Jelena Jankovic

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.

ATP:

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.

WTA:

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.

Roland Garros Rewind: Djokovic, Nadal Thrive; Haas, Isner Thrill; Sharapova, Azarenka Survive

The remaining second-week lineups fell into place on Saturday at Roland Garros.  Here’s a look back at the studs and duds.

ATP:

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?

WTA:

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.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Azarenka, Sharapova, Stosur, Nadal, Gasquet and More Highlight Day 7

While Yeshayahu Ginsburg focuses his spotlight on the marquee clash between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov, this article focuses on nine other matches to watch as the first week concludes in Paris.

WTA:

Alize Cornet vs. Victoria Azarenka:  The champion in Strasbourg last week, Cornet has won seven straight matches in her home nation on her favorite surface.  She faces a daunting test against a woman whom she lacks the power to hit through her with either serve or groundstrokes.  Simple and steady should suffice for Azarenka, who looked crisp in her first round and shaky in her second.  The wildcard in this match could consist of the French crowd, likely to try anything possible to fluster her.  If Vika can keep her composure and perhaps draw energy from the hostility, she should reach the second week in a feisty mood.

Maria Sharapova vs. Zheng Jie:  A massive height advantage should help the defending champion collect some free points against the last Chinese woman left in the draw.  Zheng has a winning record against top-10 opponents this year and a victory over Sharapova at Indian Wells in 2010, but her meek serve will cause the WTA’s most vicious returner to salivate.  If she can dig herself into some rallies, her groundstroke depth could make this match competitive, like their other meetings.  Sharapova fell a few notches short of flawless in the second round, wobbling slightly near the finish line, and Zheng owns a reputation for never going away.

Marion Bartoli vs. Francesca Schiavone:  The top-ranked Frenchwoman probably should consider herself fortunate to have reached this stage.  Bartoli saved two match points in a three-hour match to start the tournament and came from behind in both sets of her second-round match after her opponent served for both.  While she has underachieved for her ranking, Schiavone has overachieved in upsetting top-30 player Kirsten Flipkens.  She holds a clear surface edge over Bartoli, whom she defeated in a 2011 semifinal here.  Less clear is whether her serve can withstand the double-fister’s return well enough to secure the holds that eluded Bartoli’s previous challengers at key moments.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Samantha Stosur:  Also a rematch of a Roland Garros semifinal, this match offers Jankovic the opportunity to avenge a rout at the Australian’s hands here in 2010.  On the other hand, it offers Stosur a chance to secure retribution for a loss to the Serb in Stuttgart this spring.  These two women wield weapons almost mirror images of each other, from Stosur’s forehand to Jankovic’s backhand and Stosur’s serving power to Jankovic’s movement.  Both have found contrasting ways to shine on clay, the Aussie utilizing heavy topspin and a kick serve while the Serb bolsters her counterpunching with sliding retrievals.  Both have looked especially crisp this tournament by advancing in straight sets, Stosur more convincingly but Jankovic against stronger opposition.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Paula Ormaechea:  Both women enter this match riding a wave of momentum from upsetting a seeded opponent.  While the Argentine clay specialist bounced Yaroslava Shvedova, one of last year’s quarterfinalists, the American power-hitter knocked off 2011 champion Li Na in the surprise of the tournament so far.  This match will come down to whether Mattek-Sands can continue to strike her targets relentlessly or whether Ormaechea can find ways to survive her opponent’s first strikes and lengthen the points.  Almost nobody would have expected either to reach the second week of a major when the season began.

Petra Kvitova vs. Jamie Hampton: The American’s two victories could not have differed much more from each other.  First winning a three-set thriller from the 25th-seeded Lucie Safarova, Hampton then eased past a qualifier comfortably.  She may or may not have a chance to affect the outcome of this match, depending on which Kvitova shows up.  The bad Petra flirted with first-round disaster by spraying groundstrokes aimlessly midway through the match, while the disciplined and focused Petra returned for a victory over Peng Shuai.  Kvitova’s weapons will overwhelm Hampton if she sustains her accuracy, but this underdog has the talent to exploit one of her feckless days.

