The women to watch on the road to Roland Garros

 - Alex Sharp

Who is ready to slide into title contention and rule in Paris? "Rendez-vous à RG"!

Simona Halep all smile during Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The players have left the Sunshine Swing swiftly behind and have swept onto the clay. Who is ready to slide into title contention and rule in Paris?

Simona Halep – Reigning champion out for the repeat

Where else could we start?

Last June Simona Halep broke the shackles and lifted that maiden Grand Slam.

A semi-final showing in Miami, along with some scorching shot-making, proves Halep is in the groove and the 27-year-old relishes competition on the clay. She’s won 72 percent of career matches on the surface, which included a 16-3 record last season.

With the No.1 ranking back within her grasp, the Romanian is primed for another captivating clay campaign.

Maria Sakkari – A surprise package?

The Greek practised with Juan Martin del Potro in Miami and perhaps facing that firepower has refuelled her belief.

The 23-year-old ignited her clay court stint by dispatching Andrea Petkovic by losing just three games in Charleston, before outmanoeuvring defending champion Kiki Bertens 7-6(8) 6-3 to clinch a third Top 10 victory of a fledging career.

Sakkari had failed to secure back-to-back match wins since her Australian Open third round run, but is now optimistic ahead of the road to Roland Garros.

“It’s great, because I really want to play good on clay this year without having a lot of expectations, said the Greek, who reached the third round in Paris in 2018. “Starting good the clay season gives me a lot of confidence.”

Belinda Bencic expresses pure joy in Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Belinda Bencic – Resurgent and resilient

In three previous visits to the French Open, the gregarious Swiss has only advanced as far as the second round.

However, Bencic has banished the demons of two injury-blighted campaigns to burst back onto the scene and it cannot go unnoticed heading onto the clay.

Just take a look at her Dubai title tilt. The 22-year-old navigated past Aryna Sabalenka, Halep, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova to truly soar back into the spotlight.

On top of that, the world No.21 toppled Osaka and Karolina Pliskova en route to the Indian Wells semi-finals.

Bencic is officially back and will be a disastrous draw for the key contenders after recent results.

Ashleigh Barty – Time to shine for ambitious Aussie

It’s fair to say Barty has never relished playing on the clay, but that was before she made her debut in the Top 10.

The amicable Aussie is playing some sublime, versatile and enthralling tennis, which scooped the 22-year-old the Miami Open crown.

The world No.9 speaks with such determination combined with optimism, so it is hard to see Barty struggling once again on clay.

“I think for me it's a challenging part of the year but with the challenge comes a new perspective and a new opportunity for me to go out and try and do something that I hadn't done before,” declared Barty, who will be an intriguing prospect on the road to Roland Garros.

“I just have to continue to learn about clay court tennis. We continue to try and put our head down, chip away every day, and try to get better.”

Petra Kvitova smiling during media day at Roland-Garros 2017©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Petra Kvitova – Back in familiar territory

Sweeping onto the clay at the Caja Magica, the Czech will be out to chalk up more history with a record fourth title in Madrid, after lifting the trophy in the Spanish capital in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

The two-time Wimbledon champion has the Grand Slam pedigree and is accustomed to deep ventures at Roland Garros courtesy of a 2012 semi-final showing. More significantly Kvitova is producing pulsating tennis in 2019, which was encapsulated in her majestic Melbourne fortnight en route to the Australian Open final.

Healthy and bursting with belief, Kvitova is set to be fascinating viewing.

Jelena Ostapenko – Out to find ‘fearless’ edge again

For those who witnessed the 2017 Roland Garros title triumph, Ostapenko can never be discounted on clay.

Saying that, the Latvian has been on a turbulent path since holding her maiden major.

A left wrist injury appears to have diminished, whilst gritty wins in Charleston demonstrate the hunger is still there.

“I think the most important is to be just fearless like I was (at Roland Garros 2017),” said the 21-year-old, having slipped to No.31 in the rankings. “I didn’t think too much, because after everything changed so much, and I’m thinking much more like during the points. I’m trying to get rid of it and just try to be fearless and play again the way I played there.”

Fearless Ostapenko would be warmly welcomed back onto Court Philippe Chatrier.

Bianca Andreescu lying on the ground after match point in the final of Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Bianca Andreescu – No longer the wildcard

It’s very easy to get swept up in the hype but the Canadian teenager’s astonishing 10-match winning fairy tale over the Sunshine Swing was box office.

From a wildcard spot at world No.60 the 18-year-old illustrated her absorbing all-court variety to dismiss the field and hold up the Indian Wells title, before injury curtailed the quest in the Miami fourth round.

Should a niggling right shoulder injury disappear, Andreescu will be one of the first names to look for on a clay court draw this summer.