By Maud Watson
Vying for No. 2
On Saturday, the top two women’s seeds will be battling each other to try and claim a second title at Roland Garros. Serena’s first title came over ten years ago in 2002, while Sharapova tasted sweet success last year. Serena has a lot more going for her heading into this final. She’s yet to lose on the clay this season, and with the exception of her quarterfinal match against Kuznetsova, she’s reached the final with minimal fuss. Then there’s that dominating head-to-head record she owns against Sharapova. That record alone makes Saturday’s match an uphill battle for Sharapova. But the Russian is a fierce competitor who lets very little faze her, as evidenced by the way she fought through both her quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Sharapova has also been the second best player on the dirt in 2013, so she shouldn’t be too far behind Serena in the confidence department as far as her clay-court game goes. In short, the blatant favorite in this final is Serena, but she can’t psyche herself out like she very nearly did during a brilliant patch of play from Kuznetsova in the quarters. For her own part, Sharapova has to believe and work hard to keep things close early if she’s to stand a prayer. It’s a big match for both, and it will ultimately come down to who’s stronger mentally.
Two intriguing men’s semifinals are set to be contested, and the blockbuster matchup in the eyes of many will pit Novak Djokovic against Rafael Nadal. It’s another classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and a win in Paris for either one would be of great historical significance. Nadal is going for an astonishing record eighth title in the French capital. He has managed to overcome a rocky start to the tournament but now appears to be firing on all cylinders. His form has been stellar virtually all season, making the finals of every tournament he has entered and winning all but two of them. He went on his usual tear through the clay court season, and capping off his comeback with yet another French Open title looks almost inevitable. But one of the men to have defeated Nadal this season is Novak Djokovic. Djokovic’s victory put a blemish on Nadal’s clay court season as he earned a key victory over the Spaniard in Monte-Carlo. Many feel he’s the one guy who has the necessary tools to defeat Nadal at his best, but Djokovic will have to work hard to keep the nerves in check. He’s never won the French, but if he were to do so, he would complete the career Grand Slam. He’s also likely to want it more for his first coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away earlier this week. It’s a match that has instant classic written all over it and will likely be decided by only a few points, but edge to the Spaniard.
Though it isn’t receiving nearly the same amount of promotion, the other men’s semi is intriguing in its own right. It features two players who couldn’t be more opposite. On one side there is Ferrer. He’s tennis’ ultimate warrior. Nobody works harder. He’s not flashy, but he’s a dogged competitor who is as steady as they come. He might just feel that Lady Luck is sitting in his corner as he’ll find Tsonga, not Federer, on the other side of the net as he competes to book his first major final berth. Of course, Tsonga has plenty of reason to feel good about his own chances of going all the way, too. He’s a flashy, charismatic competitor embraced by the French crowd. Like Ferrer, he has moved through the tournament without the loss of a set, which includes blitzing Federer in the quarters. He’s been to a major final before, and he’ll have an entire nation behind him as he aims to become the first native son since Yannick Noah to lift the trophy. The fact that he’s playing a guy who has admitted he doesn’t think he can win a slam could also work in his favor. If it were on any other clay court, or even earlier in this event, Ferrer’s consistency might edge out Tsonga. But in the semis with virtually all of France behind him, you have to like Tsonga’s chances to reach his second major final.
Ups and Downs
It’s never too soon to be looking forward to the grass court season, which kicks off with Queen’s next week. The Brits will be happy that Andy Murray, who pulled out of Roland Garros with a bad back, is planning to test the waters at the Wimbledon tune-up. He’s always enjoyed plenty of the success there, so hopefully he’ll be able to get his grass court season off on a good note. Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility for Mardy Fish. The American is suffering from the flu and has already announced he won’t be in Queen’s. He’s also doubtful for Wimbledon and will be making a decision on his participation in that event next week. At least Brian Baker, who won’t be competing at all on the grass this year, has set a return date of July 22. With the results he was pulling last year, he deserves another crack at it.
When the Roland Garros draw first appeared, all of us felt virtually certain that we would see Roger Federer on the second Sunday. His greatest obstacle, fourth-seeded David Ferrer, never had defeated him in 14 attempts, while Federer’s early rounds looked especially forgiving. Things did not turn out that way when an especially unforgiving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hammered the Swiss star into straight-sets submission to reach his first Roland Garros semifinal.
