One of the joys of tennis: it can (and often does) go around in circles – for better or for worse.
A year ago, Barbora Krejcikova won all 12 of her matches in Strasbourg and Paris for a stunning breakthrough in her career. Now she has been out for almost 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 winning the title in Rome and, following the retirement of world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in March, Swiatek is working on a tour-best 28-game winning streak. Hologic WTA in nine years.
With 2019 French Open champion Barty honing her golf game in Australia, and with Serena Williams still out of action, there are five former Roland Garros champions in this year’s draw.
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“Any of these players can win the tournament, obviously, because they’ve won it before,” said two-time Roland-Garros winner Martina Navratilova. “In particular, Simona Halep seems to be in a good space. But Iga is totally seated in the driver’s seat. It’s Swiatek against the pitch.
Each of the five will be seeded in the Roland Garros draw this year, and each remains a viable threat on clay. But everyone also enters Roland Garros with more or less recent success. Here’s a look at the five former champions and their prospects for another deep run this year, courtesy of Navratilova:
Iga Swiatek (champion 2020)
WTA ranking: #1
season 2022: 37-3 record, 5 titles
Swiatek has won five of his eight career titles – Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome – consecutively and in less than three months. The first three wins came on hard courts, and she 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 point of view: “You can’t be sexier than her right now. She’s playing very well and she’s healthy – it’s a fantastic combination. It is fresh and resistant at the same time. She looks pretty unbeatable on any surface, especially clay now. So we have an overwhelming favorite for the French, as they were wide open last year. Obviously, the pressure doesn’t bother her. She just kisses it. It’s great to see – when you’re the favorite and you keep winning.
Barbora Krejcikova (champion 2021)
WTA ranking: #2
season 2022: record 9-4, 0 titles
After reaching the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, she got off to a great start in 2022, reaching the Sydney 500 final, where she lost to Paula Badosa in a third-set tiebreaker. She qualified for the Australian Open quarter-finals 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 reigning French Open champion withdrew a week ago from Strasbourg and her status at Roland Garros is still uncertain.
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Navratilova’s point of view: “She was well ranked at the end of the year, the elbow started talking to her – and it hasn’t gone away since. It’s really frustrating for her. She just wants to play, more than defend her title.
Garbine Muguruza (champion 2017)
WTA ranking: No. 10
season 2022: recording 7-7, 0 tracks
Muguruza hasn’t been the same this year since winning the WTA Finals last November. She won consecutive matches only once and withdrew from Miami, Charleston and the Billie Jean King Cup due to a left shoulder injury. Therefore, the 28-year-old is the only former champion to play this week – in Rabat, Morocco.
Navratilova’s point of view: “Sometimes she looks relaxed when she plays, but most of the time she doesn’t. [Coach] Conchita [Martinez] was 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 plays offensively, she looks defensive. Obviously, she’s not happy with how it’s going. After winning the WTA Finals, I thought this was going to make her gush.
Jelena Ostapenko (champion 2017)
WTA ranking: No. 13
season 2022: record 14-8, 1 title
She had a terrific February, winning the Dubai 500 and reaching the semi-finals of the Doha 1000, losing there to Anett Kontaveit. Since then, however, she has been unique to Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome. In April, her ranking rose to 11th place, her highest since 2018. At only 24 years old, she is the youngest active former champion after Swiatek.
Navratilova’s point of view: “For me, her serve is embarrassing – she hasn’t improved it. I know she’s working on it, but it’s more of a handicap than a plus. She has to work so much harder on points because she’s not getting free ones. She’s still streaky and has been better this year so you can’t look behind her. She loves that red clay at Roland, which plays faster, which helps her shots pay off.
Simona Halep (champion 2018)
WTA ranking: No. 19
season 2022: 19-6 record, 1 title
After an injury-filled 2021 season, 30-year-old Halep has bounced back nicely. She won the Melbourne 250 event, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and the semi-finals in Dubai and Indian Wells. Halep looks full of energy after signing Serena Williams’ longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou in April.
Navratilova’s point of view: “She looks happier on the court and plays good tennis. She will have a dose of confidence playing in Paris because she has already won it and clay is her best surface. With Mouratoglou coaching her, she gets a makeover and often players play better under a new coach because they want to show them what they can do. And they get new information.