ATP:

Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini:  Never having faced the Italian before this month, Nadal now will meet him for the second time in two tournaments.  His Rome rout of Fognini mutes the intrigue of this match despite the short rest for Rafa, forced to play best-of-five matches on consecutive days.  Fognini maintained his regular schedule and will need all of the rest to prepare for a competitor in some ways the antithesis of him.  While both men play their best tennis on clay, Nadal views it as trench warfare and Fognini as art form.

Benoit Paire vs. Kei Nishikori:  Outside a wobble late in the second set of his second match, Nishikori has not defeated his opponents so much as annihilated them.  While he stunned Roger Federer in Madrid, this imposing form still surprises from someone who has accomplished little on clay, losing to Jeremy Chardy and Albert Ramos this spring.  Barely ten ranking slots behind Nishikori, Paire had not loomed any larger in more extensive clay action—until he suddenly reached the semifinals in Rome.  He has won nine of his last ten matches against opponents other than Federer and Rafael Nadal, although he never has reached the second week at a major.  Nishikori won their only meeting last fall, also in Paris, but the indoor hard courts of Bercy bear scant resemblance to the terre battue of Roland Garros.

Nikolay Davydenko vs. Richard Gasquet:  While Davydenko holds the stronger career record at Roland Garros, having reached the semifinals here before, Gasquet has found much stronger form this year.  Among his more notable accomplishments was a Doha final in which he rallied from within a tiebreak of defeat to overcome Davydenko.  They have not met on clay since 2005, but both have advanced convincingly so far.  In contrast to the earlier stages of his career, Gasquet has won most of the matches that he should win over the past twelve months.  This match belongs in that category, although the contrast between the elongated one-handed swing of the Frenchman’s backhand and the streamlined two-hander of the Russian merits watching alone.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Jerzy Janowicz:  After he played four sets on Friday, Janowicz finds himself at a fitness disadvantage against one of the ATP’s premier grinders.  Wawrinka brought some physical issues of his own into the tournament with a muscle tear in his leg, issues that have receded as he has settled into the tournament.  These men number among the leading dark horses in the men’s field, and the winner would stay on track to meet a fallible Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.  Janowicz’s heavy serve and flat groundstrokes should allow him to take the initiative in most points, which he will want to finish quickly before fatigue descends.

 

Roland Garros Day 5: Links Roundup with Federer, Stosur, Jankovic, Lepchenko and more

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Novak Djokovic was among the lucky ones to finish his match before the rain called it a day on Thursday. He defeated Argentine Guido Pella in just under an hour-and-a-half and a score of 6-2, 6-0, 6-2. He next faces Grigor Dimitrov and is seeking to avenge his loss to him from Madrid just earlier this month.

Vavara Lepchenko soaring but under the radar: Vavara Lepchenko was not only the last American woman standing in the French Open last year but she has ascended the WTA rankings and is now the third highest ranked American women. But, as Lepchenko told Ravi Ubha in his piece for the New York Times, “It seems like I’m in the shadow.” She continued on to say, “I follow a few journalists on Twitter from the United States, and I always see they post once someone loses or wins from the United States, and I never get mentioned until I win a few rounds…” Ubha also discussed Lepchenko’s difficulties in terms of gaining notoriety and how this has impacted her ability to attract sponsors.

Marion Bartoli explains and reveals on court eccentricities: In this Roland Garros feature video, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli explains why she turns her back in between points, her flexing and jump prior to returning, and the “air shots” or shadow swings she takes in between points.  Bartoli also discussed how as she puts it, “having a song in her head” helps her concentrate during matches.

Steve Tignor’s take on Ernests Gulbis: After calling Big 4 “boring,” talking more specifically in regards to their interviews, Ernests Gublis is receiving an onslaught of criticism for his negative critique of Djokovic, Murray, Federer, and Nadal. But not all is criticism. While Steve Tignor of Tennis.com doesn’t necessarily assent with Gulbis’s assessment of the big four, he appreciates how straightforward the Latvian is.