As ecstatic as he must have felt to achieve that breakthrough, Tsonga cannot bask in its glow too long. He may have reached the semifinals without losing a set, but so has his opponent. Handed less daunting opposition than Tsonga, Ferrer has shown even greater efficiency in hurling four breadsticks at his last two opponents. At age 31, he will not see many more opportunities to reach his first major final without defeating any of his elite nemeses. That pressure on Ferrer may counterbalance the pressure on Tsonga as he aims to move onto the threshold of becoming the first French champion at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah thirty years ago.
While this match lacks star power compared to the other semifinal, it will present a more intriguing contrast of styles and greater uncertainty about how the matchup will unfold. Tsonga certainly will need to impose himself behind an excellent first-serve percentage, an area where he always has shone at his best. Looking to pin Ferrer behind the baseline, he will seek to capitalize on short balls by showing off his crisp forecourt skills. Directly pitted against the Frenchman’s greatest weapons are the Spaniard’s sharpest tools, however. For every massive serve that Tsonga strikes, Ferrer can reply with a pinpoint return. For every delicately carved drop volley that delights the French crowd, a scorching passing shot can silence them.
These two semifinalists from opposite sides of the Pyrenees have met only once on clay, three years ago in Rome. Ferrer won routinely, as he did again last fall in Paris, while Tsonga won their only meeting at a major. The Spaniard has gained repeated success in their matches by pounding his inside-out forehand into Tsonga’s vulnerable backhand, but that weakness has held firm so far this tournament. During the course of five sets, the home hope should produce just enough bursts of explosive shot-making to preserve his dream at the cost of another.
That dream could turn into a nightmare, though, against the man who has annexed this tournament for nearly a decade with the exception of a brief insurrection in 2009. Or against the man who defeated Tsonga in his only major final to date, at the 2008 Australian Open. Pick your poison.
Starkly divergent from the other semifinal, whose protagonists have met only three times, is the latest collision between two men on track to meet more than any other pair of champions in history. Djokovic and Nadal already have shared the court a staggering 34 times, 11 of those in a 15-month span from Indian Wells 2011 to Roland Garros 2012. But they have not met before a final since 2009, the year-end championships aside, so Rafole XXXV will end without the usual fanfare of a championship celebration and a dual trip to the podium.
Not that it could end much more limply than the 2012 Roland Garros final, the latest notch in Nadal’s perfect record here against both of his archrivals. With a double fault down championship point, Djokovic showed his unreadiness to handle the pressure of the circumstances. At stake was only a first title in Paris but a career Grand Slam and the rare feat of holding all four major titles simultaneously. All of that history created a burden too onerous even for the valiant Serb when combined with Nadal’s career-long mastery over this surface.
Hearkening back to his 2011 clay success, Djokovic snapped his archrival’s winning streak earlier this year in Monte Carlo. Nadal had grasped that tournament in a record-breaking stranglehold even more oppressive than his dominance in Paris. A runner-up to Rafa there last year, Djokovic avenged that loss by controlling this year’s final nearly from start to finish. When Nadal threatened to turn the match around, the world No. 1 responded vigorously to adversity. He will need to bring that attitude from Monte Carlo to Paris, where he should know that he will face repeated spans of adversity. After his first-week struggles, Nadal has rounded into his usual impressive Roland Garros form during the last two rounds. Djokovic can expect to face a more confident version of his rival than he did in Monte Carlo, for the Spaniard’s confidence has mounted following subsequent titles in Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome.
The two men hold no secrets from each other, their games having crystallized into essentially fixed cores. As he usually does, Djokovic will look to drive his two-handed backhand toward Nadal’s forehand corner before pouncing on opportunities to rip his signature shot up the line. Nadal will look to neutralize his rival’s dangerous return by varying the placement on his serve and directing it into the body at times, while he will try to keep Djokovic honest by mixing flat down-the-line forehands with his usual topspin cross-court forehand. The unprecedented and unparalleled levels of fitness and mobility on both sides will encourage the two men to settle into long, grinding rallies rather than pulling the trigger early. Whoever does find the courage to seize opportunity when it knocks, however, will strike the latest blow in the game’s greatest rivalry.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Victoria Azarenka reached her first semifinal at Roland Garros by easily dispatching of Maria Kirilenko in the quarterfinals in just under two hours with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.
