Riding a 28-match unbeaten run into Roland Garros and a winner of her past five tournaments, Iga Swiatek is the undeniable favourite for a second French Open title in three years.
Since the shock retirement of world number one Ashleigh Barty, the 20-year-old Swiatek has swept aside all-comers and transformed herself into the player to beat in women’s tennis.
The Pole hasn’t lost since falling to another former Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai in February. Her winning streak is the longest on the WTA tour since Serena Williams won 34 matches in a row in 2013.
“It’s pretty hard to describe it because all these tournaments that I’ve won seem pretty surreal right now. I feel like just continuing the same things that I did before really was the key to that,” Swiatek said after defending her Rome crown.
She is only the second player to win four WTA 1000 titles in a season.
Swiatek dominated on the hard courts in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, and made a seamless switch to clay — her triumph in Rome came after she skipped Madrid to rest following another victory in Stuttgart.
“Honestly I’m going to do the same way I’ve done here, also at other tournaments,” said Swiatek.
“I’m going to try to do step by step, just think of the next match as I did in these tournaments.
“If I’m going to treat it as any other tournament, I think it’s going to be fine and I’m going to be able to keep it that way.”
Williams, who turns 41 in September, has not played since retiring in the first round at Wimbledon last year, and her long-time coach Patrick Mouratoglou is now working with two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, who won her first major in Paris in 2018.
Unlike the men’s event where Rafael Nadal has won 13 of the past 17 editions, a first-time women’s Grand Slam champion has been crowned in each of the past six French Opens.
Most recently, Barbora Krejcikova emerged as an unlikely victor, the first player to win both the singles and doubles at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000.
However, the Czech world number two faces a race against time to recover from an arm injury that has sidelined her since late February. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, last year’s runner-up, has already pulled out.
Third-ranked Paula Badosa reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros a year ago, while Maria Sakkari was one point away against Krejcikova from becoming the first Greek woman to play in a Grand Slam final.
Aryna Sabalenka is showing signs of finding her best form after struggling to start the year, while 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has soared back into the top 75 following her latest battle with injury.
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the first Arab or African player to capture a WTA 1000 title with her victory in Madrid, has dreams of replicating her 2011 junior triumph on the Parisian clay.
Jabeur, 27, has made three clay finals this season — losing to Belinda Bencic in Charleston and Swiatek in Rome — and arrives at the French Open at a career-high ranking of sixth.
All eyes will be on Naomi Osaka as, injury permitting, as the Japanese star returns to the scene of her dramatic withdrawal following the bitter fall-out from her media boycott.
Osaka subsequently sat out Wimbledon and later revealed her battle with depression and anxiety. The four-time Grand Slam champion made her comeback at the Tokyo Olympics, lighting the Olympic cauldron.
The 24-year-old, the highest-paid female athlete in the world, has never gone beyond the third round at Roland Garros in five previous attempts.
She lost the Miami final to Swiatek in April, but exited in the second round in Madrid before pulling out of Rome with an Achilles problem.