The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta. Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York. But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles. For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.
Top half: The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20. Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison. The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta. Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions. He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.
Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American. Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise. On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise. Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand. His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles. Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt. A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.
Semifinal: Isner vs. Hewitt
Bottom half: The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months. Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic. Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable. The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion. Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues. Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.
Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude. They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta. Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.
Semifinal: Fish vs. Anderson
Final: Hewitt vs. Anderson
Top half: As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw. Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though. Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week. Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal. But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.
A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title. The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half. Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg. Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Monaco
Bottom half: Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol. Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring. But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him. The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true). Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well. The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.
That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez. Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section. Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder. Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Semifinal: Granollers vs. Wawrinka
Final: Federer vs. Wawrinka
Top half: Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw. He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later. Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises. The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking. Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.
In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad. This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker. An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year. Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Semifinal: Gasquet vs. Fognini
Bottom half: Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon. Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad. A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there. The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.
The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos. While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there. Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi. On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.
Semifinal: Robredo vs. Berlocq
Final: Fognini vs. Robredo
Only one member of the top 10 takes the court in next week’s two ATP tournaments. But he’s someone who might merit your attention.
Top half: After his second-round loss at Wimbledon, Roger Federer admitted that he needed to regain his rhythm and poise at key moments in matches. Taking a wildcard into Hamburg, which he won as a Masters 1000 tournament, Federer seeks his first title of the season above the 250 level. That triumph came at the grass event in Halle, so the world No. 5 will hope to make it two for two on German soil. Home favorite Daniel Brands could prove an intriguing opening test, considering the challenge that Brands posed for Rafael Nadal in a Roland Garros four-setter. But the headline match of the quarter, or perhaps the half, comes in the next round with Ernests Gulbis. Defeating Federer on clay in Rome before, Gulbis has taken at least one set in all three of their previous meetings. Most of the other players in this section, such as Feliciano Lopez or Nikolay Davydenko, have grown accustomed to Federer’s superiority.
All four seeds in the second quarter reached a quarterfinal at a major this year, rare for an event of Hamburg’s diminished stature. Jerzy Janowicz and Fernando Verdasco both launched their surprise runs at Wimbledon, and Verdasco extended his surge from grass to clay by winning his first title since 2010 last week. In his first tournament as a member of the top 20, Janowicz has built his ranking less on consistency than on a handful of notable achievements at key tournaments. Similarly, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy has struggled to string together momentum and has secured just one semifinal berth since that breakthrough. An all-Spanish quarterfinal might await if Verdasco and Roland Garros quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo use their superior clay expertise to halt the higher-ranked Janowicz and Chardy, respectively. Federer never has lost to any of these men, or to anyone else in a section where Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar also lurks.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Verdasco
Bottom half: The sight of Nicolas Almagro and Mikhail Youzhny in the same vicinity calls to mind their Miami clash five years ago. Youzhny famously won that match with blood dripping down his head after banging his racket on it repeatedly. Undefeated in their previous meetings, Youzhny stopped Almagro in another three-setter this spring without reacquainting his racket with his head. While the Spaniard has faltered after a promising start to 2013, he still holds the surface edge on his nemesis. This section also contains four unseeded players who have reached clay finals this year. Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol could derail Almagro straight out of the gate, while Bucharest runner-up Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sets his sights on Youzhny. A champion in Nice, Albert Montanes could eye a rematch of his final there against Gael Monfils, but only if the latter can upset defending champion Juan Monaco. The Argentine won a clay title in Dusseldorf on the day that Montanes won Nice, his fourth on clay in 2012-13.
Second seed Tommy Haas usually shines on German soil during these latter stages of his career. Winning Munich on clay and taking a set from Federer in a Halle semifinal, Haas finished runner-up to Monaco in Hamburg last year. On the verge of the top 10, he showed some traces of fatigue by falling early in Stuttgart as the top seed. A semifinalist at that tournament, Victor Hanescu could face Haas in his opener, while Bastad runner-up Carlos Berlocq looms a round later. The other side of the section exudes a distinctly Italian flavor, bookended by Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini. A semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Fognini started his campaign there by defeating Seppi in three sets, and he has enjoyed far stronger clay results than his compatriot this year. Of minor note are Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, just 4-14 since that breakthrough, and Rome quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, who owed that result in large part to Andy Murray’s retirement.
Semifinal: Monaco vs. Haas
Final: Federer vs. Monaco
Top half: Not since the Australian Open has Janko Tipsarevic won more than two matches in a tournament. The beleaguered Serb saw his ranking slide out of the top 10 this summer, unable to salvage it even with several appearances at the 250 level. Another such effort to gobble up easy points as the top seed unfolds in Bogota. This draw looks more accommodating to Tipsarevic than others in which he has held that position. A pair of Colombians, Alejandro Falla and a wildcard, join a pair of Belgians and Australian serve-volleyer Matthew Ebden in his vicinity. If he can rediscover the tennis that brought him to the top 10, Tipsarevic should cruise. If he plays as he has for most of the year, anything could happen.
