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Beyond the Baseline

Breaking down the women's draw at the French Open -- again

Maria Sharapova was originally expected to meet Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images) Maria Sharapova was originally expected to meet Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS -- Serena Williams? Toast. Li Na? See ya. Agnieszka Radwanska? Au revoir. 

For the first time in the Open era, the top three women's seeds have lost before the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament. Williams was an overwheming favorite to defend her French Open title, Li was a legitimate threat to win for the second time and ... well, OK, Radwanska was unlikely to contend, given her disdain for clay.

After the Week 1 shake-up, it's time to revisit the women's draw and try to imagine how the second half of the tournament might play out.

Who's the new favorite? No. 7 Maria Sharapova

She's not the highest seed left, but this is Sharapova's tournament to lose. The 2012 win was pretty much written off as a potential winner after being drawn into Williams' quarter -- Sharapova hasn't beaten Serena in a decade -- but now that the defending champion is out, the Russian the most successful clay player remaining.

Since the start of 2012, Sharapova has lost just four matches on clay -- three to Williams and one to Ana Ivanovic, who is in the other half of the draw. After her merciless 6-0, 6-0 clubbing of No. 75 Paula Ormaechea on Friday, Sharapova has dropped only 10 games in three matches. She knows what it takes to win this tournament and has the mental fortitude to fight even when she's having a bad day.

"It's tough for me to talk about favorites, because if I don't have the mentality that I'm the favorite going into a tournament like this, then I probably shouldn't be in the draw," she said Friday. "I like to be positive yet realistic, and there is no reason why I shouldn't be the favorite at this tournament. I have won four Grand Slams, and I feel that when I'm in the draw, I'm there for a reason."

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Simona Halep may face Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) Simona Halep may face Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Who are the other top contenders? No. 4 Simona Halep and No. 11 Ana Ivanovic

It's unfortunate that Halep and Ivanovic are in the same quarter; their matchup would be a great semifinal, but they're projected to meet in the quarterfinals. It's not even guaranteed that they'll make it that far, though.

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Ivanovic plays No. 23 Lucie Safarova in the third round Saturday and the Serb has lost the last four meetings to the lefty Czech. If Ivanovic survives, she would face either No. 5 Petra Kvitova or No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova, both dangerous opponents and former major champions. Ivanovic has been in great form this season, and she's the only player left in the draw who's beaten Sharapova on clay in the last two years. And let's not forget that she's the 2008 champion. If you do it once, you know what it takes.

As for Halep, she had never advanced past the second round at Roland Garros before this year. Then again, she had never come into Paris as a top-five seed, let alone the highest-remaining seed in the tournament. Given Ivanovic's tough road, I favor Halep to get through this quarter. She should have no problem in the third round against Maria Teresa Torro-Flor, before meeting either No. 15 Sloane Stephens or No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. And if she does play Ivanovic in the quarters, Halep can draw on having defeated her 6-2, 6-2 on clay at the Madrid Open this month.

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Who's a dark-horse contender? No. 18 Sam Stosur

Before the tournament, I would have never picked Stosur to make a run. She was only 15-12 this year, with five losses coming to players ranked outside the top 30.

But watching her last two matches, including her solid 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova on Friday, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Stosur is hitting the ball very well. She's been very successful at this tournament, making the final in 2010 and the semifinals in '09 and '12. The 30-year-old Australian is a world-beater on any given day if she plays her best. I would pick her to make the semifinals ... if she had a better draw. However, she's in Sharapova's section, and the two will play in the fourth round. Stosur is 2-13 against Sharapova, and the matchup issues are noticeable when they play. But if Stosur can pull off the upset, she's in a good position to reach the final.

Who are the young guns to watch? No. 15 Sloane Stephens, No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard, unseeded Garbine Muguruza

The story of the first week hasn't just been the upsets; it's that the veterans were upended by the unproven members of Generation Next. Of that group -- which includes 21-year-olds Kristina Mladenovic and Ajla Tomljanovic -- No. 35 Muguruza stands out. The 20-year-old has already proved herself on the WTA Tour, winning the Hobart International in January, and she should win her next match, against No. 145 Pauline Parmentier of France, in the fourth round. That would set up a potential quarterfinal against Sharapova or Stosur.

Meanwhile, two established members of the young set have quietly sailed through the draw. Bouchard has lost one set in three matches and Stephens hasn't lost one in two. Stephens, 21, who plays Makarova on Saturday, is trying to make at least the fourth round of her sixth straight major, while Bouchard is attempting to back up her semifinal run at the Australian Open. Stephens is the better clay-court player, but Bouchard -- who won her first title on clay last week -- has the easier draw. She's in the section recently vacated by Radwanska, and the highest seed there is No. 8 Angelique Kerber.

WERTHEIM: Garbine Muguruza played the match of her life against Serena Williams

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