by Kevin Craig
Shelby Rogers, the 23-year-old American ranked No. 108 in the world, reached her first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros Sunday as she dispatched the No. 25 seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4.
Rogers, the second-to-last directly accepted player into the tournament, is making the most of her opportunity as she has now defeated her third seeded opponent in four rounds.
After defeating the No. 17 seed Karolina Pliskova in the first round and the No. 10 seed Petra Kvitova in the third round, Rogers went into her fourth round encounter with Begu brimming with confidence.
“I have done that pretty much this whole tournament, starting with the first round” said Rogers of backing up a big win with another stellar performance. “That was a huge upset for me and kind of set the tone for the last few matches I have played.”
Rogers, who made the final of a clay court tournament in Rio in February of this year, got off to a good start on Sunday, breaking Begu in just the third game of the match to get out to an early lead. That lead would be backed up by a strong serving performance in the first set, as Rogers didn’t face a single break point and only lost one point in her last two service games before grabbing another break at 5-3 to close out the set.
Rogers ensured that she kept playing with the aggressive mindset that she had used to get her to this stage and it was paying dividends so far in the fourth round.
“Keep your game plan and your strategy and keep doing what you have been doing…just keep going after it…It was working in the first, it’s going to work again. So keep doing it,” said Rogers.
After Begu was able to break in the first game of the second set and jump out to a 2-0 lead, Rogers was able to turn the momentum back in her favor with that same strategy, allowing herself to reel off four games in a row, including two breaks and two holds at love, putting herself just two games from the quarterfinals.
The Romanian did not go away, though, breaking Begu back and taking the set to 4-4. Rogers was able to restore order with a hold to go up 5-4, before quickly going up 15-40 and capitalizing on her first break point of the game, getting an unforced error from Begu that gave her the win.
Rogers, who will now take on the No. 4 seed Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, has to keep reminding herself that this isn’t a dream.
“I’m definitely outside of my comfort zone already and I keep telling myself you belong here,” said Rogers. “I’m ready to step up the challenge. I have nothing to lose. I have no pressure. It’s just been a great experience here and I want to keep enjoying it and keep pushing myself.”
Richard Gasquet also had an emotional win on Sunday as he was able to reach his first quarterfinal at the French Open with a four set win over Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
When the rain came and delayed play for a couple hours, Gasquet found himself down a break in the first set. However, once he and Nishikori returned to the court, the Frenchman had everything going his way, and, before he could even realize it, found himself up two sets to love.
“I think this rain interruption did me a world of good because we had a very good chat,” said Gasquet of utilizing his time off the court to discuss strategy with his coach Sergi Bruguera.
Gasquet closed out the second set with a winner off of his majestic one-handed backhand wing and sent the French crowd into a frenzy. That French crowd has been looking for a home champion since Yannick Noah won the title in 1983.
Gasquet, of course, still has three more matches to win, the first of which will be against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, but reaching the quarterfinals is an achievement in itself for him.
Calling Court Philippe-Chatrier the “biggest stage in the world for a French player,” Gasquet had more than enough motivation to get himself through the match and earn the win.
The match felt like “a Davis Cup match for me today,” said Gasquet. “I admit it made a big difference for me and of course it will be the same on Tuesday, but for sure I need to play a big match.”
by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams was able to fight off a spirited attack from Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday at the French Open as she won their third round encounter, 6-4, 7-6(10).
Williams, who has been the No. 1 player in the world for the past 172 weeks, got the match started in a manner that most of her matches go, holding at love and forcing her opponent to stress in her first service game, winning the first six points of the match. Mladenovic, though, was able to fight for the hold and quickly turned the first set in her favor as she became the aggressor and was dominating the majority of the points, bringing the French crowd to life.
“I had not been playing my game. I was playing really defensive. It’s not me,” said Williams.
Mladenovic was able to take Williams to deuce in three of her last four service games in the set, having a look at four break points in that span.
Williams, being the fierce warrior that the tennis world has come to know, fought off all of that pressure and quickly applied it to Mladenovic as she served to stay in the first set at 4-5. Williams raced out to a 0-40 lead in the game, eventually converting on her third break point to close out the set with the only break of the match.
