Romanian women’s tennis player Simona Halep could win a Grand Slam tournament for the first time at the French Open and become the world’s No.1.
This was the prediction of former two-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce, who was speaking to Singapore media by phone from Paris on Thursday evening (8 June), on the same day when the French Open women’s semi-finals will be played.
Pierce is picking Halep to prevail over Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the semis and qualify for the Roland Garros final on Saturday.
“Halep is one of my favourites. The exciting thing is that if she wins the title, she becomes the WTA world’s No. 1,” said Pierce.
“We were a bit unsure how she would be after the ankle injury (at the Italian Open) in Rome but she seems to be getting better and better with every match,” she added.
A Grand Slam final appearance for either Halep or Pliskova would put them in a good position on the leaderboard for the Race to Singapore of the WTA Finals, where the top eight players in women’s tennis will battle it out for the year-end trophy.
Despite the absence of tennis superstars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the field in Paris is full of exciting young contenders, said Pierce.
“We have a lot of great players now on the tour…It keeps us hanging on our seats with every match and we get surprises along the way, and amazing tennis as well,” said Pierce, who is the WTA Finals ambassador.
Emerging young stars
Pierce also tipped several other young players to rise up the ranks this season. Among them is Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, currently the world’s No. 47, whom Pierce said is “definitely someone to watch”. Ostapenko faces Timea Bacsinsky of Switzerland in the French Open semi-final, on the same day when she turned 20.
“You’ve got Ostapenko, who’s young, fiery and exciting. If she makes the final, she can be in the top 10, which is exciting for her,” said Pierce.
Ostapenko’s run at the French Open is her best Grand Slam performance so far and she will rise to as high as the top eight if she makes the final.
The other players to watch are Kristina Mladenovic of France and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, according to Pierce. Both players have been in good form this season and could also feature in the year-end WTA tournament in Singapore, she predicted.
Mladenovic won her first WTA singles title in St Petersburg this year to add to her 2016 French Open doubles title.
“This is best season she’s had of her career so far,” Pierce said of Mladenovic. “I believe she has the game to beat top players, which she has done this year, but there’s still some areas of her game to improve in order to win a Grand Slam,” she added.
Svitolina handed Serena Williams a shock exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She has won four WTA titles so far this year.
Pierce praised the Ukrainian for her “amazing” results this season and her style of play. “She’s got a really complete game. She can pretty much do it all: she’s aggressive, not afraid to come to the net,” Pierce said.
“It’s fantastic for women’s tennis to have so many great players at this time now.”