“As a fan and reporter, I want every player to be as honest as possible.  I want to know what they really think; I want to know who I’m writing about and who I’m rooting for.  In this sense, I like Gulbis’ honesty—the guy is a journalist’s dream.”

Taking down the King of Clay:  Rafael Nadal has won 93 percent of clay courtn matches he has contested in his career and has only lost 21 matches total.  Beating the Spaniard on this surface has required nothing short of herculean efforts. Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN believes several ingredients necessary in concocting a recipe to defeat Nadal on clay include winning in three sets, having a lot of power, and rushing Nadal.

Jelena Jankovic praises Gabrine Muguruza: After her comprehensive 6-3 6-0 defeat of 19-year-old Gabrine Muguruza of Spain, a match in which the Serb won the final 12 games of the match, Jelena Jankovic touted her younger foe.

“She’s a great up and coming player. She hits the ball very hard, very flat. And especially in the beginning of the match she gave me a lot of trouble. I figured out the way to play against her, and I think I did pretty well.”

Candid Kevin Anderson car interview: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, South African Kevin Anderson discusses his favorite district in Paris, his best experience in Paris, who he thinks the best player of all time is and more.

Federer applauds Nadal’s growthAs the ATP reports, Roger Federer believes “Nadal is more or less still the same player” but that “his strengths and his weaknesses are even better now.” Federer also discussed Nadal’s physical growth in specificity stating, “Of course also he’s fitter. He’s no longer a young boy. He’s a man now. He has experience on top of that.  So he’s really improved.  It’s spectacular and the results are there to show, to prove it.”

Bethanie-Mattek Sands shocks Li Na: Bethanie-Mattek Sands of the United States scored a career best victory over 2011 French Open champion, Li Na by a score of 5-7 6-3 6-2. This is a remarkable victory for Mattek Sands considering where she was just a year ago when she was contemplating retirement as Jim Caple of ESPN reports.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t even play my game. I couldn’t even work out. That’s the reason I was thinking I didn’t want to play tennis. It’s too frustrating.”

Sam Stosur anticipates Jankovic match:  After displacing Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets, Sam Stosur will face Jelena Jankovic in a match that pits a grand slam champion against a former world No. 1. Stosur realizes a victory against Jankovic will be a big win, especially considering her recent setback to Jankovic in Stuttgart.

“It’s always tough playing Jelena. We played about four or five weeks ago in Stuttgart and she beat me there. I’m certainly expecting a tough match—I have to be ready to work hard, and hopefully play as well than I have so far this week.”

Tennis View Magazine Giveaway: Our friends at Tennis View Magazine have launched a great contest, giving fans the chance to win one of 12 daily Babolat prize packages during Roland Garros, that includes a Roland Garros Aeropro Drive tennis racket plus a six-pack racquet bag and accessories. To enter, follow steps at the following link: http://www.tennisviewmag.com/promotions

Roland Garros Rewind: Djokovic, Dimitrov, Azarenka, Stosur Beat the Rain on Thursday; Li Falls

For the second time in three days, inclement weather limited the action in Paris.  This rewind tilts more towards the women’s side, which featured more headlines and more matches overall.

ATP:

Match of the day:  In a sequel to the Battle of the Sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Mother Nature confronted a host of ATP players today and defeated most of them.  Fewer than half of the scheduled men’s matches finished on Thursday.

Gold star:  Probably aware of the rain clouds overhead, Novak Djokovic lost no time in disposing of Guido Pella in 86 minutes.  The world No. 1 lost just four games and gains a timing advantage over rival and semifinal opponent Rafael Nadal, who never took the court because of the rain.

Silver star:  Grigor Dimitrov reaches the third round of a major for the first time, dispatching home hope Lucas Pouille in straight sets.  Granted, Dimitrov would have had nobody to blame but himself had he failed to knock off the 324th-ranked Pouille, but a milestone remains a milestone.  And the rematch with Djokovic looms on Saturday with both men on full rest.

