PARIS – Do you have a pick on the women’s side in this French Open?
The oddsmakers have installed Elina Svitolina as the favorite to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.
She’s followed closely by Simona Halep to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.
Tied for third? 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza and … Petra Kvitova.
They’re ahead of former champions Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
American Madison Keys stands at 50-1, after which you can probably draw the line at the possibles.
With reigning champion Jelena Ostapenko already eliminated, with Williams and Sharapova unknown quantities at this stage, and with Halep and Svitolina untested in terms of holding up the big trophy, why not Kvitova to go deep?
And while we’re at it, why not Keys?
The two rolled to the third round on Thursday with fairly routine wins over Lara Arruabarrena and Caroline Dolehide, respectively.
“I don’t think I have any secret. I just worked pretty hard to get ready physically. Not only for the clay. It’s been already from the offseason. But obviously on the clay it’s a little bit different, and I had a great preparation, as well,” Kvitova said. “I wasn’t injured, so I really could go for it. So far it’s really working well.”
A year ago, Kvitova was just returning to play, making her season debut after rehabbing her left hand after that frightening home invasion.
She didn’t expect much. But she had set it as a return goal and, at least, could get in some big-time match play before her favorite grass season.
A year later, she’s feeling very good.
Back in 2012, Kvitova reached the semifinals in Paris, losing to eventual champion Maria Sharapova.
Up and down for Keys
The American had good runs at the Australian Open and Charleston. But there have been some gaps in her resumé.
And off the court, she’s not as settled with her team as she could be.
Keys let day-to-day coach Dieter Kindlmann go a while back, after less than a year. And “super-coach” Lindsay Davenport couldn’t arrive in Paris to fully go through her preparation with her.
As late as Saturday, she was still being helped by USTA head of women’s tennis Ola Malmqvist.
Here are the two “K”s practicing together last Saturday.
“We split up after Madrid, so I did Rome just with fitness trainer and physio, and I had the (USTA) head of women’s tennis, Ola, helping out, because Lindsay couldn’t come until Saturday,” Keys said after her first-round win.
“I’m obviously looking to fill that position, but I didn’t want to rush anything and pick someone just because. I feel like it’s always stable before here, so why not try something different. Who knows? … I enjoy someone who feels confident with what they’re saying. I always enjoy someone who’s very knowledgeable and can relate to me, but is a little more more relaxed and calm. Uptight just makes me more anxious.”
The American’s best effort in Paris was the fourth round, two years ago. But with the title up for grabs, she’s certainly capable.
The tough work begins
Of the two, Keys’s road is arguably a little tougher.
She’s in the top half of the bottom half – the area Ostapenko and Venus Williams vacated in the first round. But she’s not in that section.
All four seeds in her section – No. 4 Svitolina, No. 31 Mihaela Buzarnescu and, next up for Keys, dangerous No. 21 Naomi Osaka – have made it to the third round.
Whomever gets through that section will, at worst, have No. 26 seed Barbora Strycova as a quarterfinal opponent.
Keys has two wins on big occasions – at Indian Wells and at the US Open – over Osaka. But both came on a hard court.
Kvitova, the No. 8 seed, runs into the in-form No. 25 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the third round. And then perhaps US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
She is 2-0 against Konteveit, having beaten her in three tough sets in Madrid earlier this month.
Looming next for the Czech could be No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 14 Daria Kasatkina.