Among the most intriguing names in the second quarter is rising Canadian star Vasek Pospisil. Depending on how fast the courts play in Bogota, Pospisil could deploy his serve and shot-making to devastating effect against less powerful opponents. Australian journeyman James Duckworth showed his mettle in two epics at his home major this year, while Aljaz Bedene owns a win over Stanislas Wawrinka—but not much else. A finalist in Delray Beach, fourth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin hopes to halt a four-match losing streak. At least Mr. Bye cannot stop him in the first round.
Bottom half: Surprising most observers by reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Adrian Mannarino came back to earth with a modest result in Newport. At an event of similar caliber, he will hope to build on his momentum from grass while it still lingers. The same motivation probably spurs third seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon after bursting on the scene with a victory over Tsonga in February. Back into action with a quarterfinal showing in Newport, Ivo Karlovic brings his towering serve to an altitude ideal for it. At 7,000 feet above sea level, Dr. Ivo might be nearly unbreakable if his fitness weathers the thin air.
Also armed with a massive serve, second seed Kevin Anderson eyes a cluster of Colombians. Two home hopes meet in the first round, but Santiago Giraldo will fancy his chances to reach the quarterfinals. Near him is Kazakh loose cannon Evgeny Korolev, who oozes with talent while lacking the reins to harness it. Anderson has won all three of his meetings with Korolev and his only previous encounter with Giraldo, so his path to the weekend looks clear.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Anderson
(June 21, 2013) Long time tennis and sports brand Fila has just released its first tennis shoe in years, the Sentinel, and we at Tennis Grandstand were given a sneak peak into the brand’s newest creation.
Fila has marketed the Sentinel as a “modern silhouette with comfort, durability and traction in mind and engineered to endure the rigors of match play” for all levels of tennis players, from juniors to professional. I’ve been on the market for a good tennis shoe, so naturally I wanted to test it out for myself.
When I first took my white/Hawaiian ocean blue test pair out of the box, I was immediately captivated. The sleek lines, seamless pattern shifts of the varying mesh materials, and incorporation of color were perfectly in balance. By the look and feel alone, it felt like a sturdy and durable shoe. Design-wise, this is one of my favorite shoes on the market currently, and it comes in three color combinations for women and four for men. Time to put it on and really test it out!
Style – 5/5 stars
My feet haven’t always easily and comfortably fit into all the differing Nike and adidas tennis shoes on the market over the years. So, when I put these bad boys on for the first time, it fit like a glove. The inside cushioning has a slight upward deflection around the heel area, as well as the inner and outer arches, allowing your feet to almost mold with the design. The cushioning also has a slight give, letting your feet rest comfortably in the shoe.
Taking my new kicks out onto the tennis courts, I was ready to play. Running up and back, and laterally, I felt that there was sufficient room for my feet to be comfortable, and nothing was pinching. The tongue also has an internal elastic strap, which prevents it from moving around, and it was a really nice addition. By the end of match play, my feet didn’t feel tired or cramped, and I could still feel the welcome extra cushioning of the memory foam lined heel collar.
Comfort – 5/5 stars, but I would like to give it more stars!
The modified herringbone outersole provided good traction on the hard courts, and though Fila offers a 6-month guarantee on it, based on my use, I would expect a longer life than that for the average club player. The extra toe protection that Fila also incorporated doesn’t overwhelm visually, but gives those who like to slide, enough material to do so without wearing the shoe down quickly. The same goes for the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) support on the sides of the shoe, which provides good foot stability, as well as durability for sliding or quick stops. My movement didn’t feel hindered by the shoe in any way, and it is lightweight measuring at around 12.3 ounces for the women’s shoes, and 14.6 ounces for the men’s shoes. The shoe is also fairly true to fit, not really expanding with use, and if anything, is perhaps a half-size big.
Performance – 5/5 stars
Truth be told, I was really trying hard to find something wrong with this shoe over time because it seemed too good to be true. But I failed miserably in my endeavor. The durability, comfort, breathability, style and performance of the Sentinel were worth the wait since Fila’s last tennis shoe years ago.
The Fila tennis pros themselves have already been testing out the Sentinel for months now, so don’t take my word for it. See what Janko Tipsarevic, Andreas Seppi, Julia Goerges, Dmitry Tursunov and Marina Erakovic have to say!
“Tennis shoes are very important to professional players. It is important that the shoe is lightweight so we can be quick on our feet, yet stable so we do not slip or slide on court. The Sentinel feels low to the ground without sacrificing comfort and cushioning. The traction is excellent and the shoe is very durable for the hours that I put in on the tennis court. All in all, this is my favorite Fila tennis shoe in recent years.”
“I have been wearing the Sentinel since late last year and I really like the shoe because they are light, extremely durable and very comfortable on-court. The Sentinel is now my favorite Fila shoe that I have worn in all the years we have been together on tour!”
“The Sentinel is very light, but at the same time, the shoe is very stable which is important for your ankles! It is so comfortable wearing these shoes!”
“I have been wearing this shoe during the clay court season and it’s an extremely lightweight shoe but this benefit does not come at the cost of comfort. The Sentinel is very stable and gives good feedback. It’s one of the best shoes Fila introduced in recent years.”
“The Sentinel is very lightweight, supportive and has great cushioning, but my favorite thing about the Sentinel is the secure fit on my feet. I don’t think about slipping or rolling because the Sentinel is so stable on my feet.”
Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens. But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.
Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.