Mats Wilander on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Annabel Croft sits down with Mats Wilander as the former world No. 1 analyzes and dissects Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s progression under Roger Rasheed. Mats dives into Tsonga’s more relaxed forehand, consistent backhand, and increased confidence and explosiveness on court.
Novak Djokovic confident but knows what lies ahead: In his press conference following his straight sets quarterfinal victory over German Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic talked about the rarity and difficulty of facing players with one handed backhands, the slick and quick conditions of Suzanne Lenglen, how he feels about the current state of his game, and the challenge of playing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
“Now I have a big challenge in front of me. I’m ready for it. I’m playing well. I know this is the biggest challenge for me at Roland Garros. No doubt about it.”
Maria Sharapova leaves the bagel store just in time: After an egregious, error-strewn opening frame which she lost 6-0 to Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova cleaned up her act to collect the final two sets 6-4 6-3. Sharapova’s victory sets up a blockbuster semifinal with Victoria Azarenka, with the winner likely facing Serena Williams in the finals on Saturday. Sports Illustrated reports that while “Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by Sharapova,” Maria still felt confident.
“I still felt like I was in the match. And I was,” Sharapova stated. This type of confidence and mental fortitude coming from Sharapova should surprise no one and is what may lead her to back to back Roland Garros titles.
Players on the receiving end of gamblers’ frustrations: After his opening round defeat at the hands of Frenchman Lucas Pouille, American Alex Kuznetsov, a slight favorite in the match, received, as Ben Rothenberg describes in his piece for Slate, “a tweet with an impolite rhetorical question.” Rothenberg goes on to describe how tennis players often bear the brunt of hateful and threatening messages on twitter following losses. These messages are often from gamblers because “in countries where online sports betting is rampant and legal, tennis is one of the most attractive sports to bet on.” Tim Smyczek talks about his experiences with gamblers over social media even citing incidents where he’s “gotten messages after Challenger doubles matches.”
Enjoy Svetlana Kuznetsova while you have the chance: I could try to put in to words what Svetlana Kuznetosva means to tennis fans, but it would it pale in comparison to how Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover described the phenomenon that is Sveta. Here’s a taste of Lindsay’s take on Kuznetsova following her quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams:
“The truth is that the sky pattern on the clothes is fitting for the Russian–the sky is the limit for her, but she keeps that limit close to her …
She makes us all want to pull our hair out, but she also keeps us watching …
Because on days like today when the conclusion is foregone, when the ending seems inevitable, she reminds us that it’s not. She reminds us that there are players like her who can get under the skin of Serena Williams. She reminds us that there’s not just one right or one wrong way to do things. Occasionally the Sveta way works too.”
Rafael Nadal as focused as ever: Rafael Nadal has seven titles and a lone defeat at Roland Garros. Yet, David Cox of the New York Times designates Nadal’s practice etiquette as being “markedly different from any other player.”
“While Roger Federer likes to joke around, sometimes mimicking his partner’s service action, Nadal is deadly serious, his focus as unrelenting as he rehearses the drills he believes will make all the difference as he seeks his 12th career title in a grand slam event.”
Nadal’s amplified practice intensity should not be viewed as response or as an antidote to his lackluster form during the first week. Rather, it should be seen as Rafael Nadal being Rafael Nadal. He plays every point like it’s his last and treats every practice likewise.
Miles Maclagan to coach Laura Robson: As Simon Briggs of The Telegraph reports, “Laura Robson has a new coach in the familiar shape of Miles Maclagan, who worked with Andy Murray between 2007 and 2011.” Though Maclagan admits that he “needs to learn more about the women’s tour and Laura’s game” he knows “she has the mind for the big stadiums and for the big time which is exciting for a young player with a lot of firepower and the ability to take on the top players.”
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: No.1 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan had an easy time of it for their third round doubles match against Oliver Marach and Christopher Kas. The German-Austrian team retired after just a single game.
Serena Williams narrowly escapes Svetlana Kuznetsova: Serena Williams lost her only set of the French Open to Russian Svetlana Kuznetsov and was in danger of falling down two breaks in the third set before winning 6-3 in the third. As ESPN reports, “In a post-match on court-interview, Williams seemed spent.”
“I’m very happy to have won this quarterfinal because the whole night I was afraid of my quarterfinal match. It was a very tough match today, but it’s good for me because, I don’t know, but it’s very good. I am exhausted.”
