After being delayed by a week due to COVID-19, the French Open Women’s Singles tournament again promises to be a fascinating prospect, with numerous players capable of victory. Dan Weston examines the main contenders for the trophy and the statistics behind the odds.
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French Open: Women’s singles history
We have to go back to 2007 to find a player - Justine Henin - who defended their title in the women’s tournament, and only two players - Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams – have been multiple winners in the last decade. This is rather a different dynamic to the men’s tournament, where Rafael Nadal has won 13 of the last 16 events, but there is the potential for the women’s dynamic to change, courtesy of Iga Swiatek.
French Open 2021 Women’s singles: Who are the favourites?
Last year, Swiatek, who was ranked outside the top 50 prior to the tournament, won 14 straight sets - including thrashing the number one and four seeds - to lift the trophy in what was a shock victory. The Polish player is still only 19 years old, but expectations are markedly different to last year - she’s now chalked up as the 3.560* market favourite to defend her title.
Based on several metrics, Iga Swiatek appears to be the best player in the field by some distance.
Statistically, her tag as tournament favourite makes sense. She has won over 50% of return points on clay in the last 12 months which is a stunning achievement and also leads the service points won charts out of all the major contenders.
Despite this, the tournament is anticipated to be extremely competitive, as illustrated by the sheer number of players (20) priced below 50.00 in the outright market at the time of writing.
Following Swiatek in the outright market and also in single-digit pricing, are Ashleigh Barty (5.520*) and Aryna Sabalenka (9.030*) and these two players also look good on paper, given that they both have combined service/return points won numbers around the 108% mark on clay in the last 12 months. Barty has the minor edge based on this metric, in line with her marginal second-favourite status.
French Open 2021 Women’s singles: Who are the outsiders?
There are a few other players with combined service/return points won numbers in excess of 105% - Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Serena Williams (based on two-year numbers, as her one-year numbers don’t have a big enough sample size) and, perhaps surprisingly, Paula Badosa Gibert.
It is always dangerous to write off Naomi Osaka.
This isn’t quite in line with the market expectations, with Muguruza at 12.030*, Kvitova at 16.040, Williams at 19.550*, and Gibert at even bigger odds of 26.070*. The likes of Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Elina Svitolina are favoured more by the market than Kvitova and Gibert. Kvitova may be slightly underrated after some uninspiring warm-up events, while Muguruza has a risk attached given a thigh injury which saw her withdraw from the MUTUA Madrid Open at the start of the month.
Serena Williams arrives at the event on the back of two defeats in three matches (against Nadia Podoroska and Katerina Siniakova) and that creates question marks about her current level of form. Gibert goes into the event as one of the form players, reaching at least the semi-finals in her three clay tournaments this year, and winning the Serbia Open in Belgrade last week without dropping a set. She will be a player that no big name will want to draw early in the tournament.
Bianca Andreescu (19.550*) is a difficult player to quantify, having only played three clay court matches on the main tour in her entire career. However, her hard court numbers suggest extreme upside and it would be dangerous to write off the Canadian, having already won the US Open in 2019 as a 19-year-old.
Even without top-level clay data so far in her career, it would also be dangerous to write off Naomi Osaka (14.540*), given that the world number two has lost just one hard court match since January 2020. However, warm-up losses to Karolina Muchova and Jessica Pegula don’t inspire confidence and suggests Osaka is unlikely to be one of the favourites for the title.
Other big names who perhaps aren’t the best on clay also include Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin, with the duo still having much to prove in these slower conditions.
You can also check out Dan’s preview of the Men’s Singles tournament at this year’s French Open.