Most improved:  Also beating the raindrops was Benoit Paire, who regrouped from an unsteady four-setter against Marcos Baghdatis to oust Lukas Kubot in straight sets.  People called Lukas generally had a bad day, though, as…

Rematch that won’t happen:  Lukas Rosol fell to Fabio Fognini in four sets, the expected outcome but not the outcome that many of us wanted.  With a mini-upset, Rosol would have faced Rafael Nadal in a bid to repeat his staggering Wimbledon upset.

Anticlimaxes of the day:  The trickle of injuries continued to flow from the men’s draw with a walkover by Yen-Hsun Lu, advancing Philipp Kohlschreiber, and a retirement by Dmitry Tursunov, sending Victor Hanescu through.

Tough luck:  Suspended within three games of a comfortable victory over Horacio  Zeballos, Stanislas Wawrinka must come back tomorrow.  His ability to finish off Thiemo De Bakker just before darkness in the previous round looks even more clutch now.

Question of the day:  How much difference does it make that Djokovic can maintain his regular schedule, while Nadal will not?

WTA:

Awards sweep of the day:  Match of the day?  Check.  Comeback of the day?  Check.  Surprise of the day?  Check.  Across three sets and two rain delays, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from a disastrous start against 2011 champion Li Na to oust the sixth seed.  The upset bolsters a surprising resurgence on clay by the American veteran and ends a deeply disappointing clay season for Li, who fell short of the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome before exiting Paris in the second round.   For Mattek-Sands, the door lies open for a deeper run in this relatively weak section of the draw.

Gold star:  Building on her comfortable first-round victory, Samantha Stosur cruised past home hope Kristina Mladenovic on Court Philippe Chatrier.  Stosur held the status of the heavy favorite in that match, but one could have imagined the difficult weather conditions and the challenge of playing a Frenchwoman on a show court might have flustered her.  Not the case.

Silver star:  Beating the rain more easily than anybody, Jelena Jankovic also built on a solid start to the tournament by dropping just three games to Garbine Muguruza.  Like Stosur, Jankovic has reached three semifinals here, so she will bear watching as the tournament reaches its midpoint.

Lesser surprises of the day:  A meager 2013 for Dominika Cibulkova continued when the former Roland Garros semifinalist fell in three sets to Marina Erakovic.  Much less skilled on clay than her opponent, Cibulkova could muster fewer excuses for her loss than could the recently injured Yaroslava Shvedova.  Last year’s quarterfinalist will lose plenty of ranking points after falling to qualifier Paula Ormaechea.

Most improved:  After she wobbled through three sets against Aravane Rezai, Petra Kvitova advanced much more efficiently against a far more creditable opponent in Peng Shuai.  This section of the draw has become fascinating with Stosur set to face Jankovic and the winner due to meet Kvitova.

Least improved:  Dominant in her first match, Victoria Azarenka struggled to finish off the overmatched Annika Beck in two sets closer than they looked.  Perhaps the rain derailed Vika’s rhythm.  The good news of the day for her is that she cannot face anyone ranked higher than No. 12 Maria Kirilenko en route to the semifinals.

Tough luck of the day:  Defending champion Maria Sharapova stood six points from victory at 6-2 4-2 deuce before the tournament suspended play for the night.  Sharapova will need to return tomorrow for the coup de grace.  On the other hand, she can thank Djokovicfor finishing his match so swiftly that she could play as much of her match as she did.

Good luck of the day:  Top Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli would have faced Mariana Duque-Marino on an outer court had she played on Thursday.  Following the rain and the rescheduling, she will return to Court Philippe Chatrier to start Friday’s matches.  That setting and the amplified crowd support should boost Bartoli as she attempts to work through her serving woes.

Americans in Paris:  Sloane Stephens pulled rank on Vania King, moving within one victory of a second straight appearance in the second week here.  If you just look at majors, Stephens has compiled an excellent season.  The rest of the American contingent stood at deuce, with Jamie Hampton a comfortable winner and Melanie Oudin a resounding loser to Zheng Jie.

Question of the day:  After Li’s loss, who is most likely to face Azarenka in the quarterfinals?