Tommy Haas talks fashion, relives Australian Open monologue: The ATP World Tour writes that German Tommy Haas was “called out for his mismatched color scheme in Miami” and that “Haas’s fashion choices came under fire again following his fourth-round dismissal of Mikhail Youzhny.” Haas responded saying, “Today my laundry wasn’t ready. I was happy to have clothes to wear. But I think I have done a better job I think since Miami.” After witnessing Youzhny’s meltdown yesterday, Haas was asked about the rant he went on during his 2007 Australian Open match with Nikolay Davydenko admitting that “It’s funny, because Roger Federer and I actually joke about the video quite a bit, and we know it pretty much by heart now.”
Roger Federer’s quarterfinal streak quantified: Though he was overwhelmed and outmatched in his quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer’s quarterfinal streak at majors lives on. Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal puts Federer’s 36 consecutive quarterfinal streak into numerical perspective including facts such as 15 being “the number of times out of 36 that Federer reached the quarterfinals without dropping a set.”
Stanislas Wawrinka makes unusual request: In his fourth round match with Richard Gasquet, Stanislas Wawrinka was irate over several calls made by the line judge and requested the line judge to be removed. Wawrinka became so incensed that it prompted Gasquet to say “Take it easy, take it easy” in French.
“The ball’s there and he says nothing. He says nothing. Yes, yes…replace him at the next changeover. Come on, there is 20 people. That’s not a small mistake, that’s a big, big mistake.”
Tips for managing your tennis game as you get older: Time will ultimately prevail—this is a basic concept that most humans accept and identify with. Tennis stalwarts Serena Williams, Kimiko Date Krumm, Tommy Haas, Tommy Robredo, Roger Federer, and David Ferrer despite being incredibly resilient and physically fit will eventually succumb to the passing of time. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’ll stop playing forever and neither should you. If you are interested in seeing how players like Roger Federer and Kimiko Date Krumm deal with their ageing, The Tennis Space has you covered with the “Top 10 anti-ageing tips for tennis player” which includes sleeping a lot and not forgetting to have fun.
Richard Gasquet’s bad luck in the fourth rounds: Richard Gasquet has a certain prowess for reaching the fourth round of majors. This prowess for reaching the fourth round is matched by an inability to grab the three sets required to cement a quarterfinal position at grand slams. Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover has crafted this extremely detailed and revealing account of Gasquet’s failures in fourth round matches. Lindsay sums up the sentiment probably felt by most people after reading her piece.
“This is getting depressing. And ridiculous. Le sigh.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dominates Roger Federer: As mentioned earlier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga whipped Philippe Chatrier into a frenzy as he dismantled Roger Federer 7-5 6-3 6-3 conceding serve only twice in the match while breaking the Swiss six times. Piers Newbery of the BBC covered the match and documented Tsonga’s reactions following the match.
“It’s extraordinary to be here and to have won. I never dreamt of this moment. Today was my moment against a champion who has won everything. It’s here at Roland Garros, in France, on a big court with a lot of people, middle of the afternoon, and I just beat Roger Federer.”
Plenty of fascinating events unfolded on the first day of quarterfinal action in Paris. Here are my thoughts on what happened.
Major breakthrough: Not since 2011 had Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated a member of the ATP top eight, much less one of the Big Four. He had lost a five-set heartbreaker in the same round here last year to Novak Djokovic, and he had lost a five-setter in the same round at the Australian Open to the man whom he faced today. When Tsonga fell behind early in the first set, the narrative looked all too familiar. But the flamboyant French shot-maker has shown far more resilience this fortnight than he has in years, and he stormed back from early adversity to dominate Roger Federer as few men ever have at a major. Give the Paris crowd credit for abandoning their usual adulation of Federer and relentlessly exhorting their home hero to knock him off.
Pumpkin time for Cinderella Tommy: All of those grueling comebacks finally caught up with Tommy Robredo, who won just four games from David Ferrer in a listless quarterfinal. When he looks back at this tournament, though, Robredo will remember it as one of the highlights of his career. Normally a reserved, unassuming character, he stole the spotlight for several days on a grand stage for the first time. Nobody would have expected it of him a few months ago.
