Not that Maria Sharapova was a threat to Serena Williams, but her continued absence can be felt at what has become her best Slam. Since unexpectedly turning clay into a strength, Sharapova made three straight finals (winning two) until falling victim to illness and eventual finalist Lucie Safarova last year.
Before her own late career resurgence on the dirt, Williams was a big question mark in Paris each year, with Sharapova there to take advantage should she get upset. With Sharapova still suspended, the 2016 French Open is a throwback to the past: Serena or chaos, this time with Williams seeking to tie Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slams.
SERENA WILLIAMS  QUARTER
Contenders: Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Carla Suarez Navarro, Ana Ivanovic, Dominika Cibulkova
Big name, little chance: Elina Svitolina (struggling and lacks power to hit through the clay), Andrea Petkovic (former semifinalist is really in a rut)
Notable floaters: Sorana Cirstea, Yulia Putintseva, Laura Robson, Taylor Townsend
Upset alert: Cirstea over Svitolina in round one
Breakdown: It’s a shame this is Serena’s quarter, because it’s got a bunch of notable names and players who could make a run otherwise. Suarez Navarro, Ivanovic and Petkovic have major clay chops but aren’t in form. Robson and Townsend were top lefty prospects as teenagers but have run into major roadblocks (along with Ana Konjuh and Oceane Dodin, this quarter is overflowing with hyped youngsters). The big question in this quarter is Azarenka’s health. If she’s pain-free as she claims, a Serena-Vika quarterfinal could be the defacto championship match.
ANGIE KERBER  QUARTER
Contenders: Angie Kerber, Timea Bacsinszky, Madison Keys, Johanna Konta, Daria Kasatkina
Big name, little chance: Venus Williams (hasn’t replicated resurgent 2015, clay not her surface), Jelena Jankovic (one major quarterfinal since 2010 French Open semis)
Notable floaters: Genie Bouchard, Dasha Gavrilova, Laura Siegemund, Louisa Chirico, Monica Puig, Camila Giorgi
Upset alert: Chirico over Williams in round two
Breakdown: There’s legitimately 10 players that could emerge from this quarter. Kerber won Australia and Bacsinszky made the semis here last year, yet Keys is the most feared player after her shocking run to the final in Rome, losing to Serena. Clay had always been a weakness but she suddenly looked confident on it under new coach Thomas Hogstedt. Bouchard and Siegemund is one of the best round one matches. Kasatkina won the juniors here and looks like a future clay star, though she’s probably a year or two away from a deep run. Less hyped, the USA’s Chirico has stormed up the ranks and her power game is fun to watch on clay.
GARBINE MUGURUZA  QUARTER
Contenders: Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Irina-Camelia Begu, Ekaterina Makarova
Big name, little chance: Roberta Vinci (2015 U.S. Open final aside, she’s just not a Slam contender), Karolina Pliskova (lots of hype, but 12-15 record at Slams and is not good on clay)
Notable floaters: Christina McHale, Nicole Gibbs, Heather Watson, Coco Vandeweghe, Elena Vesnina
Upset alert: Lots, they’re just unpredictable
Breakdown: The most volatile quarter of the women’s draw. Kvitova, Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are all notoriously hot and cold. Any could be in the quarters or out in round one. They can look dominant on one day and get crushed a day or two later. None of the floaters here are too threatening, so this is a real chance for Muguruza to make good on a workable draw after making the quarters the last two years.
AGA RADWANSKA  QUARTER
Contenders: Simona Halep, Lucie Safarova, Sloane Stephens, Sam Stosur
Big name, little chance: Aga Radwanska (already a non-threat on clay, the damp conditions will hurt her even more), Sara Errani (former finalist is 0-2 on red clay this year and has lost four matches in a row)
Notable floaters: Caroline Garcia, Margarita Gasparyan, Sabine Lisicki, Misaki Doi, Naomi Osaka, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
Upset alert: Doi over Stosur in round one if Stosur’s wrist isn’t healed
Breakdown: Simona Halep, come on down! Now is the time for the 2014 finalist here to bounce back. She’s surrounded by seeds that either aren’t great on clay (Radwanska, Barbora Strycova), are hurt/out of form (Safarova, Stosur, Errani) or not ready yet (Jelena Ostapenko). The depth is marginal too, as Garcia and Doi have talent but often fail to close, with Garcia notably struggling in home events like this one. Tennis junkies will have an eye on the Osaka vs Ostapenko matchup in round one.
Quarterfinals: Williams def Azarenka, Keys def Chirico, Muguruza def Begu, Halep def Strycova
Semifinals: Williams def Keys, Halep def Muguruza
Final: Taking one last flyer on Halep, with her defeating Serena. They’ve played exciting matches before, with Williams prevailing, but the pressure of catching Steffi’s 22 lingers after Australia.