Women's popcorn first rounds: Kenin faces former champ

 - Chris Oddo

Some thrilling openers are in store as last year's runner-up takes on Ostapenko and two-time major winners Azarenka and Kuznetsova square off

© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

The Roland-Garros draw was unveiled on Thursday and it looks like the women's singles tournament will start with a bang judging by the incredible first-round match-ups on offer.

Here are some opening showdowns to look forward to in the first three days of the event.

Sofia Kenin (USA) [4] v Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)

Last year's Roland-Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin will seek to reestablish herself as a big-match player - and snap a personal four-match losing streak - when she faces 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian has won just two of five tilts at Roland-Garros after soaring to the title four years ago, but she has shown good form this spring, going 5-3 on clay including a quarter-final at Rome.

Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) v Ons Jabeur (TUN) [25]

Two-time quarter-finalist Yulia Putintseva, a player that nobody wants to face in round one at Roland-Garros, has advanced to the second round in six of her seven appearances at Paris.

Jabeur, seeded 25th, who reached the second week at Roland-Garros for the first time last year, defeated Putintseva in their only previous meeting in 2019.

Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [9] v Donna Vekic (CRO)

Karolina Pliskova has proven she can master the clay before, like in 2017 when she reached the last four at Roland-Garros. The Czech former world No.1 has also held the upper hand against Vekic, winning all three of their previous meetings.

But nerves always seemed to haunt Pliskova in the early rounds in Paris, and when two hard-hitters like this match up, the margins can be very thin.

Vekic is playing her first event since the Australian Open in February, having undergone knee surgery.

Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) v Sloane Stephens (USA)

Two-time quarter-finalist Carla Suarez Navarro has overcome cancer to make her way back to the terre battue.

The inspiring Spaniard, one of the WTA's most adored players, received a clean bill of health a few months ago and now has big ambitions for her final season on tour. It all starts at her favourite venue in Paris, when she faces 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens.

Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [12] v Marta Kostyuk (UKR)

All eyes will be on Garbine Muguruza as she seeks to emerge from a minor injury cloud and make a push at winning a second Roland-Garros title. But don't sleep on 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk. The well-rounded Ukrainian has reached two semi-finals already in 2021, including one on the clay in Istanbul.

Kaja Juvan (SLO) v Iga Swiatek (POL) [8]

Best of friends when away from the courts, Iga Swiatek and Kaja Juvan are becoming familiar with one another in high-stakes matches as well.

Swiatek took the first meeting between the fast friends in three sets in February in Melbourne. Juvan, a 20-year-old that possesses oodles of court craft, could make this match extremely interesting.

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [15] v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)

When a pair of two-time Grand Slam champions get together for a first-round tilt at a major, it's time for extra popcorn. Azarenka and Kuznetsova will meet for the 11th time on tour (Azarenka leads 6-4), the third time on clay (Kuznetsova leads 2-1) and the second time at Roland-Garros (Kuznetsova defeated Azarenka in the round of 16 in 2008).

Bianca Andreescu (CAN) [6] v Tamara Zidansek (SLO)

In theory, Bianca Andreescu can be a brilliant clay-courter. She has all the tools - the variety, the feel, the heavy topspin - but lacks the experience.

The Canadian sixth seed will play just her fourth career match on clay against Slovenian dirt-baller Tamara Zidansek, who has won 10 of 14 matches on clay in 2021 (including qualifying).

Nadia Podoroska (ARG) v Belinda Bencic (SUI) [10]

Nadia Podoroska is looking to make a favourable impression in Paris once again in 2021.

The Argentinean was well outside of the top-100 last year when she reached the semi-finals from qualifying. This year she's firmly tucked inside the top-50 and angling for another upset against Swiss No. 10 seed Belinda Bencic.