One of the joys of tennis: It can (and often does) turn on a dime – for better or for worse.
A year ago, Barbora Krejcikova won all 12 of her matches in Strasbourg and Paris for an astonishing career breakthrough. Now she’s been out for nearly three months with an elbow injury.
And then there is the remarkable case of Iga Swiatek. She crashed into the Top 10 a year ago by taking the title in Rome and, after World No.1 Ashleigh Barty retired in March, Swiatek is working on a 28-match winning streak, the best on the Hologic WTA Tour in nine years.
With the 2019 French Open champion Barty sharpening her golf game in Australia, and with Serena Williams still out of action, there are five former Roland Garros champions in the this year’s draw.
“Any of these players can win the tournament, obviously, because they’ve won it before,” said Martina Navratilova, a two-time French Open winner. “Particularly, Simona Halep seems to be in a good space. But Iga is totally sitting in the driver’s seat. It’s Swiatek against the field.”
Each of the five will be seeded at this year’s Roland Garros draw, and each remains a viable clay-court threat. But each also enters Roland Garros with varying levels of recent success. Here’s a snapshot of the five former champions and their prospects for another deep run this year, courtesy of Navratilova:
Iga Swiatek (2020 champion)
WTA ranking: No.1
2022 season: 37-3 record, 5 titles
Swiatek has won five of her career eight titles – Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome – consecutively and in a span of less than three months. The first three wins came on hard courts, and she’s continued that dominance on clay, winning a total of 28 straight matches. It’s easy to forget that she won’t turn 21 until the last day of this month.
Navratilova’s take: “You can’t be any hotter than she is right now. She’s playing great and she’s healthy – that’s a fantastic combination. She’s fresh and battle-tough at the same time. She looks pretty unbeatable on any surface, particularly the clay now. So we have an overwhelming favorite going into the French, when it was wide open last year. Clearly, the pressure is not bothering her. She’s just embracing that. It’s great to see – when you are the favorite, and you keep on winning.”
Barbora Krejcikova (2021 champion)
WTA ranking: No.2
2022 season: 9-4 record, 0 titles
After reaching the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, she got off to a great start in 2022, reaching the final of the Sydney 500, where she lost to Paula Badosa in a third-set tiebreak. She advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in singles – and won the doubles with Katerina Siniakova. Krejcikova went 2-2 in Dubai and Doha, suffering that elbow injury along the way. The defending French Open champion withdrew a week ago from Strasbourg and her status for Roland Garros is still uncertain.
Navratilova’s take: “She was ranked high at the end of the year, elbow started talking to her – and it hasn’t shut up since. It’s been really frustrating for her. She just wants to play, more than even defending her title.”
Garbiñe Muguruza (2017 champion)
WTA ranking: No.10
2022 season: 7-8 record, 0 titles
Muguruza hasn’t been the same this year since winning the WTA Finals last November. She’s won back-to-back matches only once and withdrew from Miami, Charleston and the Billie Jean King Cup with a left shoulder injury. Consequently, the 28-year-old is the only former champion playing this week – in Rabat, Morocco.
Navratilova’s take: “Sometimes she looks relaxed when she’s playing, but for the most part she doesn’t. [Coach] Conchita [Martinez] has been able to relax her in the past. When Garbiñe won Wimbledon [in 2017], she just walked differently. She had this aura of I belong here and I own this. And now, even when she’s playing offensive, she looks defensive. Obviously, she’s not pleased with how it’s going. After winning the WTA Finals, I thought it was going to spring her.”
Jelena Ostapenko (2017 champion)
WTA ranking: No.13
2022 season: 14-8 record, 1 title
She put together a terrific February, winning the Dubai 500 and reaching the semifinals of the Doha 1000, losing there to Anett Kontaveit. Since then, though, she’s been one-and-done in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome. In April, her ranking rose to No.11, her highest since 2018. Still only 24, she is the youngest active former champ after Swiatek.
Navratilova’s take: “To me, her serve gets in the way – she hasn’t improved it. I know she’s been working on it, but it’s a liability more than a plus. She has to work so much harder on points because she’s not getting any free ones. She’s still streaky and been better this year, so you can’t look past her. She loves that red clay at Roland, which is playing faster, which helps her shots pay off.”
Simona Halep (2018 champion)
WTA ranking: No.19
2022 season: 19-6 record, 1 title
After an injury-filled 2021 season, the 30-year-old Halep has rebounded nicely. She won the Melbourne 250 event, got to the fourth round of the Australian Open and the semifinals of Dubai and Indian Wells. Halep seems energized after bringing on Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ longtime coach, in April.
Navratilova’s take: “She looks happier on the court and is playing some good tennis. She’ll get a shot of confidence playing in Paris because she’s won it before, and clay is her best surface. With Mouratoglou coaching her, she’s getting some fresh looks and, a lot of times, players play better with a new coach because they want to show them what they can do. And they’re getting new information.”