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A new champion in Paris?

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Originally published on 24/05/17 00:00

The absence of established stars – Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka – has left the door ajar for a new champion to emerge.

tennishead takes a closer look at five leading contenders for the title:

Defending champion, Garbine Muguruza, returns to the scene of her greatest triumph. Twelve months ago on a dreich Paris afternoon, the 23-year-old blasted her way past Serena Williams to become the first Spanish female to win Roland Garros since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1998.

Muguruza‘s career-defining success was meant to be the catalyst for further glory, but she has failed to enter the winner's circle since. Indifferent form, a steady flow of niggling injuries and a tempestuous relationship with her coach, Sam Sumyk, have all contributed to her recent struggles.

It is doubtful that Muguruza, who has retired in four matches already this season, has the fitness levels necessary to survive the rigorous demands of a major tournament.

Simona Halep feels her recent upturn in fortunes is partly due to a temporary split from her coach Darren Cahill. The 25-year-old bagged a Premier Mandatory title in Madrid two weeks ago and she believes her short time away from the Australian helped her become mentally stronger.

It was proving to be a highly productive clay-court season for the Romanian until the moment she rolled her right ankle in Rome last weekend. Such a restrictive injury could damage the aspirations of the tournament favourite – who is famed for her unrivalled movement and defensive capabilities on her preferred surface.

Elina Svitolina is the consummate professional and she has been the star performer this season. She has won four titles and leads the race to the WTA’s showpiece event in Singapore later this year.

The world No.6 is not known for her shotmaking prowess but she is a tenacious competitor with an excellent all-round game. She has made a noticeable effort to become more proactive in baseline exchanges this year, and her forehand has markedly improved.

Angelique Kerber may be the current world No.1, but she has been out-of-sorts for much of the season. The 29-year-old appears to still be feeling the effects of a gruelling 2016 campaign that saw her become a double Grand Slam champion.

A player of the German’s calibre can never be counted out, though, and unlike the majority of the top 20 seeds, Kerber has proved that she has the gumption to deliver on the big stage.

Kristina Mladenovic will reap the benefits of being a home player and she is unlikely to freeze in the spotlight. The confident 24-year-old appears to be on the cusp on something special and she has a chance to become the first Frenchwoman in 17 years to capture the Roland Garros crown.

Mladenovic has enjoyed great success in the doubles game, and her variety is what sets her apart from many of her rivals.

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