1) Angelique Kerber
The German has regained her spot at the top of the rankings only because of the absence of the pregnant Serena Williams. Kerber began the year by relinquishing her Australian Open crown in the fourth round and the US Open champion has struggled to raise her game since then, fuelling the argument that her No1 status is deceptive. Clay has never been her favourite surface – she has not reached the last eight at Roland Garros since 2012 – and her floundering performances in the build-up to Paris means that she will be vulnerable in the first week. Kerber was trailing 6-3, 5-0 when she withdrew from her Madrid quarter-final against Eugenie Bouchard with a thigh injury and a 6-4, 6-0 defeat to Anna Kontaveit in Rome heightened the sense of crisis.
2) Karolina Pliskova
The Czech shot up the rankings last year, reaching her first grand slam final in New York – she lost 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to Kerber – and her big serve makes her an awkward proposition. At the same time, however, it is debatable whether she moves with enough fluency to flourish on clay. The 25-year-old has never been past the second round at Roland Garros and she still looks uncomfortable on the surface. Pliskova’s four wins on the surface this year have come against players ranked outside the top 20, while early defeats in Madrid, Prague, Rome and Stuttgart have prevented her from building momentum.
Karolina Pliskova has endured a frustrating clay-court season so far this year. Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP
3) Simona Halep
Three years since the Romanian reached the final at Roland Garros, losing a thrilling match to Maria Sharapova, Halep found herself on the wrong end of some rotten luck when she suffered an ankle injury in the final of the Italian Open that has left her with a 50-50 chance of appearing at all in Paris. This could be a big missed opportunity for a likeable and exciting player who is still seeking her first grand slam title. In the absence of Williams and Sharapova, and with many of her rivals grasping for their best form, Halep was considered the favourite this year. She sent out a strong message by claiming the title in Madrid, only for disaster to strike when she slid over what looked like a small hole on the Campo Centrale court in Rome, causing her ankle to swell up. A subsequent scan has revealed a tear, but she is determined to recover in time.
4) Garbiñe Muguruza
The Spaniard looked ready to dominate the women’s game when she outwitted and out-hit Williams in last year’s final, charming the French fans on her way to claiming her first grand slam final with a wonderfully one-sided victory over the American great. But the 23-year-old has failed to push on since then. Her results in majors have been underwhelming and she arrives at Roland Garros nursing a neck injury that forced her to retire from her Italian Open semi-final. She has also had to deal with an achilles problem this year, meaning that the defence of her title could be short. That said, Muguruza will be tough to beat if she gains confidence and fitness during the first week.
5) Elina Svitolina
True, Halep was injured when the Ukrainian beat her in the final of the Italian Open. Nonetheless it was a fine achievement from Svitolina, a gifted 22-year-old who is improving all the time. Up to sixth in the rankings after an encouraging run on clay that has featured wins over Kerber, Halep, Muguruza and Pliskova, she will be full of optimism about going far. Matching her quarter-final appearance in 2015 must be the least of her ambitions.
The British No1 is capable of beating anyone on her day – unless she’s playing on clay, that is. It remains her weakest surface and although Konta insists that she is slowly adjusting to its idiosyncrasies, setbacks in Madrid, Rome and Stuttgart suggest otherwise. She is yet to make it past the first round in Paris and might require a kind draw to better that meagre record.
The world No14 was getting into a solid groove before losing her first match at the Italian Open to the unheralded German, Julia Görges. Before that disappointment in Rome, however, the 24-year-old from France was a losing finalist in Stuttgart and Madrid. She enjoyed beating Sharapova in Stuttgart and will believe that this is the year when she finally reaches the second week at her home tournament.
World No14 Kristina Mladenovic is France’s best chance of a first female champion in Paris since Mary Pierce in 2000. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters
The veteran Russian has an impressive record on clay, having won the French Open in 2009, but her results have been mixed this year. At the age of 31, time is running out for her to add to her two grand slam titles.
Others to watch
Her sister isn’t around this time, but Venus Williams rolled back the years in Melbourne and will relish the chance to teach a thing or two to the younger generation. And though she has rarely fared well in Paris, this is an open field. The improving Eugenie Bouchard was a semi-finalist in 2015, Dominika Cibulkova is a scrapper with admirable stamina and Daria Kasatkina, the 20-year-old Russian, could cause a stir. The usual faces are mostly still around as well, although Caroline Wozniacki might be held back by an ankle injury. Most intriguing of all is the possibility of an appearance from Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion who is back in training less than seven months after suffering a career-threatening hand injury in a knife attack at her home. The Czech is targeting a return at SW19, but could feature in Paris.