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French Open women's preview: Iga Swiatek is the one to beat

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When Ash Barty shockingly retired in March, one of the biggest questions in women's tennis was if someone would — or even could — step into the spotlight and fill the enormous hole she left.

Turns out the answer is yes, and that player is Poland's Iga Swiatek.

Swiatek, who won the French Open in 2020 when she was just 18, has been on the roll of a lifetime — one that started before Barty even retired. She's won five straight tournaments (four in the WTA 1000) and has lost just one set in the last 43 she's played. The last time she lost a match was February 16, and now has a winning streak of 28 straight matches.

Right now, no one is playing better or stronger tennis than Swiatek. While her streak officially started in February, she made a pretty deep run at the Australian Open in January, losing to American Danielle Collins in the semifinal. This time, coming into the French Open, Swiatek is the one to beat. Her confident play is sending a message to the rest of the women's field: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

FORO ITALICO, ROME, ITALY - 2022/05/14: Iga Swiatek of Poland celebrates at the end of  her semifinal match against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Internazionali BNL D'Italia tennis tournament. Swaitek won 6-2, 6-1 over Savalenka. (Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Iga Swiatek has dominated the WTA tour since February, and if that continues she could capture her second French Open trophy. (Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Players to watch

Iga Swiatek, WTA No. 1

Here are a few more numbers from Swiatek's incredible streak. She's just the second woman ever to win four or more WTA 1000 titles in a single season, with only Serena Williams topping her with five in 2013. She's also the first player since Williams in 2014 to win five or more tournaments in a season. And amazingly, the season isn't halfway done yet, so Swiatek has many more opportunities to add to her already impressive 2022 resume.

Barbora Krejcikova, WTA No. 2

The French Open is where Krejcikova broke out in women's singles. She was unseeded at Roland Garros in 2021 and won the whole thing following an unexpected run through the tournament. Known more for her doubles play (until May 2021 at least), she also won the women's doubles title at the French Open last year. In March she became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2010 to be ranked in the top two in singles and doubles at the same time. However, expectations of the defending champ aren't particularly high since she hasn't played since February due to an elbow injury and has missed the entire clay court season.

Maria Sakkari, WTA No. 4

Sakkari had a breakthrough year in 2021, making it to the semifinals of both the French Open and the U.S. Open. Her results in WTA 1000 tournaments weren't quite as sparkling, but that's changed in 2022. While she hasn't yet won her first WTA 1000 title, she's getting closer and closer. This year she made it to the semis in Qatar, the finals at Indian Wells and the quarterfinals in Italy. If she continues on this trajectory, 2022 could be huge for her, and right now she looks primed and ready to build on her recent success.

Jessica Pegula, WTA No. 11

Pegula has been slowly but surely climbing her way up the rankings for the past several years. She hasn't won a title yet, but she finally got close, getting to her first-ever final at the Madrid Open earlier this month. She's never made it farther than the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam, but if she brings her A game to Roland Garros, she could make the breakthrough she's worked so hard for.

Other notable players

Naomi Osaka, WTA No. 38

It's pretty weird to see Osaka ranked so low, but to be fair, the past year has been a weird one for her. She started 2021 as the No. 2 tennis player in the world, winning the Australian Open, but then withdrew from last year's French Open after organizers fined her for declining to participate in media sessions. Osaka, who has said in the past that media sessions give her anxiety, cited her mental health as the reason.

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 20: Naomi Osaka of Japan talks to the press during Media Day on Qualifying Day 5 of Roland Garros on May 20, 2022 in Paris, France (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)
Naomi Osaka is returning to the French Open one year after withdrawing due to mental health reasons. (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Osaka's actions at the French Open last year started an important worldwide conversation about athletes' mental health, and she played only sporadically for the rest of 2021. She's been back on the court full time in 2022, rebounding from a ranking of 85 in February, but now she's hampered by an achilles injury she sustained at the Madrid Open. That may prevent her from making a deep run, but returning to Roland Garros a year after her memorable withdrawal feels like an important step on her journey back to tennis dominance.

Coco Gauff, WTA No. 18

While she hasn't yet been able to recapture the magic of her surprise run at Wimbledon in 2019, Gauff has continued to play consistently, learning and growing as any 18-year-old professional tennis player should. And the key word in the previous sentence is "yet." Gauff has so much of her career in front of her, and she has plenty of time to reach those heights again and go even higher.

Emma Raducanu, WTA No. 12

Injuries have hampered Raducanu's progress since winning last year's U.S. Open at age 18. Just recently she was forced to retire from the Italian Open due to a back injury, but it appears that she's recovered enough to compete at Roland Garros for the very first time. That's tough enough on its own, but she's also doing it without a coach. She's parted ways with three coaches since July 2021, and while she'll have a hitting partner in Paris, she's yet to find a new coach. Raducanu has labeled herself as a "loner" who trusts her own decision-making skills, so at the very least she feels comfortable with her arrangement.

Notable absences

Venus Williams

Williams, 41, hasn't been on a competitive tennis court since August 2021, and she's not playing at Roland Garros. She has teased her return to tennis in a recent YouTube video, but wouldn't say when she plans to come back. She's choosing to keep that a "mystery," so who knows when we'll see her next.

Serena Williams

We haven't seen Williams, 40, on a tennis court since Wimbledon 2021, when she was forced to retire from her first-round match after sustaining an injury to her right leg. She won't be playing in this year's French Open, but has teased a return at Wimbledon in June.

Elina Svitolina

Svitolina originally pulled out of the French Open due to mental fatigue, but she recently announced some exciting news: she and her husband, fellow tennis player Gael Monfils, are expecting their first child in October. It's not known if she'll return to competition this year, but at least it's for a very happy reason.