The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.
Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.
Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.
Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.
Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.
Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.
John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.
Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.
Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.
Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.
Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.
Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.
Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.
Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.
Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.
Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.
Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.
Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.
Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.
Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.
Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.
Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.
Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.
Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.
Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.
Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.
Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.
David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.
Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.
Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.
Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.
Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.
Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.
The remaining second-week lineups fell into place on Saturday at Roland Garros. Here’s a look back at the studs and duds.
Match of the day: Returning to the battlefield after playing an 8-6 fifth set yesterday, John Isner outdid himself in the effort department. The American giant rallied from two sets down against Tommy Haas, saving twelve match points in the fourth set. Isner even claimed a 4-1 lead in the fifth set as a second comeback in two days from losing the first two sets loomed. Somehow managing to break and saving a match point at 4-5, Haas hung on until Isner finally cracked at 8-8. The thirteenth match point proved the charm.
Unsurprising surprise of the day: Also back in action a day after an 8-6 fifth set, Janko Tipsarevic predictably responded less impressively than Isner did. The eighth seed fell to Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets. Whoever thought that Youzhny would reach the second week of Roland Garros and have a real chance at a quarterfinal berth deserves a glass of Champagne’s finest.
Nice story of the day: Overshadowed this tournament by someone else from Switzerland, as he usually is, Stanislas Wawrinka posted a solid four-set win over the dangerous Jerzy Janowicz. Wawrinka had not known whether he would participate in Roland Garros this year because of a leg injury, so he will feel confident that he made the right decision.
Scandal of the day: A set point against Kei Nishikori awaited Benoit Paire—or so it seemed. Umpire Enric Molina took away the opportunity with a coaching code violation, resulting in a point penalty. An infuriated Paire argued his case at length, but Molina appeared to have ruled correctly. Probably spurred by the incident, Paire bludgeoned his way to win the set anyway, although he lost the match.
Gold star: Like fellow Head endorser Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic always fancies a taste of revenge. He ravaged Grigor Dimitrov’s serve without mercy just weeks after finding it nearly invulnerable in Madrid. Toppled in three sets that time, Djokovic lost just seven games here.
Silver star: Baby steps for Rafael Nadal, who looked far from his overwhelming King of Clay self again but at least advanced in straight sets. Nadal had thrashed third-round opponent Fabio Fognini in Rome. This match proved much more competitive but never really in doubt once he survived a slow start to win a first-set tiebreak.
Stat of the day: The twelve match points saved by Isner were the most ever saved by any man in a match at a major.
American men in Paris: None reach the second week. RIP, this category.
Question of the day: Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber has advanced routinely to this stage and upset the Serb here in 2009. Can he make things interesting on Monday?
Match of the day: Just like Monfils-Berdych, the Stosur-Jankovic duel of veteran clay specialists lived up to its billing. Jankovic repeated her Stuttgart upset of the world No. 9 after losing the first set and closing out a long, tight decider. Her clay revival this year should lead to her first major quarterfinal in recent memory,…
Surprise of the day: …although Jamie Hampton might have something to say about it. The small American who gave Victoria Azarenka a scare in Melbourne bundled Petra Kvitova out of the tournament. Facing little resistance early, Hampton needed to navigate a long second-set tiebreak to prevent the advantage shifting back to the favorite in the third set. Kvitova has lost before the quarterfinals at three straight majors.
Nice story of the day: Perhaps the nicest story of the tournament, in fact. 2010 champion and 2011 finalist Francesca Schiavone returns to the second week in Paris despite a disappointing season, finishing off top-ranked Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli without much ado.
Top seeds show frailty…: Victoria Azarenka barely could hold serve at all for a set-plus against Alize Cornet, dropping a break at love to concede the first set to someone with a 24-match losing streak against top-30 opponents. After an emphatic first set, Maria Sharapova suddenly lost the plot and fell behind by a double break to the persistent but faded Zheng Jie amid serving struggles.
…but finish strong: Once adversity struck, both top women showed their spine. World No. 3 Azarenka raced through a 6-1 third set, while world No. 2 Sharapova swept six of the last seven games. If you want to score a huge upset, you cannot afford to labor as consistently on serve as Cornet and Zheng did. That is too much additional pressure stacked on top of the pressure created by the circumstances.
Adieu, les bleues: Barely wobbling through her two previous matches, Bartoli followed Cornet to the exit as the last Frenchwomen faded from the draw in the first week. Credit to each of them for fighting bard, but France simply is not a first-tier tennis power in the women’s game.
Stat of the day: Sharapova converted all eight of her break points against Zheng, who held serve exactly once in the match.
Americans in Paris: Who would have thought that the stars and stripes would supply a quarter of the women’s final sixteen on the clay of Roland Garros? In addition to Hampton and Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from losing the first set for the second straight match to dominate clay specialist Paula Ormaechea late. Sloane Stephens took advantage of a soft draw to repeat her second-week result here from last year. Now 8-1 at majors and 11-1 at non-majors, Stephens saves her best for when it means the most.
Questions of the day: Can Schiavone flap the visibly flappable Azarenka on Monday? And how many women’s quarterfinalists will the USA produce? All but Serena will be underdogs next round.
A sweeping slate of second-round and third-round matches filled the slate on Friday as the tournament caught up from a rainy Thursday. Here is a look back at the rapidly unfolding action.