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Sharapova, Li, Stosur, Nadal, and More Set to Shine on Day 5

Our Thursday preview discusses eight matches from each singles draw, starting this time with the WTA.

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.

ATP:

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.

 

Roland Garros Day 4: Links Roundup with Tipsarevic, Williams, Dimitrov, Bartoli and more

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!”

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Wawrinka, Azarenka, Kvitova Start Campaigns on Day 3

Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.

ATP:

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.

WTA:

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.

The Dirty Dozen: Roland Garros Dark Horses Preview

While attention focuses annually on a small group of contenders, Roland Garros would be much less intriguing without the upset threats that populate each year’s draw.  A look at the contenders lies ahead next week, but the spotlight this weekend shines on the dark horses.  None of these men or women can win the title in Paris, almost certainly, so their triumphs will consist of stopping those who could.

ATP:

Stanislas Wawrinka:  Almost ranked too high to fit in this category, he cracked the top ten after reaching the final in Madrid.  There, Wawrinka recorded consecutive victories over top-eight opponents Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, rallying from multiple deficits in the latter match.  Well before then, the Swiss No. 2 had established himself as a formidable underdog by taking Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to final sets at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, respectively.  When the battlefield shifted to clay, he routed Andy Murray in Monte Carlo and David Ferrer to win the Portugal Open title.  Wawrinka’s resilient fitness and physical baseline style prepare him well for best-of-five on clay, although he never has reached the quarterfinals in Paris.  Nor has he ever won a set from Rafael Nadal.

Nicolas Almagro:  The third-ranked Spanish man struggled at the Masters 1000 clay tournaments, continuing a trend of futility at that level.  Almagro deserves inclusion here because of his three Roland Garros quarterfinal runs, all ended by losses to Nadal, and his finals appearance at the Barcelona 500 tournament.  During the overlooked clay season in North and South America, moreover, he reached the semifinals or better at three of four tournaments, holding set points against Nadal in Acapulco.  Almagro often has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, for he let a substantial early lead escape him when he faced Rafa in Barcelona.  That flaw emerged in equal proportion to his potential at the Australian Open, where he raced to within two points of the semifinal before surrendering an even larger lead.

Tommy Haas:  Thirty-five years young, the evergreen German soared to another title on home soil in Munich, losing only one set all week.  Haas brought that momentum to Madrid the next week, where he recorded impressively convincing victories over clay specialists Tommy Robredo and Andreas Seppi.  Able to win a set from Ferrer, whom he never has defeated, he arrived in Rome a bit weary and promptly exited to Mikhail Youzhny.  His decision to play another home tournament in Dusseldorf next week makes sense for the top-ranked German but will permit him no respite before Roland Garros.  Haas has won his most recent meetings against both Novak Djokovic and Federer, however, while he came closer than anyone to stopping the Swiss short of the career Grand Slam.

Jerzy Janowicz:  His game would seem more suited to fast courts like those at the Paris indoors, where he achieved his breakthrough last fall.  But Janowicz fitted his explosive weapons to the slow clay of Rome with impressive results, scoring top-ten upsets over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  Against Federer, far more proficient on clay, he imposed his mixture of bullet forehands and delicate drop shots well enough to nearly steal a set.  Janowicz sometimes reminds of Ernests Gulbis, who reached a Roland Garros quarterfinal before with a similar combination of power and finesse.  Until Rome, however, he had accomplished little on the surface with first-round losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.  And the restless Paris crowd may fray his raw emotions.

