Women's popcorn R1s: Azarenka, Andreescu to clash

A battle of former Grand Slam champs is one of myriad mouthwatering round one women's tilts

Victoria Azarenka practice Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

A loaded women's draw in Paris has blessed us with some high-octane first-round match-ups.

Scroll down for more on the openers you won't want to miss.

Victoria Azarenka (18) v Bianca Andreescu

A meeting of former Grand Slam champions is one of the gems of round one, as Victoria Azarenka and Bianca Andreescu are set to lock horns for the first time. 18th-seeded Azarenka has the shinier clay-court pedigree, having reached a semi-final in Paris in 2013, and the last eight on two other occasions. 

Andreescu, recently returned from an ankle injury suffered in Miami in March, plays a style of game - complete with heavy topspin and imaginative angles - that is well-suited for the terre battue. The Canadian has failed to reach beyond the second round in her two previous main draw appearances in Paris, but the 22-year-old’s time to shine on the red dirt is bound to happen - it’s just a question of when.

Maria Sakkari (8) v Karolina Muchova

A semi-finalist here in 2021, charismatic Greek Maria Sakkari hopes the third time is a charm when she faces her clay nemesis Karolina Muchova in the first round. 

Former world No.19 Muchova, just beginning to find her form on tour after having her 2022 season nipped by back and abdominal injuries, owns a 2-0 lifetime edge over Sakkari with both wins coming on clay. In fact, it was Muchova who sent Sakkari packing last year in Paris, upsetting her in the second round, 7-6(5), 7-6(4).

Sakkari has shown signs of life this spring, reaching the semis in Madrid, but it has been an uneven season for the world No.8 - she'll need to elevate her game to take out the crafty Muchova.

Maria Sakkari en coulisses Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Danielle Collins v Jessica Pegula (3)

Jessica Pegula may be the heavy favourite in this first-round all-American clash in Paris, thanks to her lofty ranking and 2-0 lifetime record against Danielle Collins, but it is never wise to sleep on the feisty Floridian. Collins is a former Roland-Garros quarter-finalist (2020) just like Pegula (2022), after all. The American also enters with 10 career top-10 wins to her credit.

But recent form favours Pegula, as the Buffalo native has won six of nine on clay this spring, including a run to the Madrid semis, while Collins has not won a match on clay since last year.

Jessica Pegula, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Karolina Pliskova (16) v Sloane Stephens

A rivalry that dates back over a decade between two tour stalwarts resumes in round one in Paris, as 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens faces 2017 semi-finalist (and former world No.1) Karolina Pliskova

Stephens, a former US Open champion, holds the 4-1 lifetime edge over the Czech power broker, and the pair have split two meetings on clay with Stephens scoring a 7-5, 6-1 triumph in the second round in Paris in 2021. 

That was their last meeting. Their next will be an exciting contrast in style between two proven clay-courters in search of a Grand Slam revival – a perfect recipe for a first-round cracker.

Karolina Pliskova, entraînement, Roland-Garros 2023©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Marta Kostyuk v Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Aryna Sabalenka has been a revelation in 2023, winning her maiden major title at the Australian Open and racking up additional titles in Adelaide and Madrid. Far from satiated by her success, the 23-year-old continues to turn over every rock in her quest to challenge Iga Swiatek for the No.1 ranking. 

Here in Paris the No.2 seed will attempt to make the second week for the first time, a feat already achieved by the dangerous Marta Kostyuk, who has earned two career top-20 wins on clay, including one over former champion Garbine Muguruza en route to a round of 16 performance in 2021.

Sabalenka took their only previous meeting in straight sets in Dubai in 2022.

Marta Kostyuk, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT