French Open 2017: 'Land of opportunity' for new women's champion in Paris

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Elina Svitolina
Could this be Elina Svitolina's year at Roland Garros?
French Open
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 28 May- 11 June
Coverage: Listen to live radio commentary and follow text coverage of selected matches on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and online.

This year's French Open is a "land of opportunity" with no Grand Slam champions left among the women's draw, says Lindsay Davenport.

For the first time since 1977, the quarter-final line-up in Paris is devoid of any player to have won a major title.

Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Wozniacki are the only players to have reached a Grand Slam final.

"It is wide open," said Davenport, a three-time major winner.

The women's draw is missing 30 Grand Slam titles with the absence of Serena Williams, awaiting the birth of her first child, Victoria Azarenka, who returns at Wimbledon following the birth of her son, and Maria Sharapova, who did not get a wildcard after her doping ban.

The likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sam Stosur have fallen by the wayside just as people were talking up their chances in the first week.

Women's quarter-finals (seeding in brackets)
Jelena Ostapenko (Lat, unseeded) v Caroline Wozniacki (Den, 11)Elina Svitolina (Ukr, 5) v Simona Halep (Rom, 3)
Kristina Mladenovic (Fra, 13) v Timea Bacsinszky (Swi, 30)Caroline Garcia (Fra, 28) v Karolina Pliskova (Cze, 2)

Heading into the quarter-finals, which get under way on Tuesday, are just three top-10 players in second seed Pliskova, third seed Halep and fifth seed Elina Svitolina.

"From two through 18 [in the rankings] it seems like there's not that big a difference," added former world number one Davenport.

"It's a land of opportunity and we'll see who holds up under that pressure.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we had a different Grand Slam champion at Wimbledon and maybe even the US Open."

Halep carries weight of expectation

Romania's Halep began the tournament as favourite and remains so, having come through the draw without dropping a set.

Simona Halep
Simona Halep lost in three sets to Maria Sharapova in the 2014 French Open final

Seeded third, a former finalist and with a stack of clay-court wins behind her this year, it would seem set up for her to finally land a Slam.

However, the 25-year-old suffered a pre-tournament scare with an ankle injury and questions remain around whether she can grab this chance.

"Three years ago it was like, 'she will win a major,'" said Davenport.

"She looked so good here, that brutal final against Maria Sharapova, such high quality.

"It seems like sometimes it got to her, the pressure and the opportunities."

'It's so hard to pick a winner'

Of the remaining seven contenders, Ukraine's Svitolina has the form, Timea Bacsinszky the recent Paris pedigree, Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia the home support.

Wozniacki might feel it's finally her time after missing out for so long, while Jelena Ostapenko is free of pressure at just 19, and Pliskova has surprised herself by lasting so long.

"I don't really feel like I am favourite on the clay," said the Czech, 25.

"Every match for me is tough."

It is little wonder that choosing a champion has had experts and spectators alike shaking their heads in bemusement.

"It's so hard to pick," said Davenport. "With opportunity comes pressure - who's going to hold up the best?"

French backing for feuding pair

There is growing excitement at the prospect of a first home winner since Mary Pierce in 2000 with the presence of both Mladenovic and Garcia in the last eight.

Mladenovic, 24, has captured headlines during the year with her form and outspoken nature - she boldly criticised Sharapova's wildcard in Stuttgart and then beat the Russian in the semi-finals.

She has also been blunt in her discussion of Garcia, until last year her doubles partner.

"Now there's no more drama. She's doing her thing, I'm doing my thing, and that's it," Mladenovic told Sport360. external-link

"I didn't see her, we're not speaking that much and we are all just sticking to our routines and jobs."

Another chance for Wozniacki

Bacsinszky might not be the highest-profile Swiss tennis player but she is becoming a force on the Paris clay, reaching the last eight for the third time in a row.

The 27-year-old almost quit tennis under the pressure of a "control freak" father.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki was world number one for 67 weeks but has never won a Grand Slam

"You can see on the court she loves to play, enjoys the creativity of the game. She has a lot of fans in the locker room too," said Davenport.

Perhaps the only player who could match Bacsinszky in terms of storyline would be Wozniacki.

The 26-year-old Dane ended the year as world number one in 2010 and 2011 and has reached two US Open finals without winning a major title.

"She's playing great, doesn't love clay but she's got a pretty good draw now," said Davenport.

"To win the whole thing would be tough against a player like Halep, but all these players are saying, why not?"

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