French Open 2018: Why Australia’s women have their best title chance in years

Samantha Stosur was runner-up at the 2010 French Open.

Samantha Stosur was runner-up at the 2010 French Open. Photo: Getty

Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios will clash for the first time in a French Open first-round show-stopper in Paris.

The one-time grand slam doubles partners and Davis Cup teammates will carry contrasting form into Monday’s mouth-watering encounter.

The resurgent Tomic is riding a career-best seven-match clay-court winning streak, while Kyrgios – the tournament’s 21st seed – hasn’t played singles in six weeks due to a chronic elbow injury.

But the two-time grand slam quarter-finalist is growing in confidence in his battered body after winning a doubles title in Lyon with American Jack Sock.

Tomic, meanwhile, battled back from a service break down deep in the first set to beat Portugal’s Goncalo Oliveira 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 on Friday to seal his place in the French Open’s main draw.

The women’s draw

Former French Open semi-finalist Nicole Bradtke believes Aussie women Ashleigh Barty and Sam Stosur can go deep into the second week at Roland Garros.

Barty is sure to be full of confidence for the year’s second grand slam, which gets underway in Paris on Sunday, having this week reached the semi-finals for the first time on clay at the Strasbourg International.

Her main concern will be a troubling back injury, though, which forced her to withdraw from her semi-final.

Speaking on the assumption Barty was fit to play, Bradtke told The New Daily she could be “up there” and was “playing great tennis”.

Seeded 17th in Paris, Barty faces Russia’s world No.80 Natalia Vikhlyantseva in the first round, and if she wins as expected, three-time French Open champion and former world No.1 Serena Williams – who opens her campaign against big-serving Czech Kristýna Plíšková – will likely be waiting.

Should the Barty-Williams clash eventuate, Bradtke reckons the Australian can prevail, given Williams has played just four matches in 2018 (the most recent of those being in March).

“I don’t care who you are or how good you are, being out of the game that long makes it really hard; it takes you a while to get going,” Bradtke says.

Stosur, who made the quarter-finals in Strasbourg, will be looking to continue her good record in the French capital.

A former finalist and three-time semi-finalist at Roland Garros, Stosur meets Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer in the first round.

“When Sam’s on clay she gets a pep in her step; I believe it’s her best surface,” Bradtke explains.

“She has that self-belief, and that’s due to the (slow) pace of the court and the way she plays … her serve’s more effective.”

Joining Barty and Stosur are fellow Australians Daria Gavrilova, Ajla Tomljanović and Isabelle Wallace.

No.24 seed Gavrilova has a tricky first-up assignment against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, Tomljanović meets fourth-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, while wildcard playoff winner Isabelle Wallace will make her French Open debut against Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.

With Williams underdone, Bradtke believes the title is there for the taking.

“In terms of frontrunners, Petra Kvitová has had a great clay court season, Caroline Garcia has had a good run, then there’s Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko,” Bradtke says.

French Open 2018 preview

Serena Williams during a training session ahead of the French Open at Roland Garros. Photo: Getty

Simona Halep is the top seed, and the Romanian will begin her quest for a maiden grand slam title against American Alison Riske.

The men’s draw

Australia will have seven men in action – Kyrgios, Tomic, Jordan Thompson, Alex De Minaur, James Duckworth, John Millman and Matthew Ebden.

Bradtke doesn’t rate the Aussie men’s chances too highly.

“Kyrgios hasn’t been playing very much. I suspect he’s looking forward to getting some match practice then getting onto the grass,” Bradtke says.

Thompson has also drawn a qualifier in the first round, while young gun De Minaur faces a huge test against 16th seed Kyle Edmund.

Duckworth will square off against third seed Marin Čilić, and battle-weary Millman tackles rising star, 24th seed Denis Shapovalov.

With Roger Federer missing his third consecutive French Open, world No.1 Rafael Nadal is again a warm favourite, and the Spaniard is fresh off a tournament win at the Italian Open.

“I would like Alexander Zverev to step up and win one, I think it would be great to see a youngster win it,” says Bradtke.

“We’ve been talking about him for so long; it’s coming to the time now where he’s really got to challenge for a final.

“But I think it’s Rafa’s to lose, he’s just so good on clay.”

Nadal begins his bid for an 11th French Open crown against world number 54, Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov, in the first round.

Australian viewers can watch the French Open on SBS and Foxtel.

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