Serena, Sloane, someone else? Who is going to rule the WTA this clay season?


Like spring itself, the clay-court season evolves slowly, beginning with near-wintry circumstances. It’ll peak with flowers in full bloom below heat and sunny skies in Paris on the French Open. Proper now, a number of questions are sprouting about what the WTA has in retailer in the course of the clay section.

Listed here are 5 of probably the most intriguing:

1. Will the WTA free-for-all proceed?

This 12 months’s Australian Open appeared to revive the order that had crumbled after Serena Williams left the tour as an expectant mom in February of 2017. The celebs dominated in Melbourne, because the singles last featured the 2 high seeds. However after the primary Grand Slam, the volatility of 2017 crept again into the sport, peaking on the finish of the hard-court season as Lesya Tsurenko received Acapulco, Naomi Osaka took the massive title at Indian Wells and Sloane Stephens burst out of a hunch to win the Miami Open.

Whereas some promising new gamers are rising — Osaka, Daria Kasatkina, Danielle Collins and CiCi Bellis amongst them — the established names are prone to take management. Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber all appear to be rounding again into type, and all of them are Grand Slam singles champions. We may even see a shock finalist right here, a newcomer within the semis there. However clay requires persistence, consistency, and expertise — the qualities of confirmed champions.

2. Will the Williams sisters be an element?

This query invokes each sisters as a result of at this level we do not even know the place and when new mom Serena will play once more. However you possibly can’t ever depend her out when she decides to compete, so we’ll depart the query hanging.

As for Venus, she most likely will face a wrestle to go away a major mark on the Euroclay. She’s a tepid 7-Four this 12 months on all surfaces, with no finals. On clay, Venus hasn’t been in a singles last for the reason that Madrid Open in 2010. She was the No. Three seed then however was upset within the title match by France’s No. 24 Aravane Rezai.

Now 37, Venus has been in a single French Open last, however it was a mind-boggling 16 years in the past. She hasn’t been so far as the quarterfinals since 2006. She’s additionally been slicing again her already restricted schedule, leaving herself little time to groove her clay recreation or play her manner into rivalry at massive occasions. Venus had a exceptional 12 months in 2017, but when she’s going to recapture the shape that lifted her as excessive as No. 5 final fall, she’s going to probably do it in the course of the summer time grass and hard-court segments.

Three. Will Simona Halep lastly shut the deal in Paris?

The diminutive, indefatigable Romanian has suffered some crushing defeats at massive moments, however none as dispiriting as her 2017 French Open loss to Grand Slam finals rookie Jelena Ostapenko. Halep has loads of motivation and expertise, having misplaced a really shut last in the identical stadium in 2014 to Maria Sharapova. But Halep could not maintain her lead of a set and a break towards her 18-year-old opponent final June.

Halep went on to have an incredible 12 months, ending No. 1. No person faulted her for dropping this 12 months’s Australian Open last to fellow WTA Grand Slam bridesmaid Caroline Wozniacki. Bodily, Halep was a wreck, however she nonetheless managed to play a superb match. Whereas she’s received only one minor title thus far this 12 months, Halep has compiled an impressive 19-Three document, ok to maintain her No. 1 — and to whet her urge for food for extra. She’s positioned to have a superb clay season, so long as the oft-injured 26-year-old stays wholesome.

Four. Who’s prone to be probably the most nice shock on clay?

Out with harm all of final spring, Stephens stated in Miami that she sorely missed the clay season of 2017. “I’m really looking forward to it [this year] ,” she stated. “I’m super excited to get back out there. Red clay is my favorite.”

Sloane Stephens appears to be turning right into a participant who comes up massive at crucial moments. She’s a Grand Slam champion now. Her cat-and-mouse ways, intelligent counter-punching and wonderful really feel for the ball are instruments which have carried her to the fourth spherical at Roland Garros twice previously. A gradual weight loss plan of purple clay will do wonders for her health and confidence.

Additionally maintain your eyes on Elina Svitolina, who’s ranked No. Four however flying below the radar so far as hype and expectations go. Simply 23, she’s a 12 months youthful than former French Open and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. Whereas Svitolina hasn’t received the massive one, she has an impregnable baseline recreation, retains enhancing slowly and has been tremendous constant. She may put collectively an incredible run on clay.

5. Will Ostapenko efficiently defend her French Open title?

Only a few first-time Grand Slam champions efficiently defended these titles. Azarenka did it with back-to-back wins in Australian in 2012-13, however she’s the outlier. So the percentages are stacked towards Ostapenko, who’s simply 20 years previous and nonetheless adjusting to her newfound standing — and the pressures and distractions it brings.

However Ostapenko hasn’t performed badly. Her rating was No. 47 on the time she received the French Open and was No. 7 by the tip of the 12 months. Now, she’s as much as No 5. Ostapenko hasn’t misplaced a first-round match for the reason that first week of the 12 months, at Sydney. Extra promising, she made the ultimate on the Miami Open. She’s such a daring and highly effective ball-striker that if she’s match she may dominate on clay, maybe even emulate Azarenka with a profitable protection of her first main title.

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