French Open 2016: The main contenders to challenge Serena Williams in the women's draw
We take a look at the top eight seeds in the women’s draw ahead of the French Open, and also cast a glance at the wildcards who might be in the mix.
1. Serena Williams
Best tournament result: Champion in 2002, 2013 and 2015
What can you say about Serena Williams that hasn't already been said? Not a thing. The superlatives have long since been exhausted, and the simple truth is that when she is at her best she is just about unstoppable. After winning Wimbledon last year she seemed certain to match Steffi Graf's calendar year Grand Slam from 1988 - but that didn't happen, and in her last two Grand Slams she has suffered surprise defeats, first to Robert Vinci at the US Open and then to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open.
She still certainly has more Grand Slam titles in her, and it could well happen given her imperious march to victory in Rome last week without dropping a set - yet that extraordinary ability to win Slams while playing less than her very best tennis seems to be waning. At the age of 34, the only surprise is that it's taken so long to happen.
Odds: 2/1 favourite
Serena Williams, winner of the 2015 French Open at Roland GarrosAFP
- - -
2. Agnieska Radwanska
Best tournament result: Quarter-finalist 2013
The Polish star is one of the world's most consistent players, yet she is still to win a Grand Slam title. That's not to say she can't carry off one of the sport's biggest prizes – her victory in last year's WTA Tour Finals proves that, even though it happened in the absence of Serena Williams. But it's unlikely to come on clay: Radwanska was a junior French Open champion back in 2006, but has only won two tournaments on the sport's slowest surface (neither of them at big events) and admits that she finds it "hard to move" and "slippery".
Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska returns to China's Zhang Shuai during their French tennis Open first round match at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on May 25, 2014 (AFP)AFP
- - -
3. Angelique Kerber
Best tournament result: Quarter-finalist 2012
The German's victory at the Australian Open at the start of this year was an inspiring and wonderful story for a charming and exciting player, and her performance in a thrilling final was mesmerising. But as nice as it would be to see her repeat the fairytale, we have to assume that it was a blip: at the age of 28 she was extraordinarily late in winning her maiden Grand Slam title – the seventh-oldest in the open era. Of those who were older at the time of their first win only Li Na has gone on to win a second Slam. Throw in the fact that she's never been past the quarter-finals, and only been that far once, and it's hard to see Kerber making a splash.
- - -
4. Garbiñe Muguruza
Best tournament result: Quarter-finalist 2014, 2015
Spain's most exciting player in years enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2015, reaching the Wimbledon final with some superb tennis as well as enjoying a string of other good results that catapulted her into the world's top 10. Since last July, however, her results have dipped. The fact that she's only 17th on the Road to Singapore leaderboard speaks volumes about her 2016 form – yet a run to the semi-finals in Rome last week suggests that she's finally getting back to her best, and the French Open has historically been her best slam.
- - -
5. Victoria Azarenka
Best tournament result: Semi-finalist 2013
The Belarus star looked in some of the form of her life in the early rounds of the Australian Open this year before suffering a surprise defeat in the quarter-finals. She carried that on throughout the first half of the season, winning the huge tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami. Those results, together with the fact that she's a former semi-finalist at Roland Garros, ought to make her one of the favourites. But a first-match defeat at WTA Rome and a last-16 loss to qualifier Louisa Chirico the week before in Madrid suggests that form and/or fitness are once again deserting her.
- - -
6. Simona Halep
Best tournament result: Finalist 2014
The Romanian is a frustrating player to watch. By turns sublime and woeful, her record in Grand Slams since her breakthrough season in 2014 is almost absurdly patchy: since the 2014 Australian Open it reads QF, F, SF, R3, QF, R2, R1, SF, R1. Her battles with fitness have been part of the problem – particularly in Melbourne this January, when she clearly wasn't ready to play – but the inconsistency is a bigger issue. Case in point: after winning in Madrid a few weeks ago she went out in the first round in Rome. Still, a combination of some decent form and a long rest should help her get deep into the second week, and quite possibly even see her make the final again.
- - -
7. Roberta Vinci
Best tournament result: Fourth round 2013
The conqueror of Serena Williams at last year's US Open is currently sitting at a career-high ranking at the somewhat unlikely age of 33. She first played at Roland Garros in 2002, and has only once made it past the third round. A win in Russia and a quarter-final spot in Doha earlier this year has kept her high, but she lost her opening matches in both Madrid and Rome and has almost no prospect of glory this fortnight. Then again, you'd have said the same ahead of last year's US Open…
Prediction: Third round
Roberta Vinci - St Petersburg 2016Imago
- - -
8. Timea Bacsinszky
Best tournament result: Semi-finalist 2015
In 2016 the Swiss 26-year-old had by far the best season of a largely forgettable career, reaching the semi-finals of the French Open and then the last eight at Wimbledon. Since then she has slipped back to the obscurity from which she emerged, going out in the opening round of the US Open and then the second round in Melbourne. She's shown a bit of form, however, winning a minor event on clay in Rabat at the end of April before making it to the quarter-finals in Rome. She can target a run into week two, but no more.
Timea Bacsinszky of SwitzerlandReuters
- - -
Best of the rest
Among the rest of the field probably the top name to throw out there is 12th seed Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard is a clay court specialist, and showed some great form with a big win in Doha earlier this year – only the second of her career. Some bookies have her as short as 12/1.
Also worth a look is 10th seed Petra Kvitova, the twice former Wimbledon champion and a 2012 semi-finalist in Paris, who never seems to play consistently but is hard to beat when having a good week. She's a 20/1 shot.
2015 finalist Lucie Safarova is also in the mix, seeded 11th, but with her ranking relying almost solely on that run to the final last year most have written her off. A win in the minor Prague clay event in April suggests she has a bit of form bubbling away.
16th seed Ana Ivanovic's odds are anywhere between 33/1 and 66/1 depending on where you look, the 2008 champion as hard to predict as ever. But the fact that she's lost to two qualifiers in her last two tournaments suggests you ought to look elsewhere.
The same applies to another veteran star, Venus Williams: having a place in the world's top 11 as she approaches the age of 36 is quite extraordinary, but after a good 2015 she's done nothing of note this season - and she's not made the quarter-finals in Paris for a decade.
Britain's Johanna Konta and America's Madison Keys are also in the conversation. Ninth and 12th respectively in the Road to Singapore, Konta was a revelation in reaching the last four in Australia while Keys made the final at WTA Rome last week.
Finally, there's Dominika Cibulkova. Outside of the world top 20, but the 2009 Roland Garros semi-finalist made it all the way to the final in Madrid a few weeks ago and could easily make it to the quarter-finals.