Roland Garros Rewind: Thoughts on Tuesday’s Quarterfinal Action
Plenty of fascinating events unfolded on the first day of quarterfinal action in Paris. Here are my thoughts on what happened.
Major breakthrough: Not since 2011 had Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated a member of the ATP top eight, much less one of the Big Four. He had lost a five-set heartbreaker in the same round here last year to Novak Djokovic, and he had lost a five-setter in the same round at the Australian Open to the man whom he faced today. When Tsonga fell behind early in the first set, the narrative looked all too familiar. But the flamboyant French shot-maker has shown far more resilience this fortnight than he has in years, and he stormed back from early adversity to dominate Roger Federer as few men ever have at a major. Give the Paris crowd credit for abandoning their usual adulation of Federer and relentlessly exhorting their home hero to knock him off.
Pumpkin time for Cinderella Tommy: All of those grueling comebacks finally caught up with Tommy Robredo, who won just four games from David Ferrer in a listless quarterfinal. When he looks back at this tournament, though, Robredo will remember it as one of the highlights of his career. Normally a reserved, unassuming character, he stole the spotlight for several days on a grand stage for the first time. Nobody would have expected it of him a few months ago.
Crossroads for Federer: Despite the 36-quarterfinal streak at majors, one would have to rate the first half of 2013 a serious disappointment for the Swiss. Federer has no titles, one final, and one victory over a top-eight opponent (Tsonga at the Australian Open). Now, Federer must seek to defend his Wimbledon title or possibly face the prospect of dropping outside the top four. His occasional flickers of brilliance this spring simply will not suffice unless the draw implodes, which rarely happens at a major.
When David becomes Goliath: The fourth seed reached his second straight Roland Garros semifinal and fourth semifinal in five majors by losing just nine games in his last six sets. Tsonga cannot overlook the small Spaniard on the eve of a possible final against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Granted a fine draw that placed him in the opposite half from both of those nemeses, Ferrer has made the most of it. He could reach his first major final without facing any of the Big Four, a golden opportunity.
All eyes on the top half: With Federer gone, the winner of the projected Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal semifinal blockbuster will be heavily favored against whomever he faces in the final. That match looms larger than ever, assuming that both men can take care of business tomorrow.
No time like the first time: Neither Tsonga nor Ferrer ever has reached the final here. Neither man even has lost a set in reaching this stage, a first for both. Who will handle the pressure better on Friday?
Forza Italia: For the fourth straight year, an Italian woman reaches the Roland Garros semifinals. Sara Errani hit neither an ace nor a double fault in a characteristically gritty win over Agnieszka Radwanska, concluding with a 67-minute second set. Defeating Radwanska in a WTA main-draw match for the first time, she exploited her much greater comfort on the surface but also beat the world No. 4 at her own game. A leisurely 11-break contest with long points and relatively few winners normally plays into Radwanska’s hands. Not this time.
No déjà vu, thank you: Facing Svetlana Kuznetsova on the same court where she lost to her in this round four years ago, Serena Williams seized control with an emphatic first set that extended her usual pattern this tournament. History then threatened to repeat itself when Kuznetsova rallied to take the second set and claimed an early break in the third. Struggling with both her serve and her groundstroke technique, Serena looked much less like the dominant contender of the early rounds than the woman who had not reached a Roland Garros semifinal for a decade. Sheer willpower finally ended that drought and a four-match losing streak in quarterfinals here as the world No. 1 forced herself to find her range in an unexpectedly hard-fought victory.
Crossroads for Radwanska: In some respects, the newly blonde world No. 4 has enjoyed a strong year, matching her best result ever at the Australian Open (quarterfinal) and achieving a new best result at Roland Garros (also quarterfinal). A few other results have impressed as well, including a Miami semifinal. But Radwanska has shown little real evolution this year that would encourage one to believe in her as anything more than a serial quarterfinalist at majors. She will defend finals points at Wimbledon, the only major where she has gone past that round. Like Federer, her top-four status might crumble if she falls well short there.
No eyes on the bottom half: With Serena still in the draw, the matches down there offer an entertaining diversion but lack real title implications. The top seed has bageled or breadsticked all four of the bottom-half quarterfinalists on clay this year and holds a 32-4 career record against the three not named Jelena Jankovic. When JJ holds your best hope for a competitive final, avert your eyes.
Rewind to Madrid: Nudged within two points of defeat by Anabel Medina Garrigues in a quarterfinal there, Serena escaped and then rocketed past her last two opponents to the title. She will face Errani in the semifinals here, as she did there. Will the parallels continue?