Women’s qualifying begins on Wednesday, and so now it is their turn for us to pick out a top ten from among the 96 players looking to bag one of the 12 golden tickets into the main draw. Our apologies if we have missed out any of your favourites – and we are sure that there plenty of surprise packages hidden away in there, ready to prove us wrong by Friday evening.
Catherine Bellis, the prodigy
Two years on from winning the prestigious Petits As junior tournament in Tarbes, France, Catherine "CiCi" already has her eye on a top 100 spot among the pros. Since her victory in Tarbes, she has occupied the junior No.1 spot in the world and then gone on to astound her home fans at last year’s US Open, where she knocked out that year’s Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the first round. That she did so at the tender age of 15 years and 152 days made her the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows since Marie-Joe Fernandez. She did not let this performance go to her head however, and went on to rack up the wins on the lower tier of the pro circuit, winning three ITF $25,000 titles before once again hitting the headlines in Miami this March, getting through two rounds in the main drawn and earning a crack at Serena Williams. Perhaps in years to come, that match will be seen as a clash between two generations of tennis legends...
Sorana Cirstea, the French Open fan
In 2009, Simona Halep was merely the previous year’s girls’ singles champion – the rising star coming out Romanian tennis at the time was Sorana Cirstea. With her ready smile and outrageous forehand, she made it all the way to the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros at just 19, defeating Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic en route to the second week. Unfortunately for her, she maintained the kind of inconsistency expected in teenagers well into her 20s. Six years on, and Cirstea still only has one WTA title to her name, which she picked up in Tashkent back in 2008. The memory of her thrilling run at the French Open in 2009 seems to inspire her every year upon her return however, and she has reached the third round in Paris on three separate occasions since then (in 2011, 2013 and 2014). So even though she is languishing at No.145 in the world, Cirstea has a reputation to maintain here – particularly since the only players ever to beat her here are either Grand Slam winners and/or world No.1s. Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic – that’s quite a list that Cirstea has made for herself!
Krystina Pliskova, the forgotten twin
Meet the Pliskovas and you think you are seeing double. Not only are Karolina and Krystina twins, but they had almost identical junior careers. Karolina, the righty, was junior world No.1 in 2010 after winning the Australian Open. Krystina, the lefty, was also junior world No.1 in 2010 after winning Wimbledon. But while the former is now No.12 in the WTA rankings and knocking on the door of fame and fortune, the latter is having a harder time of things, struggling at No.111 and never having risen above No.86. Her 2015 form thus far, with three ITF titles and another final, should see her into the top 50 sooner rather than later. And who would bet against them taking on the world at doubles – another set of twins, after all, have had a fair deal of success in the men’s game...
Kimiko Date Krumm, the super veteran
Plenty of the women at this French Open were not even born in 1989. Back then, Kimiko Date was playing the qualifiers – and getting through them, and into the second round of the main draw. Six years later in 1995, the Japanese player got as high as No.4 in the world courtesy of a semi-final appearance in Paris, when she defeated Lindsay Davenport and Iva Majoli before having to give best to the great Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Those three have long since hung up their racquets, but Kimiko Date Krumm, as she is now known, is still playing. She took early retirement in 1996 at the age of 26 only to come back in 2008. Since then, she has been breaking longevity records, including the oldest player to win a WTA tournament since Billie Jean King (Seoul 2009, in the week she turned 39), the oldest player to win a Roland-Garros match since Virginia Wade (2010, at the expense of the finalist of the previous two years Dinara Safina!), the oldest player to defeat a top 10 player (Sam Stosur – No.8 – in Osaka in 2010), and the oldest player to reach the third round at Wimbledon (42 years and eight months, in 2013). It’s no exaggeration to say that every match that Date Krumm wins sees her add yet another footnote to the history books of tennis.