Match of the day: Banished from the televised courts, Fernando Verdasco and Janko Tipsarevic continued their history of fascinating meetings with a five-set sequence of twists and turns. Tipsarevic appeared to have seized control for good when he dominated the second set after winning a tight first-set tiebreak. To his credit, Verdasco battled all the way back and took the eighth seed to 8-6 in the fifth. Vulnerable all year, Tipsarevic found just enough courage to ward off the massive collapse:
Comeback of the day. Tommy Robredo did it again. Not known for flamboyance or drama, the Spanish veteran did what his compatriot Verdasco could not and charged back from two sets down to halt home hero Gael Monfils. Fatigue from an overstuffed schedule may have hampered Monfils late in the match, for Robredo closed out the fifth set with surprising ease.
Surprise of the day: Third-ranked Serb Viktor Troicki had struggled to string together victories all season, so an upset of the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic on Troicki’s worst surface raised eyebrows. (Of course, clay is Cilic’s worst surface as well.) The key to this match may have come as early as the first-set tiebreak, which Troicki saved multiple set points to win 14-12 before dominating thereafter.
Tale of two Spaniards: Nine sets played, nine sets won for—not Rafael Nadal, but David Ferrer. None of his first three opponents have tested the second-ranked Spaniard, whereas his top-ranked countryman has dropped the first set in both of his first two matches. Nadal, who comes back to face Fabio Fognini tomorrow, looked strangely uncomfortable for much for his four-set victory against Martin Klizan despite his outstanding clay campaign.
Gold star: Tremors rippled through Court Philippe Chatrier when Roger Federer lost his opening service game, a departure from his routs in the first two rounds. Against chronic nemesis Julien Benneteau, however, Federer swiftly buckled down to business and never looked seriously troubled thereafter.
Silver star: Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his bulletproof progress with a surprisingly routine dismissal of compatriot Jeremy Chardy. Tsonga lost only eight games in staying on track to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their Australian Open meeting.
Americans in Paris: Winless in five-set matches, Ryan Harrison let a two-set lead escape him as his 2013 woes persist. At least his disintegration benefited fellow American John Isner, who snapped his own four-match losing streak in final frames. Less fortunate was the top-ranked American Sam Querrey, falling in five sets to Gilles Simon after coming within a tiebreak of victory. Also gone on Friday was Jack Sock, overmatched by Tommy Haas in a competitive but rarely suspenseful straight-setter.
Question of the day: Does the impressive form displayed by Tsonga and Ferrer suggest that they can challenge Federer more than they usually do?
Match of the day: Overcoming an 0-4 record against Varvara Lepchenko, Angelique Kerber withstood 46 winners from her fellow lefty to prevail 6-4 in the third. Lepchenko’s history of strong results on clay underscores the significance of Kerber’s victory as she reached the second week for the fifth straight major. Up next for her is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who recently played a thriller against her in Madrid.
Comeback of the day: Pounding more winners in two sets than Lepchenko did in three, Mariana Duque-Marino served for both sets against Marion Bartoli. The top-ranked Frenchwoman spent much of the match with her back to the wall, as she did in the first round, but she edged through a first-set tiebreak and swept the last four games of the second set to survive.
Surprise of the day: In a day with no notable upsets, a match between two unseeded players produced the greatest surprise. Brussels champion Kaia Kanepi failed to exploit a crumbling section of the draw, instead adding to the uncertainty caused by the exits of Li Na and Yaroslava Shvedova. Having won barely a single match on red clay this year, Stefanie Voegele ousted last year’s quarterfinalist 8-6 in the third as part of an excellent day for Swiss players.
Gold star: Top seed Serena Williams has dropped just six game in six sets here, extending the longest winning streak of her career. Her momentum and aura has built to the point where many opponents seem to lose hope before they even take the court. What a difference a year makes.
Silver star: All three Italian women in action today prevailed. Only slightly authoritative than Serena here, Sara Errani bageled imposing server Sabine Lisicki in a demonstration of how her clay-court skills can compensate for immense gaps in power. Less persuasive was second-ranked Italian Roberta Vinci, who weathered a second-set lull to survive in three. But the brightest headline of the day came from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, able to edge seeded opponent Kirsten Flipkens to reach the brink of the second week.
Most improved: After she had lost the first set in each of her first two matches, Carla Suarez Navarro navigated through her third more routinely. Perhaps Nadal should take a page from his countrywoman’s book.
Fastest finish: Defending champion Maria Sharapova seemed to spend more time warming up before and interviewing after the completion of her second-round match than she needed to play the match itself. About ten minutes of live action sufficed to move Sharapova past Eugenie Bouchard, although she needed a massive second serve to save a break point that would have leveled the second set.
Question of the day: Which former champion has a better chance to upset a top-eight seed, Kuznetsova against Kerber or Ana Ivanovic against Agnieszka Radwanska?
Our Thursday preview discusses eight matches from each singles draw, starting this time with the WTA.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Samantha Stosur: Her opening victory over Kimiko Date-Krumm looked impressive on paper with the loss of just two games. Now, however, Stosur must face a Frenchwoman much more worthy of her steel. Mladenovic caught fire on home soil in February when she reached the semifinals of the Paris Indoors, although she faces an uphill battle against an opponent more accomplished on clay and much more experienced at this level.