Fabio Fognini:  Like Almagro, this Italian opened his clay season in South America and soon struck a rich vein of form by reaching the Acapulco semifinals.  Taking a set from Ferrer there, Fognini also defeated Wawrinka in a result that presaged his Monte Carlo surge.  At the first of the clay Masters 1000 tournaments, this man who never had reached a quarterfinal at this level reached his first semifinal there.  Fognini did it the hard way, upsetting Berdych and Richard Gasquet in stunningly routine fashion.  Since then, the bloom of those successes has faded a bit with early exits over the next three weeks.  Fognini came close to reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals two years ago, and he has played a series of memorable five-setters in Paris.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Sharapova’s leading man usually spurs parallels to Federer, particularly his serve and backhand.  Not yet worthy of the comparison, Dimitrov achieved the greatest feat of his career so far when he upset Djokovic in an epic, contentious three-setter of exceptional quality.  That Madrid breakthrough concluded a series of matches against top-five opponents that he gradually grew closer to winning.  Winning a set from Nadal in Monte Carlo, Dimitrov handled Rafa’s topspin much more effectively than the man on whom he modeled his game.  Outside nerve-induced cramps, his fitness and movement have improved dramatically over the last year.  Dimitrov has struggled to follow one impressive result with another, so an early Rome loss may bode well for Paris.  Never has he passed the second round of a major.

WTA:

Roberta Vinci:  Italians have built a recent tradition of exceeding expectations at Roland Garros, so this veteran aims to follow in the footsteps of Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani.  A doubles titlist there with Errani, Vinci won the first edition of the Katowice clay event over Petra Kvitova and repeated that result while spearheading Italy’s Fed Cup victory a week later.  Benefited by a comfortable Rome draw, she reached the quarterfinals there despite a shaky start.  Even before the clay season, she had accumulated impressive results by reaching a Dubai semifinal and Miami quarterfinal.  Vinci’s veering backhand slice becomes especially lethal on clay, although she has suffered a series of first-round losses at Roland Garros and will want to stay away from Varvara Lepchenko, who has defeated her twice on clay recently.

Ana Ivanovic:  The 2008 Roland Garros champion already has accumulated more clay victories this year than in any other season since she won Paris and ascended to No. 1.  Ivanovic followed two Fed Cup victories and a quarterfinal in Stuttgart with a semifinal in Madrid, her best result at an event of that magnitude in over four years.  Defeating Angelique Kerber twice this clay season, she also won a set from Sharapova.  These achievements surprised in view of her meager results through February and March, but Ivanovic always has produced the unexpected.  In the wake of her Madrid run, she suffered an inexplicable opening loss in Rome to Urszula Radwanska, and that Madrid run itself might not have happened if not for the woeful serving of Laura Robson, whom she edged past in a third-set tiebreak.

Jelena Jankovic:  Echoing the exploits of her countrywoman, the elder Serb reached the quarterfinals in Rome with an upset over 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.  Jankovic also won her first 10 matches this year on clay as she swept past overmatched competition in Bogota and Charleston.  At the latter tournament, on green clay rather than the conventional terre battue, she even won a set from Serena Williams.  JJ fans will remind you that she often delivers the least when most is expected, while she lost early at the other two key WTA clay events in Stuttgart and Madrid.  Roland Garros has witnessed her most consistent results of any major, however, including three semifinals between 2007 and 2010.  Well past her peak now, can she turn back the clock?

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:  Either very good or very bad this year, the Russian is the only woman outside the top four to win multiple titles.  The second of those came on the clay of Portugal, where she weathered two three-setters and early adversity in the final.  Pavlyuchenkova largely has kept in check a serve that can veer out of control, and she held three set points in each set of her loss to Azarenka in Madrid.  The guidance of new coach Martina Hingis could offer this former Roland Garros quarterfinalist the boost that she needs to score that type of upset, although this major notoriously eluded Hingis during her playing days.  If she gets past her first opponent in Paris, Pavlyuchenkova should keep building momentum from there.

Carla Suarez Navarro:   Armed with a backhand that recalls Justine Henin’s flamboyant stroke, she has risen to a career-high ranking this year with finals in Acapulco and Portugal.  Suarez Navarro also upset Samantha Stosur on European clay before advancing to the quarterfinals in Rome.  An underrated competitor, she excels in long matches and rallied to defeat Petrova there after saving two match points.  Suarez Navarro’s serve leaves her vulnerable to the massive returners at the top of the women’s game, but a similar flaw did not prevent Sara Errani from reaching the Roland Garros final last year.  Gone in the first week of her last three trips to Paris, she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier in her first appearance there, winning as many matches as the eventual champion.