Crossroads for Federer: Despite the 36-quarterfinal streak at majors, one would have to rate the first half of 2013 a serious disappointment for the Swiss. Federer has no titles, one final, and one victory over a top-eight opponent (Tsonga at the Australian Open). Now, Federer must seek to defend his Wimbledon title or possibly face the prospect of dropping outside the top four. His occasional flickers of brilliance this spring simply will not suffice unless the draw implodes, which rarely happens at a major.
When David becomes Goliath: The fourth seed reached his second straight Roland Garros semifinal and fourth semifinal in five majors by losing just nine games in his last six sets. Tsonga cannot overlook the small Spaniard on the eve of a possible final against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Granted a fine draw that placed him in the opposite half from both of those nemeses, Ferrer has made the most of it. He could reach his first major final without facing any of the Big Four, a golden opportunity.
All eyes on the top half: With Federer gone, the winner of the projected Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal semifinal blockbuster will be heavily favored against whomever he faces in the final. That match looms larger than ever, assuming that both men can take care of business tomorrow.
No time like the first time: Neither Tsonga nor Ferrer ever has reached the final here. Neither man even has lost a set in reaching this stage, a first for both. Who will handle the pressure better on Friday?
Forza Italia: For the fourth straight year, an Italian woman reaches the Roland Garros semifinals. Sara Errani hit neither an ace nor a double fault in a characteristically gritty win over Agnieszka Radwanska, concluding with a 67-minute second set. Defeating Radwanska in a WTA main-draw match for the first time, she exploited her much greater comfort on the surface but also beat the world No. 4 at her own game. A leisurely 11-break contest with long points and relatively few winners normally plays into Radwanska’s hands. Not this time.
No déjà vu, thank you: Facing Svetlana Kuznetsova on the same court where she lost to her in this round four years ago, Serena Williams seized control with an emphatic first set that extended her usual pattern this tournament. History then threatened to repeat itself when Kuznetsova rallied to take the second set and claimed an early break in the third. Struggling with both her serve and her groundstroke technique, Serena looked much less like the dominant contender of the early rounds than the woman who had not reached a Roland Garros semifinal for a decade. Sheer willpower finally ended that drought and a four-match losing streak in quarterfinals here as the world No. 1 forced herself to find her range in an unexpectedly hard-fought victory.
Crossroads for Radwanska: In some respects, the newly blonde world No. 4 has enjoyed a strong year, matching her best result ever at the Australian Open (quarterfinal) and achieving a new best result at Roland Garros (also quarterfinal). A few other results have impressed as well, including a Miami semifinal. But Radwanska has shown little real evolution this year that would encourage one to believe in her as anything more than a serial quarterfinalist at majors. She will defend finals points at Wimbledon, the only major where she has gone past that round. Like Federer, her top-four status might crumble if she falls well short there.
No eyes on the bottom half: With Serena still in the draw, the matches down there offer an entertaining diversion but lack real title implications. The top seed has bageled or breadsticked all four of the bottom-half quarterfinalists on clay this year and holds a 32-4 career record against the three not named Jelena Jankovic. When JJ holds your best hope for a competitive final, avert your eyes.
Rewind to Madrid: Nudged within two points of defeat by Anabel Medina Garrigues in a quarterfinal there, Serena escaped and then rocketed past her last two opponents to the title. She will face Errani in the semifinals here, as she did there. Will the parallels continue?
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
David Ferrer is once again flying under the radar. He is never really considered a threat to win Major tournaments so he is never really a storyline. He is a talented player who plays a very strong defensive game and very rarely gets upset by players he is better than. He is known for being solid and consistent, strong enough to never lose to those outside the “Big 4” but never having enough to beat them.
That is why, even to those who have watched his matches so far, no one is really talking about David Ferrer. His matches are predictable. He gets just about every shot back and just wears his opponents down. He makes lots of great shots but no highlight-reel incredible ones. All in all, he’s doing what we thought he’d do.
Everyone knows that Ferrer should have won all of the matches he’s played so far. That’s what Ferrer does. He beats everyone outside the “Big 4” and even beats Murray on clay. But no one seemingly cares because when he reaches the “Big 4” in the semifinals, he fights for a while and then loses. That is the trajectory of David Ferrer’s Grand Slam career these past few years.
Well, it’s time for us to start paying attention because this is not your normal Ferrer. We’ve seen him improving all year. He won the Masters event in Bercy last year, which has really seemed to spur him on mentally. He hasn’t been dominant since then, but there has been a marked improvement in mentality. He lost to Murray in the Miami Masters final but impressed in doing so before checking out mentally in the third-set tiebreak.