Maria Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard: Teenagers have troubled Sharapova in the first week of majors before, from the Melanie Oudin catastrophe at the US Open to a hard-fought encounter with Laura Robson at Wimbledon and a narrowly avoided stumble against Caroline Garcia here. Bouchard reached the semifinals of Strasbourg last week, where she threatened eventual champion Alize Cornet. On the other hand, the 19-year-old Canadian eked out only two games from the woman who designs her Nike outfits when they met in Miami this spring.
Francesca Schiavone vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Logic suggests that the second round marks the end of the road for Schiavone, who faces a seeded opponent there. Her history at this tournament suggests that we should not lean too heavily on logic and give her a fighting chance against a young Belgian more successful on faster surfaces.
Li Na vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: When they met in Stuttgart this spring, the 2011 Roland Garros champion eased past her fellow veteran. Mattek-Sands pulled off a series of impressive victories that week, reaching the semifinals as a qualifier. The indoor conditions in Stuttgart fit her game better than the outdoor terre battue here, and Li looked much crisper in her opener against Anabel Medina Garrigues than she had earlier this clay season.
Marion Bartoli vs. Mariana Duque-Marino: Surviving the grueling three-hour trainwreck in her first-round match may have liberated Bartoli to swing more boldly henceforth. Or Colombian clay specialist Duque-Marino might finish what Govortsova started, capitalizng on the double faults that continue to flow. Bartoli cannot count on the Chatrier crowd to rescue her this time.
Ashleigh Barty vs. Maria Kirilenko: Both women enter this match in excellent form, the Australian teenager having scored her first career victory at a major and the Russian having yielded just a single game. This tournament has offered a fine showcase for some of the WTA’s rising stars, although Kirilenko’s consistency should leave Barty few options.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Garbine Muguruza: Continuing her clay success this spring, Jankovic won more of the key points than she often does in fending off occasional nemesis Daniela Hantuchova. A heavy-hitting Spaniard awaits in Muguruza, who knocked off another Slam-less No. 1 this year in Caroline Woznacki. Consecutive fourth-round appearances at Indian Wells and Miami suggested Muguruza’s readiness to take the next step forward on a hard court, but her clay results have lagged behind.
Petra Kvitova vs. Peng Shuai: Yet another three-set rollercoaster defined Kvitova’s path to the second round. While she looks invincible at her best, seemingly anyone will have a chance against her on her vulnerable days. Far from just anyone, Peng won a set from Kvitova on a hard court this year and another set on grass last year. Last week, she reached a Premier final in Brussels, by far her most notable result since her career year in 2011.
Lucas Pouille vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Never has Dimitrov advanced past the second round of a major. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that streak of futility should end here. Ranked outside the top 300, Pouille has spent most of his limited career at the challenger level, although he did win his first match in straight sets. Dimitrov aims to set up a third-round rematch of his Madrid meeting with Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal vs. Martin Klizan: Unable to deliver a strong opening statement in his first match, Nadal instead revealed some notable signs of frailty. He should settle into a groove more smoothly against a less explosive opponent, using the opportunity to reassert his clay supremacy. Few players bounce back from a shaky effort better than Nadal.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic: In their most significant match to date, Tipsarevic held match points against Verdasco at the 2011 Australian Open before tanking the fifth set when the fourth slipped away. The Serb remains an enigmatic competitor who has struggled through a barren season, but he did win their two meetings since then. Also in dismal form for most of 2013, Verdasco appeared to raise his confidence over the last month. He demolished his first opponent and should hold a clear surface edge.
Tommy Haas vs. Jack Sock: The raw American won his first main-draw match at Roland Garros in scintillaing fashion after notching three wins in qualifying just as easily. Fourteen years his senior, Haas shares Sock’s preference for faster surfaces. He has produced some solid clay results this year, though, whereas his opponent lost five straight matches before arriving in Paris. If Sock maintains a high first-serve percentage, this match could become very competitive but still probably not an upset.
Lukas Rosol vs. Fabio Fognini: With the winner almost certianly destined to face Rafael Nadal, this match bears the whiff of intrigue over the possibility of a Wimbledon rematch. Fognini’s superior clay game should snuff out Rosol’s hopes for another chance at the Spaniard, especially across a best-of-five match. The Italian reached a Masters 1000 semifinal in Monte Carlo, although his results have tapered since then. For his part, Rosol won his first career title in Bucharest, defeating Gilles Simon en route.
Ryan Harrison vs. John Isner: Rare is the all-American match in the second round of Roland Garros, created this time by an odd quirk of the draw. Harrison defeated Isner at Sydney just before the older American withdrew from the Australian Open, the start of a disastrous season for him outside a small title in Houston. Nor did the upset launch Harrison’s season in style, for he fell outside the top 100 this spring and has won just two main-draw matches since that January victory over Isner. The latter can draw inspiration from his five-setter here against Rafael Nadal in 2010.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Horacio Zeballos: One of these men barely finished off his match on Tuesday, while the other needed to return on Wednesday for two more sets. Both Wawrinka and Zeballos defeated marquee Spaniards to win clay titles this spring, Zeballos stunning Nadal in Vina del Mar and Wawrinka dominating Ferrer in Portugal. The Swiss No. 2’s achievement marked merely one episode in a general upward trend, though, whereas the Argentine’s breakthrough has remained an anomaly.
