The clay court of Roland-Garros is steeped in many vanished illusions. This year again, it is not good to be a member of the top 10 of women’s tennis at Roland-Garros. The top seeds tumble, Porte d’Auteuil, with clockwork regularity.
By losing on Thursday, May 26, to the surprising French Léolia Jeanjean (227th in the world), Karolina Pliskova added her name to the list of players scratched from the Parisian Grand Slam table before the third round.
The former Czech world number one joins her compatriot Barbora Krejcikova – defending champion and world number two – and seeded number 4 (Greek Maria Sakkari), number 5 (Estonian Anett Kontaveit) and number 6 ( Tunisian Ons Jabeur) among the players likely to go far in the tournament. To which are added the winner of the tournament in 2016, Garbine Muguruza, or Naomi Osaka, who has four Grand Slam titles to her credit.
This epidemic of eliminations is not going unnoticed. “I could tell myself that’s good, because the girls are no longer in the picture. But above all, I tell myself that we must be extra careful, because anything can happen, ”weighs the Spaniard Paula Badosa. Herself pushed to her limits by Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan in the second round (victory in three sets), the number three seed (and world number four) observes that “at the moment everyone can lose against anyone. who “.
A question of format?
A phenomenon that is nothing new. “We’ve seen so many turnarounds over the years at this level. You always have to accept that you can’t go far in every tournament,” sighs Maria Sakkari.
“Beyond the surprises, the most surprising thing is that we very regularly find a lack of confirmation [from one tournament to another], explains Arnaud Clément, former French player, now consultant at Prime Video. There are extremely significant differences in level in a girl who will win a Grand Slam, but lose in the first round the next time. You don’t see that in boys. »
In addition to the unbolted defender, Krejcikova, Jelena Ostapenko, winner in 2017 after having overturned everything in her path, before disappearing into the depths of the classification (and being eliminated, Thursday, May 26, by the French Alizé Cornet in the second round), may feel targeted. Like, to a lesser degree, the Briton Emma Raducanu, who has accumulated advertising contracts as much as difficulties on the court since her surprise victory at the US Open in the summer of 2021.
Does the clay court of Roland-Garros have a special content, which would explain this series of surprises? “I don’t think the surface matters,” said Maria Sakkari, semi-finalist in 2021 and eliminated in the second round this year. There are also a lot of upsets of favorites at Wimbledon; I’m not sure it’s unique to Roland-Garros. »
On the other hand, the format of women’s tennis could explain these repeated reversals. “For the men, there were a lot of five-set matches in the early rounds,” observes Paula Badosa. All members of the top 10, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, the German Alexander Zverev, the Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime as well as the rising star of world tennis, the Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, had to fight to cross the first or the second. round.
Among the ladies, who play their matches in two winning sets, ending up with two innings of disbursements, as these favorites have experienced, means a return home. “A five-set match helps them, they have time to react and get back into the game,” Badosa said. With us [women], it’s different, surprises can happen more easily. And there will be many more, because the level is very high. »
“What’s missing is two or three heavyweights”
Maria Sakkari confirms. “Having the opportunity to play matches in five sets would be great for me, because my physical condition is one of my strengths,” said the Greek. But if it did, the tournament would never end. We would have to stay a month in Paris, or they would build fifteen additional courts. »
For her, an evolution of the rules, regularly demanded by former players to “add spice”, is impossible, in this period when everything is done to shorten the meetings.
Still, the WTA circuit (the players’ association that manages the majority of tournaments) suffers from this constant turmoil. “When, each year, a new player wins, then disappears in the first round the following year, for the fans, it’s destabilizing”, anticipated Guy Forget, interviewed before the start of the tournament.
For the former captain of the Blues in the Davis Cup, now a Prime Video consultant, “what is missing today in women’s tennis is two or three top names taking control of tennis”. An oligarchy, on the model of what made the success of the discipline, “with the rivalries Evert-Navratilova, then Graf-Seles and, then, the Belgians [Henin and Clijsters] with the Williams sisters”, lists Forget.
Quadruple winner of the Porte d’Auteuil tournament, Justine Henin does not think otherwise. “At the time I was playing, there were seven or eight of us who could go all the way. From the quarter-finals, even the eighth, we found ourselves between us, and that created emulation, ”notes the Belgian, consultant for France Télévisions.
For her, if the current circuit is “dense and homogeneous and allows very good matches, because the level has progressed”, the lack of consistency harms women’s tennis. “We find ourselves on a circuit made up of girls who see opportunities everywhere, like an Ostapenko, who won Roland-Garros a few years ago. »
With thirty wins in a row – current streak – and serenity in her game, Iga Swiatek seems to have the shoulders to assume this favorite status. Having reached the top of the world rankings thanks to the surprise retirement of Australian Ashleigh Barty at the end of March, at only 25 years old, the Pole, who won the 2020 edition of the Paris tournament, is aiming for a new crown.
“I feel like I’m using my new status to put pressure on my opponents,” the world number one smiled on Thursday after her second round victory. On the boulevard of the broken dreams of her top 10 colleagues, Iga Swiatek walks alone, or almost.