Ferrer wasn’t at his best after that due to injury, but he came back with a vengeance in both clay Masters in May. He beat both Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Haas when they were playing great tennis and met Nadal in the third round of both tournaments. He won a set in each and the matches were much closer that the third-set scores indicated.
Ferrer is still outmatched when he plays the “Big 4”. They still have too much power and consistency overall for Ferrer’s game to work effectively against them. But Ferrer looks like he will no longer check out mentally. When he played Nadal those two matches he came in with a great game plan and executed to perfection. It wasn’t enough in the end either time, but that shouldn’t change the fact that Ferrer came closer to beating Nadal on clay than he had in a very long time.
And Ferrer came in to this tournament and has been lights-out since. He has broken serve a whopping 35 times. That’s an average of 7 breaks per match. In comparison, Nadal in 2008, which is widely considered his best year, broke serve 51 times in the tournament. Ferrer has not yet faced the elite competition of the final rounds, but he’s tearing through this field at a Rafa-like pace.
Ferrer was also given a gift by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who took out Roger Federer in their quarterfinal match. Ferrer has trouble with Federer but should be able to neutralize Tsonga’s massive serve. Tsonga and Ferrer are the only two players left in the tournament who have not yet dropped a set. That can’t last more than one round, but it is clear that both of them are playing at a level where whoever wins that match can challenge even Djokovic or Nadal in the final. The semifinal will be a tough match for Ferrer, but it is very clear that this is his biggest opportunity ever on a Grand Slam stage. And while nerves have been a massive problem for him in the past, it looks like Ferrer might finally be at a point where he can not buckle when push comes to shove.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is responsible for one of the most shocking defeats of Roger Federer’s career. Federer was cruising towards the Wimbledon semifinals in 2011, one year after his shocking quarterfinal exit to Tomas Berdych. Federer had been dominant until that point, only losing a set when Mikhail Youzhny managed to pull out a tiebreak victory.
And this match against Tsonga was no different than the rest of the tournament. Federer earned a break in the first set and gutted out a tough tiebreak in the second. But from there, it was all Tsonga. Tsonga’s serve his a different level and Federer couldn’t match it. Tsonga did not get broken again that entire match. Meanwhile, he broke Federer once in each of the final three sets to take the match and shockingly send Federer to his first loss in a Grand Slam in which he had a 2 set lead.
Tsonga continued on a tear that summer, beating Federer in Montreal as well. He did not get broken until the second set of that match, going a stunning five entire sets against Federer without being broken.
Unfortunately for Tsonga, his serve has not been that dominant consistently after that summer and he has yet to beat Federer again since those two matches. He met Federer in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year in one of the tightest matches in that entire tournament.
Now, Tsonga has a chance at revenge. He has played better than Federer this tournament; that much is clear. His serve has been broken twice this entire tournament and never since the second round. Federer has had trouble with Tsonga’s serve in the best. He will have to figure out a way to get into Tsonga’s service games this match and quickly, otherwise he could be staring into an early hole.
Tsonga’s return has been exemplary this tournament. He has gotten himself into rallies and once he has had a chance has never hesitated to pull the trigger on huge shots. On paper, it’s entirely possible that he should be the favorite in this match. He can power the ball through the clay court in an almost Robin Soderling-like fashion and Federer will find it difficult to defend.
But we can never count Federer out. He still is the better overall player than Tsonga. Yes, he showed some weaknesses in his 5-set win over Gilles Simon. But Federer does have the ability to pick his tennis up to a level that just about no one in the world can match. After his loss to Tsonga at Wimbledon 2 years ago, he was criticized by journalists and other players for not seeming to care enough. He didn’t get energized; he didn’t look like he was fighting to find energy in that match. In his victory over Simon last round he kept trying to energize himself but really only took over the match when Simon’s level fell. He is going to need to find a different gear for this match that he had last round; otherwise, this match will entirely rest on Tsonga’s racket. And, if this tournament so far is something to judge by, Tsonga’s racket is not a good place for opponents to place their trust.
The schedule of play in singles has shrunk to two courts as the second week starts at Roland Garros. Categories have started to shrink as well in the latter stages of these recaps.
