Roland Garros Fast Forward: Tsonga, Monfils Take Center Stage on Busy Day Four
We break down the ten most notable matches on Wednesday as the second round begins. Please note that some of Tuesday’s postponements feature in the previous edition of Fast Forward.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jarkko Nieminen: One of the most surprising stories of this clay season belongs to the lefty from Finland, who reached a Masters 1000 quarterfinal at Monte Carlo after upsetting Raonic and Juan Martin Del Potro. Nieminen backed up that achievement by emerging from a much less fearsome field to reach the Dusseldorf final last weekend. He has won 10 of 11 tiebreaks this year despite lacking an outstanding serve, and he has caused Tsonga trouble consistently, although they never have met on clay. This match should give us a better sense of the top-ranked Frenchman’s form than his first-round rout could.
Gael Monfils vs. Ernests Gulbis: For the second straight round, Monfils features in what looks like the best match of the day. His five-set, four-hour thriller against Berdych lived up to its billing but may have depleted his energy for the next shot-making extravaganza. The Paris crowd will spare no energy of their own in propelling their man forward, which could light the short fuse of Gulbis. Twice winning sets from Nadal this spring, the Latvian compiled the longest winning streak of his career from February to March before producing mixed results this clay season. Gulbis reached the quarterfinals here in 2008, the same year that Monfils reached the semifinals. Those are their best results at any major.
Milos Raonic vs. Michael Llodra: These two men prefer short, staccato points to the long rallies into which the surface seeks to lure them. Raonic flirted with frittering away a commanding lead in his first match, throwing the overmatched Xavier Malisse multiple lifelines after the veteran had won just three games in the first two sets. Inefficient closures and unnecessary length have defined many of Raonic’s first-week matches at majors, suggesting that the best-of-five format tests his focus. He recorded one solid clay results this spring, a second straight Barcelona semifinal, while exiting early everywhere else. Raonic has won all five of his meetings with Llodra, but the lefty often shines playing in or for France.
Albert Montanes vs. David Ferrer: The man who defeated Monfils in the Nice final, Montanes weathered a tricky five-setter in his first match as well. Players who win titles the week before a major rarely go far at that major, and the smart money says that his run ends here. Ferrer produced clinically efficient tennis in dismantling his first opponent, setting early clay-season disappointments behind him and surely relieved to see no Nadal in his vicinity. He has not lost more than two games in any of the eight sets that he has played against Montanes, simply superior in every facet of the game.
Nick Kyrgios vs. Marin Cilic: After defeating Stepanek in a triple-tiebreak affair, the Australian youngster of Greek descent eyes a much larger target. Although Cilic stands on the threshold of the top ten, he has settled into a tier well below the elite and seems content there after displaying more ambition early in his career. The world No. 11 struggles on clay with his indifferent footwork and movement, but he dropped just six games in the first round. Losses to Ivan Dodig and Pablo Andujar during the Road to Roland Garros hint that Kyrgios might make this match competitive at least.
Serena Williams vs. Caroline Garcia: The memory that most fans associate with Garcia comes from Roland Garros two years ago, when she led Sharapova by a set and 4-1 in this round. An impressed Andy Murray anointed her a future WTA No. 1 on Twitter, to which Garcia promptly responded by losing 11 straight games. She has vanished from view since then, playing a schedule heavy on challengers as she attempts to bolster her ranking. The competition rises a bit for the French teenager from Yuliya Beygelzimer to Serena Williams, who conceded just one game in her opener. Garcia’s vicious forehand should thrill the home crowd at times, but her serve cannot keep Serena at bay.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Mallory Burdette: Efficient in dismantling Shahar Peer to start her fortnight, Radwanska will look forward to testing her bag of tricks on a raw American. Stanford graduate Burdette continues to find her footing on the WTA Tour after joining it full-time last fall, near when she reached the third round of the US Open. She viewed her match against Sharapova there as a learning experience, and this match against another member of the top four should serve her the same way.
Yulia Putintseva vs. Sara Errani: The aurally challenged should have no trouble finding their way to this match of two small women with big voices. It recalls Radwanska vs. Burdette, for the raw Putintseva will benefit from playing someone of Errani’s experience and clay expertise. On the other hand, last year’s runner-up cannot expect the young fireball across the net to flame out too quickly. Putintseva nearly swiped a set from Serena in Madrid and takes confidence to an extreme. Neither woman can overpower the other, so matters could get a bit edgy for a set or so until Yulia’s temper betrays her.
Monica Puig vs. Madison Keys: We might see this matchup many more times and later in tournaments if both young talents continue their upward trends. Keys in particular has impressed as the most plausible candidate to spearhead the next generation of American women’s prospects, for she seems to own both the tangible weapons and intangible ambition. Her results have tapered after a strong January, although she defeated Li Na in Madrid. Puig notched a less notable upset in the first round by ousting the 11th-seeded Nadia Petrova in three sets. Francesca Schiavone and Julia Goerges numbered among the other victims of this 19-year-old Puerto Rican, who recently cracked the top 100.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Bojana Jovanovski: The non-upset of Wozniacki’s victory over Laura Robson almost felt like an upset, so confident had many of us felt in the world No. 10 flunking that test. Not only winning but winning with ease, she has placed herself on track for a rematch of her Australian Open meeting with Svetlana Kuznetsova. First, she must avenge a loss in Rome earlier this month to Jovanovski, the only main-draw match that the Serb had won since January until her first-round victory here. Wozniacki’s nerves betrayed her in Rome as she let three substantial leads slip away, a symptom of her recent struggles.