Not surprisingly, defending champion Iga Swiatek, the No.8 seed, occupies the last spot in the first half of the French Open draw. But what is surprising is her Polish compatriot, Magda Linette, who is perched atop the draw after the retirement of World No.1 Ashleigh Barty.
Here’s a look at what’s in store for them and the eight third-round matches Saturday at Roland Garros.
No.25 Ons Jabeur vs. Magda Linette
Linette, ranked No.45, was leading 6-1, 2-2 when Barty stopped playing because of a hip injury. Now 6-6 in 2021, Linette came into the French Open after winning three matches a week ago in the Internationaux De Strasbourg.
She hasn’t lost a set through two matches, and neither has her opponent, Jabeur. She comes into this match off a 6-2, 6-4 win over Astra Sharma, avenging a loss earlier this year in Charleston.
“I wish Barty a good recovery,” Jabeur told reporters afterward. “I know she has been playing a lot of matches. I honestly wanted to play her, but Magda is a great player. I’m going to play my game, and I will try to get the win.
Linette took a 2013 contest in Baku, while Jabeur prevailed four years ago in Charleston.
No.24 Coco Gauff vs. No.13 Jennifer Brady
Now here’s an intriguing matchup between two of America's best young talents.
Brady played in the Australian Open final, while Gauff, 17, is coming off a semifinal appearance in Rome and singles and doubles titles in Parma, Italy.
To get here, Gauff defeated Wang Qiang 6-3, 7-6 (1) and Brady bested Fiona Ferro of France 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Gauff played doubles Venus Williams, but they lost a taut first-round match. Still, Gauff’s doubles work is in evidence when she snaps off those reflex volleys in singles, as she did against Wang.
“If I could play mixed doubles too, I would, but that’s probably a bit much,” Gauff said after her first-round match. “For me, you know, I feel like doubles gets out all the nervous. Hitting extra balls is what I need. I’m happy. I play tomorrow so I’m happy.”
Brady will need to find a way to counteract all that teenage energy. History, in this case, is her friend; Brady beat Gauff 6-2, 6-2 last August in the Lexington semifinal.
No.18 Karolina Muchova vs. Sloane Stephens
All Muchova has done this season is win 13 of 16 matches – and reach the semifinals of the season’s first Grand Slam and the quarterfinals in Madrid.
In Spain the 24-year-old from the Czech Republic defeated Naomi Osaka and Maria Sakkari in back-to-back matches. In Melbourne, it was wins over Barty and Karolina Pliskova.
Muchova defeated Varvara Lepchenko 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round, surpassing her previous best effort at Roland Garros, the second round in 2019.
Stephens, meanwhile, handled No.9 Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-1 and has won five of her past six matches on clay.
They’ve never played.
No.5 Elina Svitolina vs. Barbora Krejcikova
While the world’s top three-ranked players are not among the 32 remaining, Svitolina – a marvel of consistency – is.
She’s 21-9 for 2021 and coming off the quarterfinals in Rome, where she beat Garbiñe Muguruza in the Round of 16. She also made the semifinals in Stuttgart, dispatching former Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova, before falling to Barty.
“I think I’m extremely motivated when it comes to the clay courts,” Svitolina said after breezing past Ann Li 6-0, 6-4. “I really love to play in all the tournaments actually in Europe. I had great results, and yeah, it just really keeps me motivated to do well.”
Krejcikova defeated No.32 Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-3 and will offer a substantial challenge. The Czech has won 9 of her last 10 matches, including a maiden title in Strasbourg last week. Her only loss through that stretch: a three-set defeat to eventual champion Swiatek in the Rome Round of 16. Krejcikova had match points in that one.
No.4 Sofia Kenin vs. No.28 Jessica Pegula
After winning last year’s Australian Open and reaching the final at Roland Garros in the fall, Kenin has struggled in 2021.
After beating fellow Grand Slam champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, in a tough three-setter, Kenin said she is embracing the “one-match-at-a-time” approach.
“I’m not looking into what’s going to happen later,” she told reporters. “For me it was baby steps to get through Round 1, since obviously it’s never easy getting through to the first round during a Grand Slam.
“Yeah, I’ll take one match at a time. That’s what I did last year and in Australia. I’ll just keep it like that.”
In the second round, Kenin got past American qualifier Hailey Baptiste 7-5, 6-3, while Pegula was a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Tereza Martincova.
Kenin erased a 0-2 career deficit earlier this year with a three-set win over Pegula in Melbourne at the Yarra Valley Classic.
Head-to-head: 2-1, Pegula.
No.14 Elise Mertens vs. No.17 Maria Sakkari
“She’s one of my oldest friends on the tour,” Sakkari said of Mertens. “We’ve known each other since a very young age. We’ve played each other a lot of times, especially on the ITF Tour.”
Sakkari remembers a U-12 tournament in Belgium – and a time when the two were on the court in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.
“Either we played both weeks against each other or one of these two, but we were practicing,” Sakkari said, “and we were both there with our moms and we were hanging out a little bit. It’s nice to have nice memories with players from a long time ago.”
To get here, Mertens beat Zarina Diyas 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Sakkari had an easier time with Jasmine Paolini, 6-2, 6-3.
“She’s a great player, especially on clay,” Mertens said of Sakkari. “Playing more aggressive, I think, during the years. It’s definitely going to be a difficult match.”
They’ve split their two most recent matches, in 2019.
Head-to-head: 4-3, Mertens.
Marta Kostyuk vs. Varvara Gracheva
This is one of three third-round matches between two unseeded players.
Kostyuk, an 18-year-old from Ukraine, began the year ranked No.99, but – thanks to semifinal appearances in Abu Dhabi and Istanbul – has pulled herself up to No.81. She’s put together a 19-7 record for 2021 and has yet to drop a set at Roland Garros.
This, after a bout with Covid-19.
“More recovered from Covid, so it’s easier for me to recover to play,” Kostyuk told reporters after defeating Zheng Saisai 6-3, 6-4. “I believe I’m in a really good shape now, but there are still some things that are bothering me. I believe I just need to play more matches and become more and more fit.
“I don’t think this is my ceiling, like I cannot go higher than this.”
Gracheva, a 20-year-old Russian ranked No.88, outlasted Camila Giorgi 7-5, 1-6, 6-2.
Kostyuk broke a 1-1 career head-to-head with a 6-2, 6-2 win last year in Cairo.
Head-to-head: 2-1, Kostyuk.
No.8 Iga Swiatek vs. No.30 Anett Kontaveit
Make no mistake, Swiatek is finding her groove.
The newly-minted 20-year-old, only eight months removed from that breakthrough in Paris, needed only 61 minutes to defeat Rebecca Peterson by the oddly appropriate score of 6-1, 6-1. It was her eighth straight win on red clay, following her recent triumph in Rome.
Kontaveit, meanwhile, defeated Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-0. The 25-year-old from Estonia has won both previous matches – 2019 in Cincinnati and the 2020 Australian Open – but both matches were on hard courts.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Kontaveit.