Robin Haase vs. Jerzy Janowicz: Haase recently collected the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost, halting at the same number as Roger Federer’s record of major titles won. The floundering Dutchman might play a few more tiebreaks against a man who can match him hold for hold. The clay-court savvy of both men languishes relatively low, causing them to battle the surface as well as each other.
Profiting from more cooperative weather, Roland Garros produced a Day 4 replete with action. Here’s the review of how it all went down.
Match of the day: Ah, the French in Paris. Sometimes they dazzle, sometimes they implode, sometimes they puzzle, and sometimes they do all three. Julien Benneteau achieved the trifecta in a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, completing his first pair of consecutive victories since February. En route to the third round, Benneteau a) won a 20-point tiebreak b) blew a two-set lead c) ate a bagel in the fourth set and d) won anyway. Richard Gasquet, it’s your move.
Worth the wait: After a 14-game fifth set, the epic between Horacio Zeballos and Vasek Pospisil finally ended a day and two sets after Zeballos could have ended it in a third-set tiebreak. A young Canadian talent, Pospisil showed grit by rallying from the brink of a straight-sets loss to the brink of a five-set victory. But Zeballos, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win a South American clay title this spring, relied on his greater experience to get the last word.
Comeback of the day: Dutch heavy hitter Igor Sijsling looked ready to knock off the lowest men’s seed when he swept two tight sets. Continuing a surprisingly solid clay campaign, Tommy Robredo surged through the next three sets for the loss of five total games. The pattern of the scores recalled Roger Federer’s comeback over Juan Martin Del Potro here last year.
Surprise of the day: Surely elated by his upset over Berdych in a first-round epic, Gael Monfils might have fallen victim to a hangover against the dangerous Ernests Gulbis. Although he dropped the first set for the second straight match, Monfils outlasted his fellow erratic shot-maker for another quality win that jangled the nerves of his compatriots a bit less. Up next is a more compelling test of his consistency against Robredo. Check out the more detailed recap of Gael’s win on this site by colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg.
Gold star: A few of the less notable home hopes fell today, but all of the leading French men prevailed. Like Monfils, Benoit Paire completed a comeback from losing the first set to win in four. Gilles Simon hurled three consecutive breadsticks at clay specialist Pablo Cuevas after he too spotted his opponent a one-set lead. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga roared through in straight sets for the second consecutive match, as did Jeremy Chardy. And don’t forget the wacky win by Benneteau explored above. Plenty of reason remains for French patriots to return as the third round unfolds.
Silver star: Struggling to win matches this year, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki both survived potentially tricky encounters. Tipsarevic cruised past local hero Nicolas Mahut, perhaps helped by the schedule shift away from Court Philippe Chatrier after the rain. Troicki weathered five taxing sets and two tiebreaks against clay specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who had upset 17th seed Juan Monaco.
Marathon man: For the second straight round, Andreas Seppi prevailed in five sets. Halfway to defending his fourth-round points from last year, Seppi seemed to have a stranglehold when he bageled Blaz Kavcic in the first set. He later would allow a two-set lead to escape before regrouping when the match hung in the balance.
Stat of the day: All 15 men’s seeds in action today advanced, eight in straight sets.
American in Paris: After winning just one match in his first six Roland Garros appearances, top-ranked man Sam Querrey has won two in his seventh trip here without losing a set.
Question of the day: Second seed Roger Federer entered this tournament as a distant third favorite for the title after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Looking at least as sharp as either of them, Federer now has lost just 12 games in two matches, albeit against weak competition from two qualifiers. Should we start taking his title hopes more seriously?
Match of the day: After Victoria Azarenka outlasted her in a long match at the Australian Open, Jamie Hampton secured a happier ending to another three-setter at a major. Hampton stunned 25th seed Lucie Safarova after winning the first set in a tiebreak, withstanding Safarova’s second-set surge, and closing out a 9-7 final set. That 16-game affair was the longest set of the women’s tournament so far.
Worth the wait: Delayed by rain, world No. 3 Azarenka did not start her Roland Garros campaign until Wednesday. Needing to issue a strong statement, as all of her rivals had, Azarenka delivered with a resounding victory over former doubles partner Elena Vesnina. None of the top four women has lost more than five games in a match so far.
Comeback of the day: For the second straight tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova ate a first-set breadstick from an unseeded opponent. Whereas the Rome breadstick from Simona Halep preceded another breadstick, the Roland Garros breadstick from Magdalena Rybarikova spurred the 2009 champion into action. Kuznetsova dropped just four games over the next two sets, responding much more forcefully to adversity.
Surprise of the day: Surviving a first-round flirtation with disaster boded well for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s chances here. She almost always has ventured deep into draws this year when passing her first test. This time, though, Pavlyuchenkova fell short in the second round to Petra Cetkovska in another tight three-setter. The victim of painful losses here as well, coach Martina Hingis can empathize.
