Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Nadal, Sharapova, Azarenka Highlight Day 9 Action
On the second Monday of Roland Garros, the remaining quarterfinal lineups take shape. We continue our comprehensive look at the round of 16.
Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber: Four long years ago, Kohlschreiber stunned the future No. 1 in the third round here, their only clay meeting. Never have they met since Djokovic became the Djuggernaut in 2011, so that history offers little guide. Growing more impressive with each round, he demolished Grigor Dimitrov to reach the second week without dropping a set. Kohlschreiber has played only two matches here, receiving a second-round walkover, but he too has shone in limited action and appears to have recovered from a recent injury. Highlighted by his elegant one-handed backhand, the German’s shot-making talent should produce flurries of winners and an ideal foil for Djokovic’s court coverage. But he lacks the consistent explosiveness to hit through the Serb from the baseline.
Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny: Two veterans wield their one-handed backhands in hopes of a quarterfinal rendezvous with Djokovic. Far from a clay specialist, Youzhny may have surprised even himself by reaching the second week here, although he did win a set from the Serb in Monte Carlo and compiled a solid week in Madrid. A week later, he halted Haas routinely in Rome for his second win of the clay season over a top-20 opponent. Youzhny’s third such victory came over Janko Tipsarevic on Saturday, perhaps aided by the Serb’s fatigue in playing the day after a grueling five-setter. Meanwhile, Haas found the stamina to win a five-set epic from John Isner on Saturday without a day of rest, putting younger men to shame. Able to weather the adversity of twelve match points squandered, he looks as physically and mentally fit at age 35 as he ever has.
Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori: After Nadal lost a set to the Japanese star in their first meeting five years ago, he has swept their remaining three meetings without losing more than four games in any set. None of them has come on clay, which should tilt the balance of power even more clearly in Nadal’s favor. If he brings his flustered, disheveled form of the first week into the second week, however, Nishikori has the coolness, consistency, and belief to punish him. The last Asian player left in either draw recently defeated Federer on the Madrid clay, and he owns a victory over Djokovic as well. Nadal needs to start this match more solidly than he did his three previous matches, or he might dig an early hole for himself again. Even if he does, Nishikori’s vanilla baseline game should play into Rafa’s hands eventually.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet: The Swiss No. 2 could have renamed himself “Wowrinka” after a clay season in which he surged back to the top 10. Just outside it now, he seeks to reach his first Roland Garros quarterfinal with a fifth victory over a top-ten opponent this spring. This match will feature a scintillating battle of the two finest backhands in the men’s game, Wawrinka’s the sturdiest and Gasquet’s the most aesthetically pleasing. A strong four-set victory over fellow dark horse Jerzy Janowicz will give the former man valuable momentum for tackling an opponent who did not lose a set in the first week. Once fallible when playing in or for France, Gasquet has improved in that area during this mature phase of his career. He remains highly unreliable when sustained adversity strikes or when a match grows tense, as this match should.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Maria Kirilenko: When they collided on hard courts this spring, the Russian prevailed uneventfully. That result captured the relative status of their games then, Mattek-Sands struggling to gain traction in the main draws of key tournaments and Kirilenko arriving from a semifinal at Indian Wells. The gap separating their trajectories has narrowed during the clay season, where Mattek-Sands suddenly has emerged as a credible threat. A victory over Sara Errani launched her toward a semifinal in Stuttgart, while an upset over Li Na here has catalyzed this second-week run. The American will dictate the terms of this engagement by attempting to bomb winners down the line before Kirilenko settles into the rallies. Against someone who defends as adeptly as the Russian, that tactic could reap mixed results for someone whose accuracy ebbs and flows.
Francesca Schiavone vs. Victoria Azarenka: In a bizarre head-to-head considering their histories, Azarenka has won both of their clay meetings and Schiavone their only match on hard courts. Those trends do not reflect the surface advantage that one would hand the Italian, once a champion and twice a finalist here. Azarenka never has ventured past the quarterfinals, by contrast, and has struggled both mentally and physically with the demands of clay. She may need more experience on it to solve its riddles, but Schiavone could confront her with an intriguing test. A player who prefers rhythmic exchanges from the baseline, Azarenka can expect to find herself stretched into uncomfortable positions and forced to contend with an array of spins and slices. If she serves as woefully as she did against Cornet a round ago, Schiavone might have a real chance at another miracle.
Jamie Hampton vs. Jelena Jankovic: It looks like a clear mismatch on paper, and it could prove a mismatch in reality. A three-time Roland Garros semifinalist and former No. 1 confronts an American who never has reached a major quarterfinal or the top 20. But Hampton will bring confidence from her upset of Petra Kvitova, an opponent with much more dangerous weapons than Jankovic can wield. The bad news for the underdog is that the Serb also will have brought confidence from her previous round, a three-set comeback against former Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur. Jankovic often follows an excellent performance with a clunker, though, as she showed in Rome when she collapsed against Simona Halep after upsetting Li Na. And Hampton won their only prior meeting last year at Indian Wells.
Maria Sharapova vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion looked a few degrees less than bulletproof in the second sets of her last two victories. Perhaps Sharapova relaxed her steeliness a bit in both when she won the first sets resoundingly from her overmatched prey. While she deserves credit for finishing both in style, future opponents may find hope in those lulls. On the other hand, Sharapova struggled on serve throughout her match against Stephens in Rome—and lost a whopping three games. Her experience buttressed her on the key deuce points, which she dominated, while her return devastated the Stephens serve. The 20-year-old American has surpassed expectations by reaching the second week here again, although she has benefited from a toothless draw. Needing help from Serena to stun the world in Melbourne, Stephens will need help from Sharapova to stun the world in Paris.