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 horological regularity.
By bowing, Thursday, May 26, against the surprising French Léolia Jeanjean (227e world), Karolina Pliskova has added her name to the list of players scratched from the table of the Parisian Grand Slam 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 in particular 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 it’s good, because the girls are no longer in the picture. But I tell myself above all that we must be extra careful, because anything can happen., weighs the Spaniard Paula Badosa. Herself pushed to her limits by the Slovenian Kaja Juvan in the second round (victory in three sets), the seeded number three (and number four in the world) observes that“Right now anyone can lose against anyone”.
A question of format?
A phenomenon that is nothing new. “We have 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 [d’un tournoi à l’autre], exposes 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 mattersbelieves 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 specific to Roland-Garros. »
On the other hand, the format of women’s tennis could explain these repeated reversals. “For men, there were a lot of matches in five sets in the first 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 gameJudge Badosa. With us [les femmes], it’s different, surprises can happen more easily. And there will be many more, because the level is very high. »
“What is missing is two or three leaders”
Maria Sakkari confirms. “Having the ability to play matches in five sets would be great for me, because my physical condition is one of my strengths.assures the Greek. But if it did, the tournament would never end. We would have to stay a month in Paris, or they would have to build fifteen additional courts. »
For her, an evolution of the rules, regularly requested by former players to “add pepper”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 is 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 et Clijsters] with the Williams sisters”lists Forget.
Quadruple winner of the Porte d’Auteuil tournament, Justine Henin does not think otherwise. “When 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 among ourselves, 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 the Australian Ashleigh Barty, at the end of March, at only 25 years old, the Pole, who won the 2020 edition of the Parisian tournament, is aiming for a new crown.
“I feel like I’m using my new status to put pressure on my opponents”, smiled the world number one on Thursday after her second round victory. On the boulevard of the shattered dreams of her colleagues in the top 10, Iga Swiatek walks alone, or almost.