Unsurprising surprise of the day: Unseeded 2012 quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi continued her momentum from winning a Premier title in Brussels last week. Kanepi dispatched 23rd seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets on a difficult day for Czechs.
Gold star: Famous forever after what happened last year, Virginie Razzano technically surpassed that performance this year. Razzano more than justified her wildcard by reaching the third round, perhaps bolstered by the memories of her landmark victory over Serena Williams.
Silver star: In the first match of her career at Roland Garros, promising Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty made her presence felt. Barty stunned last week’s Strasbourg runner-up Lucie Hradecka in three sets, overcoming dramatic disparities in power, experience, and clay expertise.
Marathon woman: Eight of Petra Kvitova’s last nine matches have reached a third set, the latest against the fossilized Aravane Rezai today. That recent capsule from clay reflects a trend typical for Kvitova overall, for she has played 18 three-setters this year and a staggering 39 in 2012-13. Whether caused by slow starts or mid-match hiccups, those rollercoasters illustrate her unreliability.
Stat of the day: Bojana Jovanovski has won three matches since January, two of which have come against Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane predictably became the first top-ten woman to lose at Roland Garros as Jovanovski accomplished what the more talented Laura Robson could not.
Americans in Paris: Blasting past Caroline Garcia today, Serena Williams has lost just four games in two matches and 18 games in seven matches since Rome started. While the top seed continues to look every inch the title favorite, several other American women acquitted themselves well. Varvara Lepchenko notched a second straight routine victory, while women’s wildcard Shelby Rogers swiped a set from 20th seed Carla Suarez Navarro despite the gap between their relative credentials. On the other hand, Madison Keys dropped a winnable match to Monica Puig, and Mallory Burdette could not find any answers to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Question of the day: All of the top four women have roared through their early matches, confirming their elite status. Outside that group, who has impressed you the most so far?
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets today, 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-3, and later the Frenchman showed off his colorful mask, part of the “Tournoi des Masques” activity at RG Lab where kids can design their own “Turbo Ten” cartoon mask.
Jamie Hampton’s preferences on and off the court revealed: 23-year-old Jamie Hampton, who scored a monumental victory over No. 25 seed Lucie Safarova in her opening round match (9-7 in the third set), chatted with Sports Illustrated about her piano playing past, her adoration for chocolate, what she would do if she was in charge of the WTA and much more.
Grigor Dimitrov and Jelena Jankovic put their tennis knowledge to the test: In this Roland Garros Quiz, Grigor Dimitrov and Jelena Jankovic are asked about the 1989 French Open, Andre Agassi’s French Open results, Nadal’s first Roland Garros crown and more. Check it out and see how much you know, and watch the hilarity ensue!
Tipsy Time returns: In this latest edition of Tipsy Time where Janko Tipsarevic takes you through part of his day during a grand slam, we find out the secret behind the Hawkeye system. In addition, Tipsarevic and Benoit Paire, who Janko calls a “crazy and great upcoming player,” take to the court for a practice match on Suzanne Lenglen.
Never a dull moment for Gael Monfils: After winning the third-set tiebreak in his highly entertaining second round clash with Ernests Gulbis, Monfils became bored waiting for Gulbis to come back from the bathroom. To combat his boredom, as Sports Illustrated reports, the Frenchman requested that he take his Iphone out to film the crowd doing the wave.
“I asked the chair umpire, am I allowed to tape the wave?” said Monfils who got the go-ahead from the umpire. “So I said, OK I would tape it quick.”
“I didn’t see him, but I really don’t care what he was doing with his phone or with the crowd,” Gulbis said.
Azarenka finally takes to the court: When most players usually complete their first round matches during grand slams within the first two days of scheduled play, Victoria Azarenka had to wait until the fourth day of play to face Elena Vesnina in their opening round bout. Asked what she did with all her free time, Azarenka told ESPN “I was just really chilling the whole day, watching ‘The Voice’” she said. “It was incredible. I was so entertained.”
Serena Williams, Roger Federer dealing with different expectations: As Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN points out, Serena Williams and Roger Federer are both 31 and are both looking for a second French Open title. But whereas “Williams is the favorite to win the women’s title” Federer’s form coming in to Roland Garros understandably makes him “kind of an afterthought in Paris” but his favorable draw is certainly increasing the chatter around the possibility of the Swiss reclaiming glory on the terre battue.
Bartoli reflects on epic victory: After her seemingly endless albeit thrilling three hour and 12 minute first match with Olga Govortsova on Tuesday, Marion Bartoli felt extremely confident about her mental and physical state moving forward for the rest of the tournament. Bartoli said “Winning a match like this shows I can last for three hours, physically and mentally.” With this said, the highest seeded Frenchwoman also attributed her victory to luck stating, “I was lucky, and I chased the balls down when I had to” which was complimented by the fact that “the crowd really helped get me through in the end.”
Jack Sock displaying wonderful potential: After his first round victory over Gulliermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, Jack Sock was given immense praise by Peter Bodo of Tennis.com. After the match, Bodo wrote, “The future of American tennis is locked up in Jack Sock.” And to defend himself from those who would say he is being far too prognostic and is jumping to too quick of a conclusion Bodo wrote the following:
“So what’s the big deal, you ask? Doesn’t everyone play a lights out match now and then?”
