The 2020 French Open women’s quarterfinalists are an unlikely bunch. With the early exits of stars such as Serena Williams and Simona Halep, and the absence of defending champion Ashleigh Barty and US Open winner Naomi Osaka, the draw is more wide open than ever.
Seven women have already punched their ticket to the final eight, with one more match yet to play. Danielle Collins and Ons Jabeur were slated to play Monday, but their match was postponed to Tuesday due to rain.
Even with the final spot up for grabs, it is already clear just how unusual this group is. With two players currently ranked outside of the top 100 and four women playing in their first major quarterfinal, this is a Grand Slam unlike any other. It’s perhaps fitting for this unprecedented tournament — played in the wet and chilly conditions in the fall instead of its traditional spring dates as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — to have unexpected contenders emerge.
Although casual fans might not know much about several of the remaining women’s players, their relative anonymity doesn’t makes them any less compelling.
Get to know the women remaining in Paris.
Just how impressive was Swiatek’s victory over top seed and title favorite Halep in the fourth round? She lost just three games in the entire match — the third fewest in a major victory over a No. 1 seed in the Open Era. After losing in the same round at the 2019 French Open to Halep with a 6-1, 6-0 score in 45 minutes, it was a remarkable turnaround. Swiatek, 19, showed just how far she has come over the past year. She credited the result to her ability to stay mentally strong due to the work she has done with a sports psychologist over the past two years.
“I just believe that mental toughness is, like, probably most important thing in tennis right now because everybody can play on the highest level,” she said after Sunday’s win. “But the ones that are tough and that can handle the pressure are the biggest ones. So I always wanted to develop in that way.”
The 2017 French Open junior doubles and 2018 Wimbledon junior champion, and the youngest player remaining in the draw, Swiatek has yet to drop a set entering her first major quarterfinals. She has already amassed a star-studded fan club with Osaka and Andy Murray among the many to publicly congratulate her after her win against Halep. And her pump-up music choices — “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘N Roses has been in current heavy rotation — have become a thing of lore with reporters.
One of two players (along with Sofia Kenin) still alive in both singles and doubles, Swiatek will look to become the first player to win both titles at an event in the same year since Williams at Wimbledon in 2016. But first, she has to get past Martina Trevisan on Tuesday.
Seed: Unseeded qualifier
Trevisan was a promising young talent who had success on the junior level but stepped away from the sport to seek treatment for an eating disorder. After getting healthy, she returned to the lowest levels of the professional ranks and played in small events. She improved her ranking enough to get into qualifying for the majors but never made it into the main draw until 2020. She lost in the first round of the Australian Open to eventual champion Kenin to start the year but has been unstoppable in France. She stormed out of qualifying, upsetting stars like Kiki Bertens, Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff, and enamoring herself to the world with her joy and self-belief.
It has been as remarkable of a run as any in recent memory, and the 26-year-old hopes to inspire others who are struggling with similar battles she faced.
“I know that I have done a great job right now until today,” she said after her win over Bertens, the No. 5 seed, on Sunday. “The message [to them] is to focus on their dream and never give up on your life, on everything you want to do and you want to reach.”
Trevisan will crack the top 100 for the first time in her career following her run and has no doubts about her ability to pull off yet another upset against Swiatek.
“When I enter on the court, I enter to win the match without fail.”
The highest remaining seed in the tournament, Svitolina has won 15 WTA singles titles and is looking to add a Slam trophy to her collection. The 26-year-old made the quarterfinals in Rome in her first event back in the restart and was victorious at the Strasbourg International immediately before Paris. She is as close to a favorite as possible remaining in this unexpected group.
Already the most successful Ukrainian tennis player of all time, Svitolina became the first countrywoman to make a major semifinal at Wimbledon in 2019, and did it again at the US Open months later. She’ll look to make more history for her country, and herself, by doing it again at Roland Garros.
Svitolina makes up one half of tennis’ hilarious couple with boyfriend Gael Monfils (the pair have a joint Instagram account with more than 120,000 followers). Monfils was eliminated in the first round on the men’s side, but it was clear he wasn’t far from her mind.
“Right now I’m thinking I’m playing for both of us,” she said on Sunday after her win over Caroline Garcia. “I know how much he loves to compete here in Paris, and how much he loves to play in front of big crowds. Unfortunately this year it’s a bit different. So it’s really sad that he couldn’t play his best. He started the year amazing, and I was really proud of the effort he did.
“So for me I just, you know, always love the way that he pushes me to be better, and I also try to motivate him to be better person, better tennis player. I think this is the way that it has to be, and you have to really support each other and push for better results.”
She will next face Nadia Podoroska on Tuesday.
