French Open 2017

Road clear for first slam

Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina is the dark horse this French Open after an excellent season in winning four titles and will prove a tough opponent for title contender Simona Halep.
Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina is the dark horse this French Open after an excellent season in winning four titles and will prove a tough opponent for title contender Simona Halep.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pliskova and Halep fancied to break duck but boisterous crowd will cheer Garcia wildly

PARIS • With a new French Open women's champion guaranteed to be crowned on Saturday, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova know they have a golden opportunity to make history.

The two highest seeds left in the draw can take another step towards becoming the 46th different women to lift a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era when they feature in the quarter-finals today.

Second seed Pliskova takes on home favourite Caroline Garcia while third seed Halep faces Elina Svitolina.

None of the women quarter-finalists have won a title at any Major tournament, but Halep reached the final here in 2014.

With 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams absent from the tournament as she expects her first child, Halep arrived in Paris billed as a leading title contender.

The Romanian has not disappointed through four rounds. She is yet to surrender a set, shaking off an ankle injury that cast serious doubt on her participation in Paris.

After crashing out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle, her form steadily improved and she won on clay in Madrid before finishing runner-up to Svitolina in Rome.

A GREAT CHANCE

I think everyone knows who remains in the draw. Yeah, everyone is trying their best to get the title, because it's a big opportunity.

ELINA SVITOLINA, on the wide-open draw with world No. 2 Serena Williams' absence and top-ranked Angelique Kerber's early loss.

"I need to play again, because I lost that final in Rome with the injury," the 25-year-old said. "I was not happy about that. Now I have another chance, another challenge."

Halep won their only other career meeting in Sofia in 2013.

Svitolina, however, has been tipped as a dark horse this fortnight. The Ukrainian leads the women's game with 35 wins this season, lifting an impressive four titles - her other triumphs coming at Taipei City, Dubai and Istanbul.

The 22-year-old has matched her best run at a Grand Slam after making the last eight at the French Open for the second time in three years.

She needed to rally from 2-5 down in the final set to overcome world No. 290 Petra Martic in the fourth round after taking a medical time-out at the end of the second set for a back injury.

"I think everyone knows who remains in the draw," Svitolina said. "Yeah, everyone is trying their best to get the title, because it's a big opportunity."

World No. 1 Angelique Kerber was stunned by Ekaterina Makarova in the opening round, presenting Pliskova to chance to claim the top ranking if she reaches the final.

But the Czech will not look beyond the last eight, particularly as she expects a partisan crowd to get behind France's world No. 27 Garcia, winner of two career titles on clay.

Their head-to-head record stands at 2-2, with Garcia winning the pair's only previous meeting on clay in Madrid two years ago.

"The crowd is definitely going to be tough," said Pliskova, last year's US Open runner-up who never advanced past the second round in five previous appearances at Roland Garros.

"I'm expecting it will be huge and terrible."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

FRENCH OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Road clear for first slam'. Print Edition | Subscribe