“Well, yes. But this match generated a different kind of feeling, a special feeling, which is not necessarily a true or accurate analysis of anything. But its points to a door and challenges you to open it, or become one of those people who end up saying things like, “I knew he’d be great, I just never said anything to anyone about it. But honest, I knew!”
Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.
Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin: The baby-faced Belgian spurred a flurry of headlines last year when he reached the second week of Roland Garros and took a set from Roger Federer there. Goffin has mustered barely any quality wins since then, losing to Grega Zemlja in Dusseldorf last week. An enigmatic Masters 1000 clay season behind him, Djokovic hopes to resemble the man who defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo more than the man who lost to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid.
Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Just about anyone has managed to knock off Tipsarevic this year, from Dmitry Tursunov to Guido Pella. Struggling for confidence and fitness, the Serb briefly slumped outside the top 10 before currently returning to its edge. Mahut has not won a main-draw match at the ATP level all season, losing to such unremarkable figures as Laime Ouahab and Romain Jouan. An ugly encounters on both sides could ensue, in which Mahut could gain strength from the vigorous show-court crowd. A second top-ten upset by a Frenchman in two days still seems like a long shot.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Thiemo De Bakker: An untimely muscle tear in Wawrinka’s thigh cast his participation here into doubt. The Madrid finalist has defeated four top-eight opponents on clay this spring, and his high volume of matches might have contributed to his injury. De Bakker should not challenge a healthy Wawrinka, so this match will offer a barometer for the Swiss No. 2’s health.
Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: On Sock’s shoes are written the names of two friends who recently passed away, extra motivation for him this fortnight. He will look to extend the encouraging and unexpected trend of American success here against Bucharest finalist Garcia-Lopez, less of a clay threat than most Spaniards. Big servers also have fared well here in general from Querrey and Isner to Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson.
Bernard Tomic vs. Victor Hanescu: Without his father to monitor him relentlessly, Tomic enjoys his first taste of independence. Off-court distractions should undermine his focus on his weakest surface, though, and he is still nowhere near the player outside Australia that he is on home soil.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Andujar: On the heels of reaching the Madrid semifinals as a wildcard, Andujar reached the semifinals of Nice as well. He did not defeat anyone more notable than Gilles Simon at either tournament, but he will hold the surface advantage against Youzhny. The Russian did win a set from Djokovic in Monte Carlo before recording consecutive victories over clay specialists Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro in Madrid.
Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Despite the increasing threat that he poses to the ATP elite, Dimitrov never has won more than one match at a major. Questionable fitness may cost him in the best-of-five format, or these events may expose his lack of experience more starkly. A duel with a Colombian dirt devil could test Dimitrov’s resilience two rounds ahead of a rematch with Djokovic.
Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka: With the other top-four women’s seeds advancing so convincingly, Azarenka needs to keep pace with a statement of her own. After a 10-1 start to 2012, Vesnina has cooled off and lost in the first round at three of four clay tournaments. Azarenka started cooling her off by dismissing her in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where Vesnina lacked the weapons to threaten her. Never past the quarterfinals in Paris, Vika should conserve energy with some quick early wins in a weak section of the draw.
Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai: Three long years have passed since Rezai won the Premier Mandatory title in Madrid over Venus Williams. The fiery Frenchwoman with a fondness for flamboyant outfits has won just one main-draw match since last year’s clay season. Kvitova has made a habit of struggling at the most unexpected moments against the most anonymous opponents, so a three-setter would not surprise in this slugfest of wildly erratic shot-makers.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova: This match struck me as the most interesting of the women’s first round, partly because of the history between them. Meeting more than once in the fraught environment of Fed Cup, the two have collaborated on several tight encounters and have played their last five matches on clay. Jankovic has regained traces of her vintage clay form by winning Bogota and upsetting Li to reach the Rome quarterfinals, while Hantuchova upset Kvitova in Madrid. Both lost to Simona Halep in the wake of those top-ten ambushes, though, showing how much they struggle to sustain momentum as they age.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Lauren Davis: After American women posted a perfect record on Day 2, Davis hopes to continue that trend despite winning just two clay matches this year (one against Christina McHale). That task will prove difficult against a Frenchwoman who shone on home soil in February, reaching the semifinals of the Paris Indoors. Mladenovic has struggled almost as much on clay as Davis has, but she won sets from Maria Kirilenko and Dominika Cibulkova in difficult early-round draws.
Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi: A tireless counterpuncher with a vulnerable serve, Zakopalova has extended both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to final sets at Roland Garros. She came closer than anyone to threatening Sharapova’s surge to the career Slam, and her retrieving should test Kanepi’s patience as well. Returning impressively from injury last month, Kanepi won Brussels on Saturday after collecting six wins at her two previous tournaments. To continue defending her quarterfinal points, she will need to take control of rallies immediately with serve and return.
Jamie Hampton vs. Lucie Safarova: The small American won three consecutive three-setters over higher-ranked opponents, including Roberta Vinci, to earn a semifinal berth in Brussels. Limited in her clay experience, Hampton attracted international attention by severely testing Azarenka in the first week of the Australian Open. Flaky Czech lefty Safarova also arrives with momentum after winning her home challenger in Prague and taking a set from Sharapova in Stuttgart.