Jelena Ostapenko, the one they’ve all been waiting for
Ernests Gulbis has put Latvia on the tennis map – can Jelena Ostapenko now aim even higher than her compatriot (who reached the semi-finals here last year)? The 17-year-old certainly caught the eye on the junior circuit, winning almost every tournament she entered – from the Open for 10-12 year-olds down the road in Boulogne-Billancourt in 2008 and the Petits As in 2011 to Wimbledon 2014. She then set about bagging trophies on the pro circuit, with seven to her name to date including the $50,000 tournament at Saint Petersburg in March where she amazingly came through qualifying beforehand. When she played her last match on the junior circuit last September, she was No.407 in the WTA rankings. Since then, this fan of Belgian tennis who admires Justine Hénin but plays more like Kim Clijsters, has made her way up to No.152 in the world. Perhaps this will be the year that she starts emulating what her two idols managed here in Paris.
Tamira Paszek, the one who should have made it
In the second half of the 2000s, women’s tennis saw a whole host of future stars emerge at the same time, ready to take over as the next generation. And alongside Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Sabine Lisicki, there was Tamira Paszek. By the age of just 16, the Austrian had made the fourth round at Wimbledon and the US Open. She went on to win three WTA titles and make it to the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2011 and 2012, where Azarenka halted her progress both times. What really put the brakes on her career however was a string of injuries, to her back, neck and hamstrings and even a respiratory infection. The Andrei Pavel-coached Austrian is still looking for her first win of 2015, and what better place to do it than Roland-Garros?
Hsieh Su-Wei, the doubles title-holder
Ladies and gentlemen, the reigning French Open champion: Hsieh Su-Wei. Last year’s women’s doubles winner teamed up with Shuai Peng to bag titles here, at Wimbledon and at the end-of-season WTA Masters in 2013, meaning that Hsieh spent five weeks at No.1 in the world in doubles. The 29-year-old is also pretty good on her own, with two singles tournaments to her name (at Guangzhou and Kuala Lumpur in 2012). She made the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2008 and has stood as high as No.23 in the world in the past – all feats which make her the best player, male or female, ever to have come out of Taiwan.
Aravane Rezai, the comeback kid
Aravane Rezai has not won a single match on the pro circuit since January 2014, down in Auckland. To put things into perspective however, she has only entered three tournaments in the last two years. The former French No.1 and world No.15 now no longer has a ranking. What she does have however, is belief. Aged 28, she is looking to get back to the kind of level that saw her win a WTA Premier event (the equivalent of the ATP Masters 1000s) in Madrid in 2010, defeating the likes of Justine Hénin, Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams to do so. Relaunching her career after such a long absence and such a downward spiral may seem like mission impossible, but while she may have lost some of her in-game smarts and physical fitness – neither of which can be regained without stringing together a number of matches – she is a dynamic striker of the ball, and like riding a bike, that is something that you never forget. Hopefully for her, form is temporary, class is permanent.
Katerina Stewart, the one who’s on a roll
32 wins and just four defeats – those are the amazing stats that Katerina Stewart is bringing to Roland-Garros. Since March, the 17-year-old from Florida has almost forgotten what it is like to lose a match. During that time, she has won three titles (working her way up from a $10,000 to a $25,000 and finally a $50,000) and played in two other finals besides. These results may have been achieved on a different kind of clay, the green American "Har-Tru" variety, but it has seen Stewart, who was No.350 in the world at the cut-off point for Roland-Garros, receive a wild card for qualifying, and rightly so when you consider that she has now raced up to No.161. The European public will no doubt be itching to see what this American prodigy can do on this side of the Atlantic.
Shahar Peer, the never-say-die attitude
Shahar Peer is still around, though the Israeli certainly has been considering her future over the past couple of seasons. Try as she might, she has not been able to return to the glory days of her two Grand Slam quarter-finals (at the Australian and US Opens in 2007), or indeed the three times at Roland-Garros where she reached the second week (2006, 2007 and 2010). The five-time WTA tournament winner and former world No.11 (in 2011) is outside the top 100 nowadays, but she is not giving up. And 10 years after her first appearance at the French Open, here she is, in qualifying. She is still only 28 years old, and could well have a few good years still ahead of her.