In the second set, Williams carried the momentum and played dominantly as she never fell behind in any of her service games. Playing so freely on her own serve, Williams continuously had looks to break Mladenovic’s serve, seeing nine in total in the set, but was unable to take advantage of any of them and was forced to play an epic tiebreak that lasted 19 minutes.
That tiebreak was put on hold for more than two and a half hours as a massive thunderstorm passed over Paris and delayed all play at Roland Garros. But once the rain had subsided and the courts were prepared for play again, the level of play from Williams and Mladenovic was just as high as it was before the rain came.
Mladenovic, the No. 26 seed, held leads at 3-0 and 5-2 in the tiebreak, but Williams was able to win four points in a row for a 6-5 lead and a match point. Mladenovic was able to save four match points, and had a set point of her own, but in the end, the 21-time major champion was too good and capitalized on her fifth match point to close out the two set win in over two and a half hours.
“I think she played well. I feel like I made a tremendous amount of errors, but I feel like she kind of forced me to,” said Williams, praising Mladenovic’s play.
Williams’ win sees her move into the fourth round of the French Open where only 16 women are left, and she will take on Elina Svitolina, the No. 18 seed.
by Kevin Craig
The biggest news of the day at the French Open on Friday wasn’t caused by something that happened on the court, rather by a decision made by nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, who was the No. 4 seed in the event this year, announced that he had withdrawn himself from the tournament.
“This is one of the toughest press conferences of my career…If it wasn’t Roland Garros, I probably wouldn’t have taken the risks (of playing with an injury). It’s the most important event of the year for me,” said Nadal.
The cause of Nadal’s surprising decision was a left wrist injury that the Spaniard has been dealing with for the past “couple of weeks”, just another bullet point on a long list of injuries that have hindered his success in the past few years.
Nadal first felt pain in his wrist three weeks ago when he played in the quarterfinals of Madrid, but attempted to play through the pain in Rome, and then in Paris.
After beating Sam Groth and Facundo Bagnis in his first two matches in Paris, losing only nine games in the process, many began to believe that Nadal would be able to provide a tough challenge to Novak Djokovic in the latter stages of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Nadal and fans of tennis, there will not be a 50th meeting between the two great champions, as the pain in Nadal’s wrist continued to grow.
“I arrived here with a little bit of pain but I thought it was something I would be able to manage, but every day it got a bit worse,” said Nadal.
While many will be disappointed with his decision to leave the tournament, Nadal is doing what is best for him and his career as he is weary of the potential problems that would come from playing with his injured wrist.
“It’s not broken, but if I keep playing it’s going to be broken in the next couple of days,” said Nadal.
“To have won the tournament I would have had to play five more matches and the doctor told me that was 100 percent impossible,” said Nadal.
Nadal and his team hope that he will be able to play in Wimbledon and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that happens.
“I need a couple of weeks with the immobilization. Then we’re going to do the treatment and we hope the treatment works well. We expect to recover quick,” said Nadal.
Nadal’s withdrawal grants fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers a walkover into the fourth round.
On the court, headlines were made by 23-year old American Shelby Rogers as she upset two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova by a 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-0 score line.
After racing out a hot start, converting on three out of four break points and saving the only one she faced in the first set, Rogers began to be challenged by Kvitova in the second set. The Czechwoman had a breakpoint in Rogers’ first service game of the second set but couldn’t convert, but did grab her first and only break of the match when Rogers was serving up a break at 4-3 and looked like it could be a turning point.
Kvitova went on to take the second set in a tiebreak, but was unable to carry the momentum over into the decider. Rogers stood strong and continued to play well as she had done all match, going up 0-40 in Kvitova’s first service game and breaking for an early lead. Kvitova had a look to break right back, but once again failed to convert on a break point, and that was ultimately where the match ended.
Rogers went on to break twice more, with a hold at love thrown in the middle, to close out the set and the match.
Rogers, the No. 108 player in the world, earned her first appearance in the fourth round of a major with her win over the No. 10 seed. The moment gave Rogers, and fans of American tennis, plenty to cheer for and be emotional about.
“It was incredible…I’m one that cries very easily and I think everyone saw that. I immediately started crying,” said Rogers.
