FILE - In this May 17, 2019, file photo, Marketa Vondrousova, 19, of the Czech Republic, is a player to watch at the 2019 French Open. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
FILE - In this May 17, 2019, file photo, Marketa Vondrousova, 19, of the Czech Republic, is a player to watch at the 2019 French Open. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)|Associated Press

French Open Sunday Women’s Tennis: Abrams has 10 1st round picks including Kerber, Pliskova, Stephens, Muguruza, Svitolina, Bencic and more

Matches start at 5 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

French Open
Stade Roland Garros
Paris, France
Women’s singles first round

Angie Kerber over Anastasia Potapova
Angie Kerber, ranked and seeded 5th here, is a legitimate contender for the title in Paris. She strikes a solid, clean ball, hits big serves, hits big off the ground, and has learned over her career how to compete against the very best in the sport. She’s tall and rangy, and uses everything she has to help her dominate opponents. For sure, matches that she plays on the clay will take more time, more effort, and perhaps more thought, because points are longer, require more shots, and strategy that lasts maybe eight or nine shots rather than three or four. But she’s dialed in and ready, and shouldn’t have much difficulty with Potapova, an 18-year-old Russian who she’s never played, in the first round.

Karolina Pliskova over Madison Brengle
Karolina Pliskova is also a real contender for this title. Like Kerber, she looks more at home on faster courts, which provide better footing and more opportunities to hit winners. But because she’s so tall (6’1”) and has such a big wingspan, she has the ability to reach a lot of balls and track down most with fewer steps than others who don’t share her height or stature. Pliskova has played Brengle twice and hasn’t lost a set in those two encounters, so I think this might appear to be more like a practice match as opposed to a competitive tournament match.

Kristina Mladenovic over Fiona Ferro
Kristina Mladenovic, the 6’ 26-year-old Frenchwoman, is playing good tennis right now, and is coming into her home Grand Slam with the wind behind her and enough confidence to feel comfortable, at least in her opening match. In her first round she has drawn Fiona Ferro, a 22-year-old Belgian who now makes her home in Valbonne, France. Although Ferro has been on the WTA Tour for seven years, she’s not a big name outside of Europe, and has little, if any, following here in the States. Frankly, I’d be surprised if Ferro can stay with Mladenovic, particularly when Kristina starts cracking the ball. I’d be startled if this was close.

Sloane Stephens over Misaki Doi
I find Sloane Stephens to be the biggest enigma on the Women’s Tour. She has all the talent in the world and can and has beaten every big name player. Yet she can sometimes sink to the deepest depths when lacking confidence and playing poorly. She, like Nick Kyrgios, could win any tournament she enters, but could also wave goodbye after her first match. Unlike Nick, though, she always is cheery and happy, and is a true pleasure to be around. For her sake I hope she brings her “A” game to Paris. If not, she’ll have trouble. But either way, she’s better than Doi, a 5’3” 28-year-old from Yokohama, Japan.

Garbine Muguruza over Taylor Townsend
Garbine Muguruza is a former French and Wimbledon champion who, at 25, is two years past her best tennis, but is still a force on the court. She sports an 18-9 record for 2019, which is very good, but also shows that she is not playing every week, by any means. Taylor Townsend is a 23-year-old Chicagoan who hits a clean, hard ball, but has battled her weight since she showed up on the scene at 16, according to the USTA. Her weight is her Achilles heel, and it will end up hurting her here. She tends to fatigue when her matches go long, and her opponents, who oftentimes are not only in shape but are skinny to boot, tend to outlast her crisp shots. If this match goes long, expect that to happen. But I don’t expect this match to go long.

Elina Svitolina over Venus Williams
Elina Svitolina is ranked 9th in the world and is the considerable favorite against the soon-to-be 39-year-old Venus Williams. Williams seems to have lost her biting serve to some kind of shoulder injury, but to her credit she has reverted to an incredible competitor, fighting for every ball and every point, as her ability to collect quick points on her serve has diminished. Venus got to the finals here in 2002, and reached four other quarterfinals in the City of Light, but of all the Grand Slam tournaments, this has been her biggest challenge. The last time she won more than three matches here was way back in 2006, and the game has changed greatly since then. The last time these two played Svitolina, a 24-year-old from the Ukraine, gave up only three games. Expect more of the same now.

Petra Martic over Ons Jabeur
Petra Martic, a 28-year-old Croatian, is having a good year. She’s currently ranked #31, with a 14-7 record, having won the tournament in Chicago 8 months ago, and reached the quarters recently in Madrid where she went out to Sloane Stephens 4 and 3. Ons Jabeur, ranked 56th, is a 24 year old from Tunisia, who sports a 5-8 record in 2019. These two have never played, but based on current form, I like Martic in a fairly easy win.

Belinda Bencic over Jessika Ponchet
Expect Belinda Bencic, currently ranked 15th, to run all over Jessika Ponchet, a 22-year-old favorite son from Angresse, France. Bencic is the real deal, having played on the Tour full time since at least 2014. She seems more comfortable on hard courts, but I doubt that will matter at all in this match. Ponchet needs the experience, and she’ll get it here. The only question from my point of view, is how long these ladies are going to stay out on the court.

Marketa Vondrousova over Yafan Wang
These two played at last year’s Miami Open when Wang took the match 7-6 in the third. Now, Vondrousova is 19-years-old and is much more experienced and a far better player than she was then. She’s ranked 38th in the world, and has wins over some really big names like Bertens, Bouchard, Georges, Yastremska, Sabalenka, and Svitolina. Wang is ranked 56th, and sports a decent 2019 record of 14-9. She should provide competition for the Czech, but Vondrousova has passed Wang by, and the 5’6” lefty should win this.

Svetlana Kuznetsova over Kristina Kucova
It’s nice to have Svetlana Kuznetsova, better known as “Koozy” back on tour at age 33. She’s been playing on the Tour since 2000, so when she had to take time off for injuries, as all players do, she was badly missed. There was a time when Koozy was a real challenger for the big titles, having won Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, and having reached the finals of each of those two another time apiece. But those days are long gone. She’s back and playing because she loves the game and loves to compete, not because she’s a threat to win titles at this point in her career. Here, against Kucova, a 5’4” 29-year-old from Slovakia, Koozy should still be favored. Kucova is ranked only 189th, and even at the ripe old age of 33, Kuznetsova should win and move on.

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