Match of the day: That pesky Gilles Simon just won’t do the decent thing and retreat respectfully from Roger Federer, bowing every two steps. Simon has defeated Federer twice and now taken him to a fifth set in both of their major meetings. Reeling off 10 of 13 games in one stretch, the Frenchman even led the former champion by two sets to one until Federer compiled a seven-game surge of his own and eased through the final set without drama.
Comeback of the day: Maybe we should rename this category the “Tommy Robredo Comeback of the Day.” The Spanish veteran became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive matches at a major after losing the first two sets. At least Robredo did not need to save match points this time, as he did against Gael Monfils, but he trailed Nicolas Almagro by a break in both the fourth and fifth sets. Of course, this was Nicolas Almagro.
Gold star: Assigned the tallest man in the draw, David Ferrer trimmed him down to size with a clinical efficiency worthy of Procrustes. Serena Williams also would have appreciated Ferrer’s demolition of Kevin Anderson and his massive serve, which ended with consecutive breadsticks. Alone among the men in his half, he has not dropped a set or played a tiebreak through four matches.
Silver star: Like Ferrer, Tsonga has not lost a set en route to a second straight quarterfinal here. His victory over Viktor Troicki produced a routine scoreline like those before it, a departure from his usual trends but good news for his future here.
Stat of the day: By rallying against Simon, Federer extended his streak of consecutive quarterfinals at majors to 36. That’s nine years, reaching back to Wimbledon 2004.
Question of the day: Tsonga threw quite a scare into world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the quarterfinal stage here last year, holding four match points in the fourth set. He took Federer to a fifth set in the same round at the Australian Open this year. Does another heart-stopping epic lie in store?
Match of the day: A 48-winner barrage from Svetlana Kuznetsova avenged a loss in Madrid to world No. 8 Angelique Kerber. Kuznetsova has reached the quarterfinals at both majors this year, something that at least half of the WTA top ten cannot say pending tomorrow’s results. Unseeded former champions plowing deep into the draw always adds an extra layer of interest to the second week of a major.
Comeback of the day: Her first three matches had tumbled into the win column almost too easily. Like Federer, Sara Errani encountered her first serious test of the tournament today against Carla Suarez Navarro and nearly flunked it. She regrouped to secure her tenth win at Roland Garros in the last two years, having won one match in four previous appearances. Predictably, neither woman hit an ace.
Gold star: Never at her best on clay, Agnieszka Radwanska seemed ripe for an early upset when she lost early at the key clay non-majors and withdrew from Brussels last week with a shoulder injury. Radwanska thus has surprised by reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set, comfortably knocking off 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic to set up an intriguing clash with Errani. All of the top four women are still in the draw.
Silver star: To Roberta Vinci’s credit, she gave Serena Williams something to ponder in the second set as she stayed level until 3-3 and made inroads toward a break in the seventh game. Unwilling to throw her opponent a lifeline, Serena snuffed out the threat, broke, and then served out her 28th straight win. Four matches, ten games lost.
Stat of the day: In five years and 20 majors since she won her in 2008, Ana Ivanovic has reached one major quarterfinal.
Question of the day: Four years ago, Serena and Kuznetsova combined on a quarterfinal thriller that the Russian snatched late in the third set. Could we see a worthy sequel in the same round on Tuesday, or is Serena simply too bulletproof at present?
Now that the second week has arrived, you can find previews of every match on this site. This article covers all eight on Sunday.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Viktor Troicki: While their head-to-head stands more evenly balanced than you might think, Tsonga has won both of their clay meetings convincingly. Troicki has sandwiched a tortuous five-set win over a clay specialist between two straight-sets victories, the latter an upset of Marin Cilic. For a man with a losing record this season headed into the tournament, an appearance in the second week marks an excellent step forward. The bad news for Troicki is that Tsonga has not lost a set through three matches, showing uncommon discipline and purpose. With the French crowd behind him on the biggest tennis stadium in his nation, he should make short work of a man who often gets rattled in hostile or tense environments.
Gilles Simon vs. Roger Federer: When they first started to collide in the second half of 2008, Simon seemed to have Federer’s number. He rallied from losing the first set to grind past him twice that year on the hard courts of the Rogers Cup and the year-end championships. Surely chagrined that his stylistic flights of fancy could not trump a mechanical counterpuncher, Federer labored to finish him off at the 2011 Australian Open after squandering a two-set lead. Rome this month marked the first time that he finally seemed to solve his “Simon problem.” Displaying his superior clay skills, Federer yielded just three games to a Frenchman who lost his first two sets at his home major and needed to come from behind in the third round as well. Simon lost 23 games in his last match. Federer has lost 23 games in the tournament. Not even the crowd, which adores Federer, will give him a meaningful edge.
