Martina Navratilova on the French Open: It's Iga Swiatek versus the field

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova believes a healthy Iga Swiatek is the clear favourite to claim another French Open title.

The defending champion boasts superlative numbers on the clay courts of Roland Garros, notching up a 21-2 record - to go with two titles - since her debut in 2019.

But the contenders are circling…

World number two Aryna Sabalenka stopped Swiatek's 2023 clay court run in her tracks in Madrid Open final, while Elena Rybakina has beaten Swiatek in all three of their matches this year.

Granted, Rybakina's last victory at the Rome Masters was a walkover after Swiatek retired in the final set due to a thigh injury, but the Kazakh had cause to celebrate nonetheless.

And therein lies the key to women's draw at the 2023 French Open: If Swiatek has recovered sufficiently, Navratilova is backing her claim third title at Roland Garros.

"It all hinges on her health," the 18-time grand slam winner told

"From what I'm hearing, the injury is not that bad. If she's 100 percent healthy, then she's the odds-on favorite. It's Iga versus the field. If she's not, then it's wide open."

In a world where Swiatek is not 100%, Navratilova talked up the chances of the challengers.

"And Sabalenka and Rybakina, they would be the favorites to win," she continued.

"No doubt about it, the way they've played on the clay. All those players should be pretty confident coming in, with Swiatek having the most if her body is 100 percent. I mean, we could have a surprising winner, but chances are it will be one of the three.

"I definitely want to see her in full flight. I want to see her supplanted only if people play better than her, not because she was injured. Last year, Iga almost forgot how to lose. She may not quite be at that stage yet, but she still should be super confident."

With 51 wins on the Roland Garros surface, Navratilova had plenty of advice for the young pretenders.

"Look, not everybody realizes that Sabalenka's power translates to any surface," said the veteran of the Russian.

"And on clay it's harder to defend because it's harder to recover, get out of the corners. No reason that with that big serve and those big shots can't succeed. I mean, she won the title in Madrid, and last year's results showed that wasn't a flash in the pan by any means. One of the things I've noticed is that you don't see her sliding that much. So I would say one area where she could improve is movement."

For Rybakina, Navratilova would like to see her exercise more patience on the slower surface.

"Overall, her success comes more easily in the faster points," she continued.

"The big thing for her is to be more patient. Use that 80-percent rally ball more often, you know, dial it down and don't go for too much too soon. Shot selection for her would be biggest area for improvement. If I was her coach, it would be one word: patience."

READ MORE: 2023 French Open - Who can fill the void left by Rafael Nadal?

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