Women's draw: Iga and Ash on collision course

 - Chris Oddo

Defending champion Swiatek has a tricky route to the second week in Paris

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2021, first practice© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

On Thursday in Paris, the draw gods had their say. Now, the rest is up to the players, who will take their place in the 128-player women's singles field when main-draw play begins on Sunday at Roland-Garros.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the draw.

Two defending champions in top half

As if it isn't rare enough to have two defending champions in the same draw at a Grand Slam, this year at Roland-Garros, 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty, who chose not to defend her title last autumn due to coronavirus complications, and 2020 winner Iga Swiatek are both in the top half of the women's singles draw.

Both have been in-form players on the clay this spring, and it was the Aussie who claimed victory in the pair's first ever meeting, in Madrid in the last 16 earlier this month.


Barty has been a force on the clay in 2021, going 13-3 on the surface with a title in Stuttgart and a final in Madrid.

She'll face American Bernarda Pera in the first round and could potentially square off with 25th-seeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur in the third round. Australian Open runner-up and No.13 seed Jennifer Brady or 24th-seeded Coco Gauff possibly await in the last 16.

If the seeds hold, Barty would match up with fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

Swiatek faces perilous path

Like Barty, reigning champion Swiatek has already sent the message that she is in top form on the clay this spring.

She stormed to the Rome title two weeks ago and has won 14 of her last 16 matches on the surface. But her path to the business end of the tournament is a tricky one.

Swiatek, seeded No.8, will face her good friend from Slovenia Kaja Juvan in round one, and could meet 2016 quarter-finalist Shelby Rogers in the second round.

Rogers enters with a ranking of 46, but owns six top-20 wins at the Slams since 2016. If the seeds hold, Swiatek could face 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza in the round of 16. Potentially, Swiatek could see fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin in the quarter-finals, in what would be a rematch of last year's final.

All that just to get to the semis, where world No.1 Barty could be waiting.

Tableau dames Roland-Garros 2021FFT

Serena's quest

No shockers in Serena Williams' quarter of the draw - the three-time Roland-Garros champion will have time to play herself into fighting shape in her latest attempt at capturing that elusive 24th major title.

Williams, who will face Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round, has always been the master of playing herself into form at Grand Slams, but the slippery clay has left her feeling less than confident about her current run of play on the surface.

"It's been the hardest, I've always felt super comfortable on the clay, and this year has been a little more difficult than normal, I think it was because of the long hiatus I've had on clay," she said last week in Parma.

Williams, just 1-2 in her three clay matches this spring, will need to make significant strides to enter the second week with a fighting chance. Petra Kvitova, a semi-finalist last year, could be lurking in the fourth round, with Aryna Sabalenka, the No.3 seed a potential quarter-final opponent.

Serena Williams, Roland-Garros 2020©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Wide open bottom quarter

Also featured in Serena's half of the draw are two of the more mysterious talents in this year's Roland-Garros field: No.2 seed Naomi Osaka and No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu.

Nobody truly knows what to expect from these two talents - the possibilities are seemingly endless - and this bottom section has 'surprise quarter-finalist' written all over it.

Osaka has yet to venture past the third round at Roland-Garros and has not learned how to translate her electrifying hard-court game to the clay. She played just three matches on clay this spring, and lost to both top-50 players she faced.

Naomi Osaka Roland Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Andreescu, who could meet Osaka in a mouthwatering quarter-final in Paris, is also a mystery, but for different reasons. The Canadian missed much of the clay-court swing due to a positive Covid-19 test result.

Andreescu is generally thought of as a player who could thrive on clay, but with just three career matches at tour-level on the surface, it's impossible to know what to expect from the 20-year-old.

Unseeded threats

Spain's Paula Badosa is in the midst of a career year on the clay, having won 13 of her fifteen matches on the surface thus far. The 23-year-old, who reached the round of 16 on her Roland-Garros debut last autumn, will open against Danish teenager Clara Tauson.

Tauson made a stunning debut at Roland-Garros last year, defeating Jennifer Brady after saving two match points, but if Badosa passes the test she could be off to the races.

2017 Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will look to prolong the woes of last year's runner-up Sofia Kenin.

Kenin has dropped four straight on the clay and the upset-minded Latvian has the potential to take the racquet out of anybody's hands if she finds her range.

American Danielle Collins grew her confidence on the clay at Roland-Garros in 2020 when she toppled Garbine Muguruza en route to a career-best quarter-final performance in Paris.

This year she'll try to prove the effort was not a fluke by working through a section that includes a pair of legends that have proven to be vulnerable on the clay. Collins, always hungry to ruffle the feathers of top players, might be up to the task of playing giant-killer against the likes of Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams.