Women’s dark horses press their claims

Capable draw disruptors with form to boot could make their mark at RG2023

Marketa Vondrousova, Roland-Garros 2021, third round©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Much of the conversation around potential champions in the women’s draw centres around the possibility of a three-way tussle between defending champion Iga Swiatek and fellow major winners Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

But outside the so-called new Big Three, a skillful mix of contenders also has high hopes for 2023.  

Marketa Vondrousova

Tried and tested at the site of her maiden Grand Slam final, Marketa Vondrousova could go some way to re-establishing a top-20 presence with another deep run in Paris.

Unseeded four years ago, the crafty Czech lefty downed four seeds to become the first teenager to contest the Roland-Garros final since Ana Ivanovic in 2007 before being overwhelmed by Ashleigh Barty.

A silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympics – a run in which she upset Naomi Osaka – Vondrousova missed Paris last year due to wrist surgery.

It has been a steady route back since but the 57th-ranked 23-year-old has gathered a handy list of victims this year, including Ons Jabeur twice, and on clay, Bianca Andreescu for the loss of one game and Maria Sakkari in Rome last week.

Anhelina Kalinina

Amid the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Anhelina Kalinina hopes her gutsy run to a maiden WTA 1000 final in Rome last week provides a glimmer of light for those back home.

The 26-year-old entered the event as the world No.47 and felled the likes of former world No.4 Sofia Kenin, and seeds Madison Keys, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Veronika Kudermetova in three sets to become the lowest-ranked Rome finalist since 1985.

While a thigh injury cruelled her chances of a maiden title in the final against Elena Rybakina, the Ukrainian surged into the top 25 in time to land an all-important seeding at Roland-Garros.

Top-20 wins over Petra Kvitova and Veronika Kudermetova this year have only boosted her belief that she too belongs among this group.

Mayar Sherif

The first Egyptian woman to net a Roland-Garros main draw win following her triumph over Marta Kostyuk last year, Mayar Sherif returns with more clay-court runs on the board and just outside the top 50 in 2023.

It was no coincidence the 27-year-old immediately struck form on the surface on which she was most at home when she notched a semi-final in Portugal at an ITF W100 event before a breakout a week later in Madrid.

Wins over seeds Kalinina, Caroline Garcia – her second over a top-10 opponent – and Elise Mertens pitted her into a maiden WTA 1000 quarter-final where she snatched a set from eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Drawing inspiration from fellow North African Ons Jabeur, Sherif has reason to expect a second-week showing in Paris was well within reach.

Mayar Sherif / Madrid 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT