‘It’s Iga Swiatek versus the field’ at Roland Garros

Shahida Jacobs
An Iga Swiatek shot
Iga Swiatek in action

If Iga Swiatek is 100% fit, then she will still be the player to beat at Roland Garros despite Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina’s great form on clay this year, according to tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

World No 1 Swaitek is under an injury cloud ahead of her French Open title defence as she retired with a thigh injury from her Italian Open quarter-final clash against Rybakina last Wednesday.

And it is not just her fitness that is of concern ahead of the clay-court Grand Slam, the emergence of Sabalenka and Rybakina on the surface will no doubt also be a concern.

Swiatek was unbeaten on the red dirt last year, but this year she has won only one title so far – the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart – with Sabalenka getting the better of her in the Madrid Open final before she retired in the third set against Rybakina in Rome.

Rybakina also beat the Pole at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, but Navratilova feels the three-time Grand Slam winner will still be the player to beat at Roland Garros if she is fully fit.

“It all hinges on her health. From what I’m hearing, the [thigh] injury is not that bad. If she’s 100 percent healthy, then she’s the odds-on favourite. It’s Iga versus the field. If she’s not, then it’s wide open,” she told WTATennis.com.

“And Sabalenka and Rybakina, they would be the favourites to win. No doubt about it, the way they’ve played on the clay. All those players should be pretty confident coming in, with Swiatek having the most if her body is 100 percent. I mean, we could have a surprising winner, but chances are it will be one of the three.

“I definitely want to see her in full flight. I want to see her supplanted only if people play better than her, not because she was injured. Last year, Iga almost forgot how to lose. She may not quite be at that stage yet, but she still should be super confident.”

Swiatek is 12-2 on clay this year while Sabalenka is 9-2 and Rybakina 7-2.

Although Navaratilova believes Sabalenka can still improve on her sliding, she feels the world No 2’s confidence after winning in Australia will give her a massive boost.

“I like her clay game. Look, not everybody realises that Sabalenka’s power translates to any surface. And on clay it’s harder to defend because it’s harder to recover, get out of the corners,” she said.

“No reason that with that big serve and those big shots can’t succeed. I mean, she won the title in Madrid, and last year’s results showed that wasn’t a flash in the pan by any means. One of the things I’ve noticed is that you don’t see her sliding that much. So I would say one area where she could improve is movement.

“And don’t underestimate the value of winning that first Grand Slam. It’s a massive step, especially when you’ve been waiting all that time. The expectations became another hurdle she had to overcome.”

As for Rybakina, 18-time Grand Slam winner says she is impressed with the reigning Wimbledon’s transition game.

“Don’t forget, Rybakina grew up on clay. She knows how to move on it. She’s a smooth mover, she can neutralise the power of the big hitters and just seems so level-headed in every way,” she said.

“This might surprise some people, but I think she’s got the better transition game of the three. She’s becoming more comfortable finishing at the net. And she can get better with more experience on the clay; when you’re up against exceptional players all the time, there’s still a learning curve.”

READ MORE: Iga Swiatek’s world No 1 ranking under major threat from Aryna Sabalenka