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Wide open French Open: Three talking points in women’s singles

Poland's Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek can become the first back-to-back women’s champion at the French Open in 16 years if she can shake off a worrying injury.

Elsewhere, rivals battle inconsistent form and bruised confidence ahead of the season’s second Grand Slam tournament which gets underway in Paris on Sunday.

AFP Sports looks at three talking points in women’s singles:

World number one Iga Swiatek is already a three-time major winner after capturing the 2020 and 2022 French Opens as well as the 2022 US Open.

Now the 21-year-old Pole attempts to become the first back-to-back women’s champion at Roland Garros since Justine Henin won three on the bounce from 2005-2007.

It is a challenge which has defied some of the greats.

Maria Sharapova was champion in 2012 but then ended runner-up 12 months later.

Serena Williams swept to the title in 2015 before falling short in the 2016 final.

Since Henin’s triple, Francesca Schiavone also joined the near-miss club as her 2010 championship was followed by a runners-up spot the following year.

Before Henin, defending the women’s title appeared a lot more straightforward — Steffi Graf achieved it in 1987 and 1988 and again in 1995 and 1996.

Monica Seles racked up three in a row from 1990-1992. Chris Evert went back-to-back three times — 1974-1975, 1979-1980 and 1985-1986.

Swiatek suffered a thigh injury which forced her to retire from her Italian Open quarter-final against eventual champion Elena Rybakina in Rome last week but said she was “positive” about her chances of playing in Paris.

However, the French Open rarely reads the room. Swiatek’s 2020 title defense ended a year later in the quarter-finals.

Her successor as champion Barbora Krejcikova lost in the first round when she returned in 2022.

As part of its deal with Amazon Prime Video, the French Open introduced night sessions for the first time in 2021.

Six of the first seven sessions that year featured men’s singles, leading to former women’s world number one Victoria Azarenka to highlight the obvious imbalance.

“It’s just honestly a bit frustrating every time you’re trying to deal with the organization here, it’s becoming ‘pas possible (not possible)’. Everything you hear is ‘pas possible’.”

In 2022, only one of 10 night sessions featured a women’s singles clash.

Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, then compounded the controversy by suggesting men’s matches have “more attraction”.

She later apologized, insisting her comments had been taken out of context.

Despite her injury worry, Swiatek remains favorite to defend her Roland Garros title having won the Stuttgart clay tournament last month before finishing runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka on the faster, higher-altitude clay of Madrid.

World number two Sabalenka won her maiden Grand Slam title in Australia in January but on clay the big-hitting Belarusian remains a work in progress.

She has never got beyond the third round in Paris despite making at least the semi-finals at all of the other three majors.

Furthermore, her title win in Madrid this spring was followed by a first-up exit at the hands of 134th-ranked Sofia Kenin in Rome.

Kenin, a former Australian Open champion and runner-up in Paris in 2020, in turn lost in the opening round of qualifying for the French Open on Monday, knocked out by French world number 278 Margaux Rouvroy.

Amongst the remainder of the top 10, Coco Gauff was runner-up last year while Maria Sakkari, Daria Kasatkina and Petra Kvitova have all made the semi-finals.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina arrives in Paris having won the Italian Open although three of her six opponents in the Rome draw retired with injury.

The Russian-born Kazakh has yet to get past the last eight at Roland Garros.

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