Women's draw: Swiatek discovers route to Paris defence

Two-time champion on collision course with fellow reigning Slam winners

Antoine Dupont & Iga Swiatek / Tirage au sort Roland-Garros 2023©Jean-Charles Caslot / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek and Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka have learnt their respective paths if they are to add to their Grand Slam haul in Paris this year.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the women’s draw.

Wimbledon champ in Swiatek's half

Polish world No.1 Swiatek is bidding to become the first three-time champion at Roland-Garros since Serena Williams eight years ago and the 21-year-old could have to deny fellow reigning Grand Slam title-holders Elena Rybakina and Sabalenka back-to-back to retain the silverware.

With the trio increasingly touted as the next Big Three, much was made of which half fourth seed Rybakina landed in.

Swiatek could meet the Kazakh, who has beaten her three times this year, in the semi-finals.

Having withdrawn due to injury in their most recent encounter in the Rome quarter-finals, the top-seeded Swiatek will not let her sights shift beyond her first obstacle, Cristina Bucsa. The Spaniard salvaged just one game when the pair met in the Australian Open third round this year.

Swiatek could run into 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova or former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka in a fourth-round Grand Slam heavyweight bout before a possible quarter-final against the woman whom she beat for last year’s title, sixth seed Coco Gauff.

Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina, Australian Open 2023, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Rybakina looks to continue clay-winning streak

The Rome title leading in could not have come at a better time for Kazakhstan’s Rybakina.

Last year’s Wimbledon champion collected enough points to leapfrog into the top four seeds for Roland-Garros and in the process avoided arguably her two greatest threats in Paris, Swiatek and Sabalenka, before the semi-finals.

Rybakina drew a qualifier first but could have her hands full should 18-year-old former girls’ singles champion Linda Noskova reach the second round.

The Czech reached her first tour final in Adelaide to open 2023 and almost sprung the upset on Emma Raducanu in the opening round last year.

Brazilian 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia looms as a likely fourth-round opponent with last year’s Madrid champion, seventh seed Ons Jabeur, on course to meet Rybakina in the quarter-finals.

The Tunisian continues to work her way back from injury and faces a tricky potential roadblock in the third round should she run into 30th seed Sorana Cirstea, having split four meetings with the Romanian.

Elena Rybakina Roland Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Australian Open champion faces tough opener

The shackles finally broke for the heavy-striking Sabalenka at Melbourne Park in January when she held off Rybakina for her maiden Grand Slam trophy.

The 25-year-old opens her bid for a second straight major title against dangerous Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.

The second seed owns a win over the 20-year-old but Kostyuk has since captured her first tour title in Austin, in the US this year.

Should former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova find a way past former US Open champion Sloane Stephens first up, Chinese 19th seed Zheng Qinwen could be waiting for her in round three, with the winner of that duel possibly moving on to tackle Sabalenka in the fourth round.

A quarter-finalist in 2017, home expectations will be again be high for fifth seed Caroline Garcia.

The Frenchwoman could clash with Sabalenka in the quarter-finals, should both advance, but has both last year’s losing semi-finalists, Martina Trevisan and Daria Kasatkina, as well as 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko potentially blocking her path.

Aryna Sabalenka, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Pegula chases second-week breakthrough

A beacon of consistency, third seed Jessica Pegula would love nothing more than to pass a major quarter-final for the first time in Paris and serve a reminder hers is a name not to be forgotten amid growing talk of the next Big Three.

After falling to Swiatek in the last eight in 2022, she faces a problematic opening ask in her Paris return against feisty US compatriot Danielle Collins, but would favour her chances with a 4-0 head-to-head record.

Her projected quarter-final foe is familiar rival, eighth seed and former semi-finalist Maria Sakkari, an opponent which she trails 3-4 in their head-to-head ledger.

The Greek will be up against it just to survive her first match against gifted former top-20 player Karolina Muchova. The Czech defeated Sakkari in the second round in Paris last year and owns a 2-1 record against the 27-year-old.

Jessica Pegula / Roland-Garros 2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Unseeded threats

Muchova’s fellow Czech, Marketa Vondrousova, also lurks as a conceivable draw disruptor. The 2019 runner-up in Paris has already downed Jabeur twice this year and Sakkari in Rome leading in.

She faces American Alycia Parks first up and could run into ninth seed Kasatkina in the second round.

Following a breakout maiden WTA 1000 quarter-final in Madrid, in which she took a set from Sabalenka, Egyptian Mayar Sherif is another floater with second-week hopes and could prove a headache for 24th seed Anastasia Potapova or 15th seed Liudmila Samsonova en route.

A quarter-finalist at Roland-Garros four years ago, Petra Martic has summoned some form on the clay leading in, downing Krejcikova to reach the last eight in Rome. The Croatian meets 32nd seed Shelby Rogers first and could hassle Rybakina in the third round.

Marketa Vondrousova, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Philippe Montigny/FFT