Kevin Anderson vs. David Ferrer: The tallest man in the draw faces the shortest man in the draw. On clay, though, David Ferrer looms much larger than does Kevin Anderson despite the South African’s appearance in the Casablanca final this spring. Ferrer has dominated all of his first three opponents without dropping a set, pouncing on a weak draw after Madrid and Rome assigned him quarterfinals against Nadal. The Spanish veteran has made a living out of defanging huge servers like Anderson, using his deft reflexes and compact swings to blunt their single overwhelming weapon before outmaneuvering them along the baseline. Anderson bounced Ferrer from the second round of Indian Wells in March, but that victory may have owed something to Ferrer’s busy South American clay schedule just before and the deflating loss to Nadal that ended it.
Tommy Robredo vs. Nicolas Almagro: This all-Spanish battle should feature plenty of traditional clay tennis with extended rallies from behind the baseline. A former member of the top ten, Robredo launched an impressive comeback from injury this spring by winning the Casablanca title and upsetting Tomas Berdych in Barcelona. He has emerged from one of the draw’s most star-studded nuggets, which included not only Berdych but Gael Monfils and Ernests Gulbis. Saving match points against Monfils in the last round, Robredo has rallied from losing the first two sets in each of his last two matches. By contrast, Almagro has grown famous for choking away huge leads. But he has won all five of his meetings with Robredo, all on clay, while losing one total set. Look for him to control the rallies as Robredo slips into retrieving mode.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Angelique Kerber: Two of their three previous meetings have gone deep into a final set and ended with almost identical scores, the most recent in Madrid this spring. Kerber’s burst from anonymity into the top 10 occurred near the same time that Kuznetsova plummeted from trendy dark horse to forgotten woman. True to those trends, the German lefty has won both of their matches this year. Kuznetsova should hold a clear surface edge, however, and she showed by reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals that she still can bring her best tennis to the biggest tournaments. An upset of Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros last year suggests that Kerber has plenty to fear, although she will bring momentum from gritting through a hard-fought contest with dirt devil Varvara Lepchenko. This match may hinge on whose forehand does the dictating.
Serena Williams vs. Roberta Vinci: Headlines would ripple through the tennis world if somebody merely stands up to Serena, much less defeats her. A canny veteran with plenty of clay skills, Vinci will resist more tenaciously than most of her previous victims. Serena will deny her the time to construct her artful combinations, though, and handled her doubles partner Sara Errani with ease. This match could develop some intrigue if the world No. 1 struggles with her timing on her return, which can happen on clay. But otherwise Serena should break serve too consistently and land too many punishing punches with her own serve to feel any serious pressure.
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Sara Errani: The answer to Robredo vs. Almagro in the men’s draw features a contest between two clay specialists of the sort rarely witnessed in the WTA these days. Errani routed Suarez Navarro in the Acapulco final, which makes sense. In no area of her game is the tiny Spaniard better than the small Italian, who even aced her in Acapulco. On the other hand, Suarez Navarro scored a stunning upset over Errani in the first round of the last major, signaling an appropriate start to the best year of her career. The two women combined for just a handful of service holds in that match, a pattern that could resurface. Having conceded only nine games through three matches, barely more than Serena, Errani has looked as dominant as a woman without weapons other than drop shots ever will.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Ivanovic: To state the obvious, the most important shots of a point are the first and the last. (If you’re Serena Williams, it’s often the same thing.) In the language of the WTA, that means penetrating first serves, aggressive returns, and the ability to finish points with clean winners. Ivanovic has struggled in both of those categories during her current six-match losing streak to Radwanska over the last three years. Earlier in her career, she controlled her matches with the Pole by excelling in both of them, but the tide turned in 2009 when the Serb let a 4-0 lead slip away in a third set. The pace of her serve and forehand has dwindled since she won Roland Garros five years ago, although Ivanovic has grown more comfortable in the forecourt with time. Beyond tactics and technique, though, her main challenge lies in believing that she can defeat a top-five woman at a major. The last time that Ivanovic did? Two days before she lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
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?