Seed: Unseeded qualifier
There are surprises in sports, and then there is Podoroska at the French Open. Playing in just her second major tournament ever — she lost in the first round of the 2016 US Open — the 23-year-old needed to qualify just to get into the main draw. She has been on a tear ever since including a second-round win over the No. 23 seed, US Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva. She is the first Argentinian woman to make the quarters at a Slam since Paola Suarez in 2004.
Still, she’s largely an unknown — even to her opponents.
“I have no idea,” Svitolina said when asked about her expectations for their match. “I just heard the name a little bit. To be fair, I know nothing.”
But perhaps nothing sums up how unbelievable her run at Roland Garros has been than this: Podoroska more than doubles her career earnings with the $333,636 paycheck that comes from a quarterfinal appearance. Having played mostly ITF events during her career, this is the most high-profile and lucrative opportunity she has had. She is expected to rise into the top 70 in the next rankings even with a loss, so it likely won’t be her last.
Country: Czech Republic
A two-time Wimbledon champion, Kvitova is the seasoned veteran of the group and perhaps the most well-known. Despite that and her 27 overall WTA singles titles, she is in the French Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. While clay has traditionally not been her best surface, the 30-year-old has dominated and has yet to drop a set in Paris.
After beating Zhang Shuai in the fourth round Monday, she said she was briefly overcome with emotions as she remembered making her comeback at the tournament three years ago. Kvitova missed the first six months of the 2017 season after being stabbed in the hand during a home invasion and returned to competition at the event.
“I really started to think still about the match because in tennis we really never know when it’s [going to] end,” she said later. “But my memories, happy memories, when I made my comeback here 2017, when I step on the [Court] Philippe Chatrier, I couldn’t really imagine me to be in the quarterfinal of this Slam. Everything just came back to me.
“It’s been long ride definitely. Everything came to my mind when I had my whole family, people who I loved, to help me through the tough, tough time. I don’t know, just everything came back to my mind.”
She now looks to make the semifinal at Roland Garros for just the second time in her career, but she first must get past Laura Siegemund. Despite having both been on the WTA Tour for well over a decade, they have played just once during the first round at the 2015 US Open. The 6-1, 6-1 victory for Kvitova was so unmemorable, she told reporters she had never played against Siegemund when asked about their upcoming clash. Still, Kvitova insisted she wasn’t looking past her.
“I’m just here to play my next match,” she said. “I will see what will happen afterward.”
Like her hero, Steffi Graf, legends like Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati, and more recently Gauff, Siegemund burst onto the global tennis scene with a title at the highly prestigious Junior Orange Bowl in the 12-and-under division. Now, 20 years later, she’s still making a name for herself.
It wasn’t exactly a straight shot to the top of the professional ranks. Prior to the COVID-19 restart, the 32-year-old had never advanced past the third round at a major in singles or doubles. Now she’s the reigning US Open doubles champion (with partner Vera Zvonareva) and in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Needless to say, whatever she did with her time off is working.
“It’s exciting to come so far,” she said after her straight-set win against Paula Badosa on Monday. “It was always my dream to be in the second week of a Slam. We just spoke about it with my boyfriend in the US Open. It was one big goal for me. … That’s where I see myself, that’s where I want to be.
“I’m glad I’m making that come true now. Clay is my favorite surface. I feel like there’s also more in it for me. I want to take it one step at a time. Truly excited to be in the quarters. Also still in the zone. I [will] try to have more than that even.”
Kenin is just 21 years old but joins Kvitova as the only major champions remaining and the only two who have reached the fourth round or better at all three of the year’s Slams. Kenin won the Australian Open in February to open the season, steamrollering through the fortnight, including knocking off world No. 1 Barty in the semifinals and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the final.
Since the restart, Kenin has lacked her signature intensity and firepower at times, with a straight-set loss to Elise Mertens in the US Open Round of 16 and an embarrassing double-bagel result to Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Kenin is clicking at the right time. She lost six straight games in the first set against Fiona Ferro of France in the Round of 16, but she fought back and took the next two sets 6-2, 6-1 to power her way into the quarterfinals.
Born in Russia but having moved to the United States as a young child, Kenin’s father followed the blueprint set by Maria Sharapova and her family. He started her in tennis as a 5-year-old with hopes for a bright future. She had her own website by 7 and was frequently meeting some of the biggest names in the game. The internet is filled with pictures and videos of a young Kenin hanging out with Kim Clijsters or adorably boasting about her ability to return Andy Roddick’s serve.
Typically brimming with confidence, Kenin said she is expecting a challenging match in the next round against either Collins or Jabeur and is optimistic about her chances going forward.
“I really hope I can keep playing the way I’m playing or better,” she said. “I’m deep in the tournament. I feel like I have to step up my game because obviously I’m going to play tough opponents. We’re all playing well. It’s going to be a tough match. But, yeah, I guess fingers crossed for the next round.”