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Five players to watch as the French Open begins

Iga Świątek enters the French Open on a 28-match winning streak. (Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The second major of the tennis season begins Sunday at Roland Garros. While the French Open qualifiers are underway, the sport’s major stars are waiting and preparing for the two-week competition.

Ash Barty will not be present after announcing her retirement in the weeks following her win at the Australian Open. Since then, several stars have stepped into the spotlight, and none more forcefully than Iga Świątek, who is riding a 28-match win streak into Roland Garros.

With Świątek leading the way, Just Women’s Sports has the top five players to watch as the French Open kicks off.

Iga Świątek

There is no hotter player on tour heading into the French Open than Iga Świątek. Since Barty walked away from the game in March, the 20-year-old has firmly cemented herself as the No. 1 player in the world.

Just the second player to win four WTA 1000 trophies in a single season, after Serena Williams, Świątek most recently claimed her fifth consecutive title at the Italian Open over the weekend. She’s won every WTA 1000 event she’s competed in this season, earning trophies at Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome. During her 28-game win streak, she’s dropped just five sets. The run includes 12 bagel sets, in which Świątek won 6-0, and 10 sets won by a score of 6-1.

It’s not as if the quality of Świątek’s opponents has been lacking, either. Of the 28 matches, 21 were against players in the top 50, 11 were against those in the top 20 and seven against opponents in the top 10. The Polish player has been dominant in all facets, winning 72.6 percent of her service games and 55.3 percent of her return games. Świątek’s only Grand Slam title came at the French Open in 2020, and she enters this year’s tournament as the player to beat.

Ons Jabeur

Heading into the final of the Italian Open on Sunday, where Ons Jabeur lost to Świątek, the Tunisian had been on an 11-match win streak of her own. The match was Jabeur’s second straight finals appearance after she defeated Jessica Pegula to win the Madrid Open the week prior.

Jabeur is just the fourth player to appear in both the Madrid and Rome finals in the same year, joining Dinara Safina from 2009, Serena Williams from 2013 and Simona Halep from 2017.

Entering the French Open with a career-high No. 6 world ranking, Jabeur has found success with her serve, winning 70.2 percent of her service points. She’s also recorded 106 aces, good for third among the world’s top 10. With 17 victories on clay this year, the 27-year-old has more wins on the surface than anyone else on tour and will be in her element at the French Open.

Bianca Andreescu

There might not be a more exciting player outside of the top 50 than Andreescu based on the way she’s playing right now. The 2019 U.S. Open champion returned to action at Stuttgart in April, playing in her first professional-level tennis match in seven months, and has been on a tear since then. In Madrid, she dismantled reigning Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins in straight sets. Through her first three tournaments of the season, Andreescu has won six of her nine matches on clay — including a quarterfinal run in Rome, where she fell to Świątek.

The Canadian entered Stuttgart last month ranked No. 121 in the world and has since climbed her way back up the rankings. Rising 18 spots after her finish at Rome, Andreescu heads into Roland Garros as the No. 72-ranked player. She is also one of the few players who has seemingly given Świątek any trouble this season. The 21-year-old took Świątek to break point in their first set in Rome before falling in straight sets.

Andreescu, once the No. 4 player in the world, has returned to form since opting out of the Australian Open to focus on her mental health, and the French Open is a chance for her to make a statement.

Danielle Collins

Danielle Collins has had a strong start to the year, climbing into the top 10 for the first time after making the Australian Open final, where she lost to Ash Barty. She’s dropped a spot since premiering at No. 8 in the world, having dealt with some ups and downs. The American lost to Andreescu in straight sets in Madrid before turning around and defeating Simona Halep in straight sets in the Round of 32 at the Italian Open. 

While she’s better on hard surfaces, Collins has had notable wins on clay, including at the 2021 Palermo Ladies Open. In last year’s French Open, Collins made it to the Round of 32, where she lost to Serena Williams in straight sets. She’s gained momentum since then, taking a 5-1 lead over Barty in the second set of the Australian Open final before Barty came roaring back.

If Collins can find her groove at Roland Garros, she’ll have as good a shot as any top-10 player at taking home the trophy.

Simona Halep

This will be Simona Halep’s first major since she hired new coach Patrick Mouratoglou. The coach is best known for his 10-year stint with Serena Williams, during which time she won 10 Grand Slam titles and completed the career Golden Slam.

Halep has also had success in Grand Slams in the past decade. She won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon in 2019. The former world No. 1 also made the final of the Australian Open in 2018 and the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2015.

The Romanian started the year off well, reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells before losing to Świątek in a close two-set match. She later withdrew from Miami, Charleston and the Fed Cup with a thigh injury. She made her return at the Madrid Open, where she took down world No. 3 Paula Badosa in straight sets in the Round of 32 and advanced to the quarterfinals. With those results, Halep soared back into the top 20 at No. 19.

If Halep continues to gain confidence as she works her way back from the injury, there’s no limit to what she can achieve in France.

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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