In her exclusive column for wtatennis.com, two-time French Open champion Martina Navratilova assesses the contenders for this year's singles title.
Martina Navratilova
May 25, 2018

If Serena Williams were to win the French Open, it would be the greatest accomplishment of her career. She is simply not supposed to win this tournament. At the same time, I wouldn't put it past her to lift La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.  

Everything is stacked against Serena, though her draw could have been much worse. Ranked 453 in the world, and unseeded on the Parisian clay, she could have been drawn against the likes of Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina or Garbiñe Muguruza in the opening round, which would have been ridiculous; as it is, she starts against Kristyna Pliskova, also unseeded and the World No.70. 

While there is a chance Serena will win the French Open, it doesn't seem likely. I would say there's better than a 50-50 chance that she'll win Wimbledon this year, which would give her a 24th Grand Slam title. But, at the French Open, her chances are much lower and for no better reason than she hasn't really played any matches. It is not just that she was out for longer than a year after becoming a mother; since returning in Indian Wells in March, she has played only four matches - and none on clay. 

Clay doesn't allow Serena to hit a big serve and a big forehand and to finish points quickly; she has to set up the points and hit more shots. Her big serves don't pay off as much as they do on hard or grass courts. And while Serena's got a lot better moving on clay, it's still not the ideal surface for her. That being said, Williams is always dangerous once she gets into the second week of a Grand Slam. She is most vulnerable in the first week of any major and she's even more vulnerable in the opening round of this major. 

But we're talking about Serena Williams and she likes nothing more than being a huge underdog. And then telling everybody: 'Ha! Watch this!' So one certainly shouldn't write her off.

Serena Williams in practice at Roland Garros

If Serena makes the fourth round, she could meet Maria Sharapova, who's playing with confidence again after her run to the semifinals in Rome. But then again, last time Sharapova beat Serena was more than a decade ago.

Back in March, I wrote in a column for wtatennis.com that Sharapova, who was then struggling for form, needed to put a few matches together. She needed match play, as well as to get her ranking up and her confidence back. And that's exactly what happened in Rome. Sharapova got to the semis there and thus is seeded at a major for the first time since returning to tennis last season. 

I don't imagine Sharapova's thinking she can win the title, but certainly she must think she can make a deep run as she has won this title twice before. She'll also have the crowd on her side and is under no pressure whatsoever. She's a confidence player and I think she can build on her run in Rome. 

Maria Sharapova in Rome

The tournament is wide open, and enormously unpredictable with no clear or overwhelming favorite, and that's what makes it so interesting. As a fan, you don't want a foregone conclusion. The most likely winner is probably Halep, as she is the World No.1, she made the final last year, and clay is her favorite surface. But she could just as easily not make it to the second week. She is a favorite to me, though one big doubt with Halep is how easily she lost to Svitolina in the Rome final - the other doubt, of course, being that she has never won a major. And the pressure for that first title is only getting bigger and bigger.

If you look at pretty much all the top seeds, one consistency is inconsistency, with players often losing early in a tournament one week, and winning a title the week after. Since winning the Australian Open, Caroline Wozniacki has been underachieving. While last season's Wimbledon champion, Garbiñe Muguruza, is also a former winner at the French Open - she was victorious in 2016 - her form has been up and down. Sloane Stephens, last year's US Open champion, has had sporadic results. 

Garbiñe Muguruza (© Jimmie48)
Garbiñe Muguruza in Madrid

We have kept on having high hopes for Svitolina at the Grand Slams and then they have kept on being dashed. So I'm not going to pick her as a potential champion until she proves she can do it. She hasn't yet lived up to expectations at the majors. While Svitolina won the Rome title, she has never been to the semifinal of a major. She was one of the favorites for the French Open last year after winning the title in Rome, and she was cruising in the quarterfinals in Paris and then she self-destructed - she was a set and 5-1 up against Halep, but ended up losing the third set 6-0. She had a big lead and then disappeared. 

So far, Svitolina has had a great career away from the slams, but her results have not been so great at the majors. But the night is young, as it were, and she has been improving and will keep on getting better. 

Karolina Pliskova - Madrid 2018 - ©Jimmie48/WTA
Karolina Pliskova in Madrid

Looking at the Top 10, I would say that pretty much everybody has the chance to win the French Open. Karolina Pliskova has been playing some great tennis. Petra Kvitova has also been playing some great tennis but clay is the least amenable surface for her game. The Czechs could surprise us in Paris. 

Defending champion Jelena Ostapenko has been a little bit more consistent than the other top players, and it's quite possible that she will repeat. The courts are playing fast enough for her, the bounce is right where she likes it, and she will be fired up. Ostapenko likes the pressure. She's not going to be thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm the defending champion'. She's going to be thinking, 'Yes, I'm the winner here. You're going to have to knock me off'. She's got the right attitude to defend. 

In such a wide open tournament, perhaps someone no one is talking about will come through and win the title. That's what happened last year with Ostapenko. And it could happen again.