pliskova or Viktoria Kuzmova in the second round.
The seed in her part of the draw is Jennifer Brady. The American is fresh off a semi-final run at the US Open but the fact is she’s never won back-to-back tour-level matches on clay so she’ll have done well to reach any meeting with Muguruza.
The bottom half looks the weaker of the two and so I’m going to chance a big-priced outsider in the shape of MADISON KEYS.
Admittedly she arrives under something of an injury cloud having retired from her most recent match at the US Open three weeks ago due to a neck problem.
However, she was playing very well at the time and she looks worth risking at odds of 66/1.
Some would argue Keys’ power game will be blunted by the slow conditions but for me she looks one of few players who will have the ability to hit through the courts. Few hit the ball harder.
While it will be slower than normal this year, Keys has managed to use her own game to good effect on the Paris clay in the past.
Last year she reached the quarter-finals, losing only to eventual champion Barty, and that run came 12 months after she made the semis.
She also won in Charleston last year on this surface and has been a finalist in Rome.
If fully fit, Keys has the ability to make a mockery of her price.
She’s in a decent part of the draw with Angie Kerber and Petra Kvitova the two seeded opponents she’s due to face before the quarter-finals. Neither is at her best on clay.
Karolina Pliskova could follow but the way the second seed limped out of the Rome final with back and leg problems makes that far from certain.
All things considered, Keys looks worth an each-way play to small stakes.
I also considered her in the quarter betting – she’s a 10/1 shot – but instead I’m going head back to the top half of the draw for a quarter long shot.
YULIA PUTINTSEVA is another player who has performed well at Roland Garros in the past, making the quarter-finals in both 2016 and 2018.
She’s a whopping 22/1 to go one round further this year and that looks worth an interest.
The Kazakh firebrand is another with real power in her racquet but she also knows how to mix things up – expect her to bring the drop shot out to play plenty in Paris.
Putintseva was in good form at the US Open where she reached the last eight and on her arrival in Europe she made the quarter-finals in Rome.
Admittedly the worry is that her run there ended due to a back injury, although the suggestion from her homeland is that she’s good to go.
It’s a tricky draw which includes potential meetings with Azarenka, Williams and Elina Svitolina but Putintseva would be awkward opponent for any of those and I’m tempted in by a price which looks too big.
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