Defending champion Iga Swiatek has won two of the past three Roland Garros titles, and is widely regarded as the game’s best clay-courter.
She arrives in Paris as the top seed, world No.1 and with a lifetime record of 21-2 (91 per cent) at the tournament. Of those 21 wins, 19 have come in straight sets.
RELATED: Women's game benefitting from Swiatek effect
ROLAND GARROS MEN'S PREVIEW: The most open of French Opens?
She has also enjoyed an impressive clay-court build-up, winning 12 of 14 matches. It’s a run that includes the Stuttgart title and Madrid final, plus the quarterfinals in Rome.
Altogether, this paints the picture of a prohibitive favourite.
But unlike this time 12 months ago, when she was completely dominating the field and building a 37-match win streak, the gap between Swiatek and the field has closed.
BEST-PERFORMED WOMEN DURING SPRING CLAY SEASON*
|Win %||Win-loss record|
(*does not include this week's WTA events in Strasbourg and Rabat)
She took losses to Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid and Elena Rybakina in Rome, the latter coming when Swiatek sustained a thigh injury and withdrew a few games later.
Sabalenka could even wrest the No.1 ranking from Swiatek in the next fortnight in Paris.
While Swiatek remains a favourite on paper, the aura of invincibility around the three-time major champion has somewhat diminished.
“She's been playing well, she still won Stuttgart. She's been going deep in the other tournaments. She hasn't won them and dominated like she necessarily did 12 months ago, but she's not going out in the first round by any means,” said former world No.4 Sam Stosur, speaking on the latest episode of The AO Show.
Ready to shine in The City of Light ✨#RolandGarros preview on the latest episode of The AO Show 🎧 👉 https://t.co/dWyZHl1x0W pic.twitter.com/3UfrYLNR4t— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) May 25, 2023
“So I think she's still probably the favourite to go through Roland Garros.
“It makes for a really interesting couple of weeks coming up. The fact that she's been so dominant over the last year or two, but now, how does that play out with these other players, really gaining on her and taking away some of these bigger titles that 12 months ago was kind of taken for granted that (Swiatek would) probably run away with?”
We examine those biggest threats to Swiatek for this year's Roland Garros crown.
Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, is enjoying a brilliant season, taking the No.1 position in the Race to the WTA Finals thanks to three titles from five finals.
She has transferred her early hard-court success to clay, winning nine of 11 matches so far. Her phenomenal win over Swiatek in the Madrid final was especially notable, as revenge for her Stuttgart final loss to the Pole a fortnight earlier.
Sabalenka fell in her opening match in Rome to Sofia Kenin, but that loss may prove to have a silver lining in the form of much-needed rest ahead of Roland Garros for the second seed.
“Obviously a winner in Madrid, Australian Open winner. Had an incredible year,” said Stosur, who reached the Roland Garros final in 2010, plus another three semifinals.
“She knows how to beat the best players as well. She is one of the best players currently in the world.
“Probably in the last week or two since defeat in Rome, taken a step back, assessed that situation. No doubt had a ton of practice time on the courts and (is) really feeling what the courts (in Paris) are gonna give her game.
“I've loved how mentally strong (she is) and overall her strength this year has shown on the court with her results.”
Along with Sabalenka, Rybakina is the best-performed player of 2023, reaching four big finals – Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome – and winning two. She is also the reigning Wimbledon champion.
RELATED: Rybakina rising with latest big triumph
Her most recent victory in the Italian capital marked the biggest clay-court title of her career. It also proved her weapons were powerful and consistent enough to hit through slow, heavy clay.
While her Rome win over Swiatek came following an injury, she is nonetheless now 3-0 against the world No.1 this season.
“She's been very, very impressive, along with Sabalenka. I think it is hard to necessarily tear those two apart with their form at the moment,” Stosur said.
“Talk about level headed; she does not give anything away when she's on the court. Plays each point. You don't know whether she's won it or lost it half the time. She's always just moving on, trying to do the next best thing that she can do.
“She's got a big serve, big weapons, hits the ball very hard. A little bit flatter than maybe Sabalenka, so depending on the conditions, could be really dangerous for her opponent.”
Rybakina has risen to a career-high ranking of No.4 – she is projected to meet either Swiatek or Sabalenka in a blockbuster semifinal in Paris – and reached the Roland Garros quarterfinals in 2021.
She may have had a lukewarm clay-court season, but Barbora Krejcikova remains one of the more dangerous players in the field.
The talented Czech is a former champion at Roland Garros (2021) and possesses a power, tennis IQ and versatility perfectly suited to clay-court success.
“Total surprise packet the year she won… What's really impressed me with her is that she's gone from being pretty much outside (top) 100 to winning Roland Garros and now has been able to consistently stay in the top 20, top 10, you know, shuffles around a little bit but has been able to hold that,” Stosur said.
“She's taken that jump and been able to stay there. And that's not easy to do when you win a Grand Slam out of nowhere.
“What gives her a good chance is, she is quite steady. Obviously, the way she plays, she knows what it takes to win at Roland Garros. She'd only have incredible memories playing there. She's won the doubles title there a number of times, mixed as well.
“I think if there's an event where you may see her go through and do something like that again, it's Roland Garros.”
What’s more, she owns the rare distinction of being a foil to Swiatek in big matches. Until Sabalenka’s win in the Madrid final, Krejcikova was the only player to beat Swiatek in a final since 2019.
And she did so twice, in Ostrava 2022 and Dubai 2023.
A former world No.2 and Roland Garros quarterfinalist in 2021, Badosa has enjoyed a resurgent clay-court season this year.
The Spaniard has won 11 of 15 matches, reaching quarterfinals in Charleston, Stuttgart and Rome, plus the last 16 on home soil in Madrid.
She also recorded straight-sets wins over top-10 opponents in Coco Gauff (Madrid), Ons Jabeur (Rome) and Daria Kasatkina (Stuttgart).
“She's won Indian Wells. She knows how to win a big title like that. It's not a Grand Slam, but winning an event like that proves to yourself that you can do it,” Stosur said.
“(Because she’s) a little bit lower ranked at the moment (she potentially likes) not so much attention on her, to potentially vie for the title, but like I said, she won big titles before. She's beaten the best players in the world to do that.
“Maybe this is, given the right draw, potentially an opportunity for her to go through and pick up a Grand Slam.”
The world No.3 consistently posts deep results at big tournaments and will be looking to replicate her run in Paris, where 12 months ago she progressed to the last eight.
Swiatek beat her there, but since then, Pegula turned the tables on Swiatek with a dominant win in January at the United Cup.
Pegula, a Charleston semfinalist and Madrid quarterfinalist this season, has won six of her nine clay-court matches so far.
“I don't think clay is necessarily her favourite surface, but if you wanna talk about someone who's been ultra-consistent over the last few years, she would be it,” Stosur observed.
“I remember reading a quote from her saying she'd rather be a little less consistent, and win a Grand Slam title.
RELATED: Pegula's path to the game's elite
“So I think she's always a player recently who's been able to go deep, and I think once you can get to fourth round, quarters, you never know. And maybe being on clay, and maybe not as much pressure for her to think: this may be my event to do it in.
“Also, you don’t necessarily have to beat Iga to win a title.”