Kaia Kanepi:  Sidelined until April with injury, this two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist found her form surprisingly soon .  Kanepi has not played on any surface but clay this year, which leaves her both well-adjusted and relatively fresh.  Three straight-sets victories carried her to the Portugal semifinals, while her most impressive achievement may have consisted of reaching the Madrid quarterfinals.  Among her victims there was Suarez Navarro, against whom she avenged a Portugal loss.  Kanepi did not play Rome but will return to action in Brussels next week.  Her playing style succeeds there for the same reasons that Sharapova won the title last year:  heavy ball-striking that penetrates even the slowest surfaces, combined with extra time to line up her targets.

And, to make it a baker’s dozen, let’s add…

Simona Halep:  Strong on clay in 2012, she reached the quarterfinals or better at three tournaments and finished runner-up in Brussels.  Halep had sunk to the status of an aspiring qualifier for key tournaments by the time that she arrived in Rome, where she enjoyed the strongest week of a WTA quaifier in recent memory.  Notching six straight victories to reach the quarterfinals, Halep demolished former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, rallied past world No. 4 Radwanska, dominated Vinci, and mounted another comeback to edge past Jankovic after saving a match point.  That string of victories over players with far superior credentials popped plenty of eyes and will cause her ranking to soar, although probably not high enough for a Roland Garros seed.

 

French Open Fashion: Fila to Debut New Collection with Jankovic, Goerges, Tipsarevic

With the tennis season’s second Slam just around the corner, Fila gave Tennis Grandstand a sneak peak at their Roland Garros Spring 2013 line which will be worn by Janko Tipsarevic, Andreas Seppi, Jelena Jankovic, Julia Goerges and Nadia Petrova. Fila sticks to their signature combination of simplicity and comfort, while introducing a feminine mesh design to the “Baseline” women’s collection and unique contrast piping to the “Tour” men’s collection.

Women’s Baseline Collection worn by Jankovic, Goerges and Petrova

Baseline is a youthful runway-inspired collection which has been reinterpreted for tennis. The fresh color palette combines pink shock with navy and white, and the collection is highlighted by laser cut performance mesh details. The fabrication features laser cut holes in an abstract diagonal pattern and gradation of sizes. This detailing gives each style added movement and a subtle 3D effect.

The baseline dress worn by Jankovic features an athletic cut racer-back silhouette, with a slim fit though the torso and drop waist peplum-inspired skirt. A contrast under the mesh on the circle skirt adds a feminine twist.

The same added pop of color under the mesh continues through the collection with the baseline fashion skort which includes Fila’s new Forza ball short with excellent compression. The skort itself sports diagonal contrast taping from the hips to the back bottom hem for a flattering fit, and will be worn by both Petrova and Goerges.

The collection includes a complementary navy hooded jacket and pant combination in stretch jersey performance fabric which will be worn by Jankovic and Petrova. These pieces are reminiscent of tennis styles from Fila’s rich history and include contrast stripes in white and pink. The navy hooded jacket incorporates the laser cut mesh on the hood with an inside lining in pink.

The collection is also comfortably priced and retails from $54 – $76, available on www.fila.com.

Men’s Tour Collection worn by Tipsarevic and Seppi

Tour is a youthful, body conscious collection which features ebony, white and lemon color patterns. The design of the collection, specifically the contrast piping and taping, was inspired by the movement of the body during a tennis match.

The Tour piped polo worn by Seppi features piping on the back and side of the shirt to highlight the shoulder blades and torso.

The short sleeve crew in ebony/lemon worn by Tipsarevic has curved piping from the arm to the bottom back hem which also highlights the placement of the jacquard mesh panels. Contrast taping on the shoulder emphasizes the serving motion.

The Tour piped short worn by both players is a peached poly twill performance fabric with jacquard mesh panels down the side of the short. The contrast piping leads down the front side of the short and curves back to the side seam just above the bottom hem.

The Tour collection retails for $45 – $55 and is available on www.fila.com.

Photos courtesy of Fila. Follow Fila Tennis on Twitter for more brand and player updates!