PARIS, France - The draw for the 2019 French Open is out and top seed and World No.1 Naomi Osaka sees herself drawn in the same half as 23-time major champion Serena Williams, defending champion Simona Halep, and the current leader in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, Petra Kvitova.
That's a tough path to major No.3 for the 21-year-old champion.
For the full draw, which features a first-round matches between 2018 WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina and Venus Williams, and 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko and former No.1 Victoria Azarenka, click here.
Top eight seeds: No.1 Naomi Osaka, No.2 Karolina Pliskova, No.3 Simona Halep, No.4 Kiki Bertens, No.5 Angelique Kerber, No.6 Petra Kvitova, No.7 Sloane Stephens, No.8 Ashleigh Barty
Top Half: Osaka, Halep, Kvitova, Barty
Bottom Half: Pliskova, Bertens, Kerber, Stephens
Projected Round of 16: Naomi Osaka vs. Madison Keys, Serena Williams vs. Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep vs. Wang Qiang, Aryna Sabalenka vs. Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens vs. Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic vs. Kiki Bertens, Angelique Kerber vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Karolina Pliskova.
Last year: Simona Halep d. Sloane Stephens, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Simona Halep's title defense is on.
The defending champion has been drawn into the top half of the draw, in a quarter anchored alongside No.6 Petra Kvitova. The majority of the seeds in this Halep-Kvitova section have been struggling this season - Daria Kasatkina, Wang Qiang, Mihaela Buzarnescu, Aryna Sabalenka, and Lesia Tsurenko were drawn into this section - which makes a blockbuster Halep-Kvitova quarterfinal a real possibility. Halep leads that head-to-head 3-1, but the two have not played since 2016.
Halep's clay season was solid. She earned two good wins at Fed Cup, including a three-set thriller against Karolina Pliskova, and made the Madrid final before losing to a red-hot Kiki Bertens. In Rome she was upended once again by 19-year-old Czech phenom Marketa Vondrousova. Halep comes into the tournament with no titles on the year but in fine form and, most importantly, healthy.
The same can be said about Kvitova, who is one of four players in the draw who have a chance to unseat Osaka at No.1 if they can make the final or, in Kvitova's case, win the title. It's a tough ask for Kvitova, who has yet to make it past the semifinals in Paris, but her strong run to her first non-grass major final in January in Melbourne should bolster her confidence.
Kvitova opens against Sorana Cirstea and could see a Round of 16 meeting with Anett Kontaveit, a rematch of the Stuttgart final.
Naomi Osaka's tough road to the triple.
In January, Osaka became the first woman since Jennifer Capriati to win her first two Slam titles back-to-back, winning the Australian Open just months after becoming a maiden champion at the US Open. In Paris she'll look to do what no one has done before: win her first three majors back-to-back-to-back. And her road to a third title may be the toughest one yet.
Playing as the top seed at a major for the first time in her career, Osaka's quarter is a minefield. She opens against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the first round and then could play either a resurgent Victoria Azarenka or 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Looming in the third round is one of the hottest players on tour right now in Greece's Maria Sakkari. Having won her first WTA title in Rabat, Sakkari has gone 14-4 on clay this season, including a run to the semifinals of Rome last week. The pair have split their two meetings, both of which came last season. Osaka has never made it past the third round in Paris.
Make it to her first second week and Osaka could face Charleston champion Madison Keys, who was a semifinalist here last year, or Caroline Garcia, who is into the semifinals of Strasbourg this week. Then comes more heavy lifting, with Serena Williams or Ashleigh Barty possibly waiting in the quarterfinals, before defending champion Simona Halep or Stuttgart champion Petra Kvitova could be waiting in the semifinals.
It's a long way to go, but on paper the World No.1 came out as the draw loser.
Serena Williams quest for No.24 may go through the Sunshine Double.
Seeded 10th in Paris, the three-time champion comes into Paris under a cloud of injury concern. Since losing to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of her first tournament of the year at the Australian Open, Serena has been unable to finish the three tournaments she has entered since. She retired to Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round of Indian Wells, withdrew after winning a round in Miami, and withdrew after winning a round in Rome last week due to a knee injury.
How Serena fares in Paris will depend on her fitness. As is often said, only Serena can stop herself. But we have seen Serena time and time again leverage the Slam format in her favor. With a day off between matches, the American could play herself into form if she can recover between days.
Serena opens against Vitalia Diatchenko and could face Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu, who has not played a match since Miami due to shoulder injury. Waiting in the Round of 16 could be a much-improved Barty on clay, with a US Open final rematch against Osaka potentially in the cards in the quarterfinals.
Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens anchor a balanced third quarter.
While the third quarter is set for some early first week fireworks, No.4 Bertens and No.7 Stephens are in good position to avoid most of it. The headline first round match coming out of the draw is between No.9 Elina Svitolina and Venus Williams. The winner of that match could face 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round, the winner to then potentially face Stephens.
No.4 Bertens, who has a shot at finishing the tournament No.1, has more heavy lifting to do. She could see a rematch with the last woman to beat her, Johanna Konta, in the third round, with either Madrid semifinalist Belinda Bencic or always dangerous Donna Vekic waiting in the Round of 16. Get through that field and she could see a rematch with Stephens, whom she beat en route to the Madrid title.
Karolina Pliskova must be dialed in for Week 1.
In an interesting twist, Pliskova's first week could be tricker than her second week. The Rome champion is full of confidence on her weakest surface, but as she said on the WTA Insider Podcast last week, the key is getting through the unpredictable, pressure-packed first week.
Pliskova could face an early test against 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round, with Istanbul champion Petra Martic or a resurgent Kristina Mladenovic waiting in the third round. Mladenovic is coming off a fantastic week in Rome, where as a qualifier, she defeated Garcia, Bencic, and Barty to make the quarterfinals. Navigate through those first three rounds and Pliskova is projected to face Caroline Wozniacki, who has been forced to retire from her last two tournaments due to injury.
The other section of Pliskova's quarter that will produce a quarterfinalist has more than a few question marks. That section is anchored by No.5 Angelique Kerber, who won two matches over the clay season and was forced to withdraw from Rome due to ankle injury, No.12 Anastasija Sevastova, No.20 Elise Mertens, and No.28 Carla Suárez Navarro.
While Bertens or Stephens would offer a sturdy challenge in the quarterfinals, this is a workable draw for Pliskova.
Bracket-busting dark horses to watch: Maria Sakkari, Kristina Mladenovic, and Johanna Konta come into Paris in form and full of confidence, with chances to pull off first week upsets of Osaka, Pliskova, and Bertens, respectively.... Many eyes are on 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who has not played since Miami but has a game that is built to succeed on clay and could face Serena in the third round.... 19-year-old Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova has not lost before the quarterfinals of any tournament since the Australian Open and could face Angelique Kerber in the second round... Former No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza is always dangerous when she's flying under the radar.... Keep an eye on 17-year-old Iga Swiatek and the masterful Czech Karolina Muchova, who could wreak havok in the top quarter.
Notable first-round matches: Ostapenko vs. Azarenka, Petkovic vs. Riske, Halep vs. Tomljanovic, Bouchard vs. Tsurenko, Sabalenka vs. Cibulkova, Kontaveit vs. Muchova, Strycova vs. Stosur, Kvitova vs. Cirstea, Muguruza vs. Townsend, Venus vs. Svitolina, Vekic vs. Boulter, Kuzmova vs. Cornet, Kerber vs. Potapova, Wang Yafan vs,. Vondrousova, Yastremeska vs. Suárez Navarro, Goerges vs. Kanepi, Martic vs. Jabeur.
Main draw play begins Sunday, May 26th.