2019 French Open Preview

The women's singles championship at the 2019 French Open is set to be another enthralling and open affair. Simona Halep, last year's champion, has been tipped by former winner Justine Henin to reclaim her trophy and few would bet against that happening given her potential on clay. However, only three women have successfully defended their crown at Roland Garros, so Halep's going to have to make history if she's to win back-to-back titles.

If the Romanian is to join legends of the French Open such as Henin, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles (the only women to win back-to-back titles at Roland Garros), she's at least got one less former champion to worry about. Two-time winner Maria Sharapova, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury all year, recently announced she won't be competing.

One sports writer says the 32-year-old believes she has what it takes to reach the top level again, but even she has to admit, with persistent injuries holding her back, time is against her. You can read more about Sharapova and French Open tennis in Jonah Farrell's article about the injury-blighted star who has never really recovered from the drugs scandal that saw her banned for two years.

Serena Williams has enjoyed celebrity stardom similar to Sharapova over the years and, like her Russian counterpart, has also suffered from 2019 injury worries. While Halep has no reason to fear anyone in the women's draw, Williams' fitness will be key to whether or not she can challenge for the title. This year, she has played in four tournaments and retired hurt in three of them. There is nothing in tennis Williams hasn't already achieved, but as a 23-time Grand Slam-winning superstar, you can't count her out. It's unlikely she'll last two weeks in the Parisian spring heat, but she's not to be countered out.

Kiki Bertens is the likeliest to post Halep the biggest challenge. The Dutch ace is playing the best tennis of her career, putting herself in the women's top five and recently winning in Madrid. Having already reached the French Open's last four in 2016, she's not new to the challenges of Roland Garros' clay courts.

Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, and Naomi Osaka are the other stars of women's tennis who must be considered for the title. Pliskova is good on clay, she proved that with a win in Rome this year, and has improved under Garbine Muguruza's former coach Conchita Martinez. She's hit form at the right time for the French Open.

Kvitova, on the other hand, has had mixed results on clay. Her best run at Roland Garros was in 2012 when she lost in the semifinals. Since then, she's only managed the fourth round in 2015. Like Pliskova, she enters the tournament as one of the game's most in-form players. If she can stay fit, it's that momentum that could carry her far at the annual clay court Grand Slam.

Osaka, the Australian Open champion and world No. 1, will obviously be in the mix, but her performances on clay have not yet impressed enough to suggest she's ready for a deep run in Paris.

The smart money is therefore still on Halep. She's got the backing of a former three-time French Open champion and SportsLine's Gavin Mair says the data shows she's currently the best player on clay. She doesn't have the form of some of her chief rivals (although she has reached two finals this year), has had her own battles with injury, and even left coach Darren Cahill, but Halep's impressive run to the title in 2018 further underlined how impressive she is clay.

The women's draw is far more open than the men's and like all the Grand Slams it is difficult to pick a winner. Some players have form, others experience, but it'll be about who can handle the heat of the Roland Garros atmosphere and the pressure of the matches over two weeks which will determine 2019's champion.

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