Mental strength key for players breaking through, says Melissa Pine
Players eyeing a breakthrough win in Paris will prevail through mental strength
There have been some huge upsets at Roland Garros this past week, with the exits of third seed Angelique Kerber and fifth seed Victoria Azarenka in the first round sending shockwaves throughout the tennis world.
Reigning Australian Open champion Kerber, nursing a shoulder injury, suffered a three-set defeat by unseeded Dutch player Kiki Bertens. Indian Wells and Miami Open winner Azarenka was forced to retire in the third set against the unseeded Karin Knapp of Italy after struggling with a painful knee injury.
However, up-and-coming players like Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, as well as Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, are still in the mix for the year's second Grand Slam.
The talented trio have been tipped to become Grand Slam winners and have their backers at this French Open. Of course, they know they face many challenges, none more formidable than Serena Williams.
Serena, who is one Grand Slam away from equaling Steffi Graf's Open Era record of 22 titles, looked imperious in her win over Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova, dropping just two games.
When a rising star goes up against big names, one of many tactics will be to focus on the ball and not the player on the other side.
Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena are the established players left in the women's draw and the aura surrounding the world No. 1 often gives her an advantage over everyone else, including the young guards trying to break through.
Players would have done their homework when preparing to take on big names like Serena, Halep and Kvitova but, once they hit the court, it's about playing the point and not thinking about the name and ranking of the opponent.
Trying to win a Grand Slam can be an overwhelming experience, especially for a player looking to make a breakthrough. There will be pressure coming from all angles. Everyone wants it badly, but no one more than the player herself.
Serena plays the big points better than anyone else and, at this level, a strong mental game will separate a champion from everyone else.
The more an up-and-coming player finds herself in these big moments, the more she will feel comfortable and gain confidence being in the situation.
For example, learning how to utilise external factors like the crowd - this can be a benefit or hindrance, depending on how the player reacts to it.
Clay is a great equaliser, which means players who favour power are often forced to adapt their game at the French Open.
Players must be able to mix up their shots and take opponents out of their comfort zones.
With so much depth in women's tennis right now, it can be anyone's title in Paris. It will be interesting to see who climbs up the rankings on the Road to Singapore Leaderboard.
It's exciting to see the younger players who are still alive in the draw, like the 23-year-old Hungarian Timea Babos and the Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka.
There are also more experienced players who have great clay-court games, like Australian Samantha Stosur, Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro and Slovak Dominika Cibulkova.
Every Grand Slam is tough; different players have styles that favour different surfaces.
Those who feel most comfortable moving around on clay or who have had more experience playing on the surface will find it a major advantage.
As we prepare to enter the second week of the French Open, the focus on recovery will intensify - the post-match routine of stretching, hydration and ensuring muscles have recovered becomes crucial now
More attention will also go into pre-match preparation, like scouting opponents and analysing their strengths and weaknesses, as players get into the final rounds with so much on the line.
Technology has definitely revolutionised how athletes prepare for matches.
SAP, a global partner of the WTA, has changed how information and data is consumed by coaches and players.
Launched last year, the SAP Tennis Analytics offers players and coaches access to data that help to analyse performance in real time.
A full list of match statistics is updated every 15 seconds, offering data that can provide insight to a player's performance to optimise strategy.
In addition, coaches are allowed to bring WTA-authorised tablets on court to review data such as a player's serving performance, placement of rally shots, number of break-points won and more.
These statistics are critical for players who want to understand how they can adapt and overcome their opponents, both before and during a game.
Partners like SAP and their technology have really helped to evolve the sport and will be a key tool, as the women still competing at Roland Garros continue on their campaign to capture Grand Slam joy.
- Canadian Melissa Pine is a former NCAA player and a columnist for The New Paper. She is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and also the tournament director of the WTA Finals. Held in Singapore from 2014 to 2018, the 10-day tennis extravaganza showcases the world's top-eight singles players and doubles teams competing for a grand prize of US$7 million ($9.6m). For more information on the event, visit www.wtafinals.com