Swiatek and Sabalenka’s clay-court collision course

May 28, 2023

Will the No. 1 and No. 2 meet for a third time on clay this year in Paris, or is there a surprise spoiler or two waiting in the wings?

Swiatek and Sabalenka’s clay-court collision course

Order or disorder: That is the question as the women arrive in Paris. There's recent evidence for both. In Stuttgart and Madrid, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka, the world's top two players, lived up to their billing and reached the final. In Rome, neither of them did, and upheaval generally reigned.

Let's see which way things go at the tournament that matters most.

First Quarter

Last year, Swiatek came to Roland Garros on a long winning streak. She returns this year after a pair of losses to her biggest rivals, and carrying a potential leg injury that she picked up in Rome. Yet the two-time champ remains the player to beat on this surface, and at this event.

Still, she'll need to recover her health and her form fairly quickly. In the third round, she could face feisty Marie Bouzkova; in the fourth round, she might play 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova or former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka; and in the quarters, last year's finalist, Coco Gauff, or the recently surging Veronika Kudermetova, might be waiting.

First-round match to watch: Victoria Azarenka vs. Bianca Andreescu

Semifinalist: Swiatek

Second Quarter

Last year's Wimbledon finalists, Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur, headline this section. They also make for two of the more intriguing players in the draw. Rybakina just won her first significant clay title, in Rome, with the help of three retirements along the way. While Jabeur has been injured for much of 2023, she has a (green) clay title as well, in Charleston. Either one would make a worthy semifinal opponent for Swiatek.

Also here: Petra Kvitova. She was at her best in winning in Miami two months ago, but has been slowed by a right foot injury since. If she's recovered, she could be a threat.

Semifinalist: Rybakina

Third Quarter

Question marks abound here.

Jessica Pegula is the highest seed and was a quarterfinalist in Paris last year; but she just lost early in Rome. She has a tough first-round match against countrywoman Danielle Collins.

Maria Sakkari is the second-highest seed and made the semis in 2021, but she has taken a lot of early losses in recent months. She also has a tough first-round match, against Karolina Muchova.

Belinda Bencic is 20-6 with two titles in 2023, but she's coming back from injury and has never been past the third round at Roland Garros.

Semifinalist: Pegula

Fourth Quarter

Sabalenka, who has a 29-5 record on the year, hasn't suffered many blips or bad outings on her radar screen in 2023. Will the one she had against Sofia Kenin in Rome affect her here? I'm going to guess not. She was coming off a major effort in Madrid, where she beat Swiatek for the title, and looked over-tennised at the Foro Italico.

The next question to ask about the No. 2 seed is whether she can shake off a history of early losses in Paris. Her record at Roland Garros is just 7-5, and she's never been past the third round. This time she'll face Marta Kostyuk to start, which could be a test. Among the other seeds in this section are Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko, Karolina Pliskova and Qinwen Zheng.

Dark horse: Ostapenko. She showed flashes of her 2017 brilliance in beating Krejcikova, Daria Kasatkina and Paula Badosa in Rome.

Semifinalist: Sabalenka

Semifinals: Swiatek d. Rybakina; Sabalenka d. Pegula

Final: Swiatek d. Sabalenka

Swiatek and Sabalenka’s clay-court collision course