Who is on a roll ahead of Roland-Garros?

 - Dan Imhoff

RG2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza is among a group of women hitting their straps leading into Paris

Garbiñe Muguruza - Roland-Garros 2019 - 3e tour©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Step back less than three weeks and an out-of-sorts Garbiñe Muguruza appears a disconcerted shadow of the player seen carving her way through to the Australian Open final in January.

How quickly things can change in these Covid co-existent times.

The dual Grand Slam champion had fallen in the second round at Flushing Meadows, but after dusting herself she started afresh on the clay in Rome, where she handled a slew of big names to reach the semi-finals.

Not that success at a major hinges on contesting a lead-up event.

Only the bold – perhaps reckless – would dare discount the chances of a certain 23-time major champion, regardless of having not played a competitive match on clay this year.

Serena Williams elected to sit out a limited window of warm-up events on the red dirt – as did a host of US Open contenders – and opted instead to train at her coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s academy in the south of France.

Karolina Pliskova, while buoyed by four match wins in Rome, is in a race against the clock to heal a leg injury, which scuttled her final against Simona Halep.

And while this week’s Strasbourg event is yet to crown its champion, Muguruza is among a group of six women to have already shown the goods on court.

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)

The 2016 Roland-Garros champion made an insipid exit at this month’s US Open, where she fell to Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, a player competing for the first time in three years.

Muguruza atoned for that disappointment with wins over Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Victoria Azarenka in succession before falling to eventual champion Halep in the Rome semi-finals.

“My goal is completed in Rome in terms of playing matches. Of course I wanted to hold the trophy, but played good matches against great opponents,” she said.

“I had a lot of positives to take [out] of this week, especially coming to a Grand Slam. So just now a little bit of recovery, take care of my body, because it's another battle and a long battle coming in a few days.”

Simona Halep (ROM)

Top seed Halep’s decision to skip the US hard-court swing is already paying dividends with titles either side on the terre battue coming into Roland-Garros.

It bodes well for the 2018 champion in her bid for a third major title. The Romanian reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open and won the title in Dubai before the tour’s Covid-19 hiatus.

The time away did nothing to unsettle Halep’s winning ways once the tour resumed either as she picked up where she left off with a trophy in Prague. With the Rome title to boot, Halep arrives in Paris on a 10-match clay-court winning streak (and a 14-match winning streak overall).

“It's the dream that every player has it when we start a Grand Slam, so my dream is to do that [win the title], of course, but I'm not thinking that far,” Halep said.

Victoria Azarenka (BLR)

Few stories from this month’s US Open proved as heart-warming as that of Victoria Azarenka’s return to the pointy end of a major.

Following a challenging time off court for several years, the two-time Australian Open champion won the Western & Southern Open at Flushing Meadows before beating Serena Williams en route to her first major final in seven years.

Naomi Osaka spoiled her party in three but the Belarusian made a quick transition to clay in Rome. Her victims included Venus Williams and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin – a double bagel, no less – before Muguruza stopped her in the quarter-finals.

“I think for other people maybe there is a different expectation when there is a Grand Slam, and obviously there is maybe more importance that you bring,” Azarenka said in Rome. “But for me, every match is important. Really my expectation doesn't change at all.”

Victoria Azarenka smiling at practice Roland-Garros 2018 entraînement©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Elise Mertens (BEL)

No woman has won more matches since the tour returned last month than Belgian Elise Mertens.

The world No.20, with a 15-4 record since August, has reached at least the quarter-finals in her past four events.

A runner-up on clay to Halep in Prague, she made the Western & Southern Open semi-finals in New York and backed it up with a victory over Australian Open champion Kenin to reach the US Open quarter-finals.

In her return to clay, it took defending champion Pliskova to halt her Rome campaign.

“I didn’t know I was going to go this far because of the American tour, because of no preparation,” Mertens said of reaching the quarter-finals in Rome.

“I'm happy that I got some matches in the legs, but then I can recover and fully prepare for [Roland-Garros].”

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE)

A Covid-safe Czech players’ bubble during lockdown looks to be reaping the rewards with Pliskova and last year’s Roland-Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova hitting their strides in Rome.

The benefits were not to be realised during the US hard-court swing but the 21-year-old lefty beat fourth seed Elina Svitolina to reach the semi-finals in Italy before her compatriot Pliskova prevailed.

After her surprise run to the final in Paris last year, when she lost to Ashleigh Barty, Vondrousova did not play again in 2019 after Wimbledon due to injury.

“I’m playing good here now, so I hope I'll keep it going,” Vondrousova said in Rome. “Of course, Paris was amazing. I had such great memories… I can't wait to be back and I love clay, so we will see.”

Marketa Vondrousova - roland garros - 2019 - victoire quarts de finale©Pauline Ballet / FFT

Jennifer Brady (USA)

Like Williams, fellow American Jennifer Brady chose to sit out clay-court events before Roland-Garros.

It was time for a well-earned rest before flying to Paris.

The 25-year-old, now ranked No.25, won 10 matches on US hard-courts once the tour resumed, winning the title in Lexington before reaching her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final in New York.

There her victims included the likes of former champion Angelique Kerber and it took eventual champion Osaka to stop her in her tracks in three.

“I think I have matured,” Brady said upon reaching the last four in New York. “I definitely have gotten a lot fitter, I feel a lot stronger out on court, have a lot more confidence in myself and my game.”