Irina-Camelia Begu, the No. 25 seed from Romania, will be Rogers’ next opponent.
by Kevin Craig
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earned his 100th win at a major and advanced to the third round of the French Open on Thursday in Paris after battling back from a two set deficit against Marcos Baghdatis, earning the 6-7(6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win.
Tsonga, who owned a 6-0 head-to-head record over Baghdatis, came into the match with plenty of confidence playing in front of his home crowd, but the experienced Cypriot was up to the task in the early stages.
In the battle of former Australian Open finalists, Baghdatis in 2006 and Tsonga in 2008, Baghdatis’ strategy was to utilize the drop shot as much as possible and make the Frenchman run all over the court. Throughout the first set, that gameplan worked perfectly for the Baghdatis, the former No. 8 player in the world, and it allowed him to have the confidence to go up an early break and eventually save a set point in the first set tiebreak before going on to win it.
The French faithful did not give up hope in the highest ranked French player as he showed signs of being able to battle back from the deficit, despite the fact that Baghdatis had been playing at such a high level. After going up a break early in the second set, all seemed to be right for Tsonga, but Baghdatis was able to break right back before going on to grab another break later in the set. A hold at love, including an ace at set point, gave the Cypriot a two sets to love lead, pulling him to within one set of his first third round appearance at the French Open since 2010.
“He just played perfectly, tactically in the first two, and he pushed me to give the best of myself,” said Tsonga of Baghdatis’ play.
The high quality play from Baghdatis in the first two sets was all for naught, however, as Tsonga was able to battle back, as the majority of the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier expected. Baghdatis, who has struggled with fitness before, including in his epic second round encounter with Andre Agassi at the 2006 US Open, Agassi’s final professional tournament, began to show signs of decreasing energy as he began to make too many errors and relied on his drop shot too much to shorten points.
After dropping the third set, Baghdatis had a chance in the fourth to go up a break again, but Tsonga came up clutch and did not look back from there. Two breaks in the fourth and fifth sets came easily to Tsonga as he was able to eventually pull out the five-set win and advance to the third round where he will take on 2014 French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis.
Baghdatis never gave up on the drop shot throughout the match, finishing up by hitting 68 total. “Over five sets that’s a lot of running to the net, very tiring,” said Tsonga, who successfully came back from two sets to love down for the third time in his career.
On the women’s side, both Williams sisters won their matches easily with 6-2, 6-1 score lines. Serena beat Teliana Pereira of Brazil, while Venus defeated fellow American Louisa Chirico.
Venus, who is 15 years older than her opponent on Thursday, cited experience as the deciding factor over the young and talented Chirico. “Louisa has a lot of talent but I think I had the experience. Today, I was lucky that I’ve played 20 years here at Roland Garros…It’s not as much fun when you have to meet an American early on, but the best part is an American will go through,” said Venus.
by Kevin Craig
French wild card Mathias Bourgue gave Andy Murray another scare at the French Open on Wednesday as he forced the two-time major champion to five sets. Murray, who had to come back from two sets to love down to beat Radek Stepanek in the first round, had to fight back from a two sets to one hole in the second round, eventually earning the 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win.
The No. 2 seeded Murray was not only battling the spirited wild card, but also the French faithful on Court Philippe-Chatrier who gave their full support to Bourgue throughout the match as he gave the crowd much more to cheer for than anticipated.
The match began as most would have expected as Murray raced out to a 6-2, 2-0 lead, but that was where the match turned on its head as Bourgue was able to roll off a six-game win streak, taking the set and leveling the match at one set all.
The Frenchman was able to battle back thanks to a dip in concentration for Murray that led to him making too many unforced errors. “It wasn’t like I was not there mentally, but I just couldn’t find the court,” said Murray.
Bourgue, a 22 year-old who is currently ranked No. 164 in the world, continued his hot streak into the third set and outplayed Murray, utilizing a variety of shots to get the job done.
The sense was present throughout the match that Murray would be able to battle back and find a way to pull out the win, like he has shown so many times before throughout his career. That was the case as Murray was able to begin controlling his shots more in the fourth set, limiting his unforced error count to just three in the set and finding a way to assert himself on the court.
The fifth set was more of the same as the much more experienced Murray continued his roll in the fifth set, attacking the youth and inexperience of Bourgue to earn two breaks and close out the match.
Murray highly praised the young Frenchman for his performance on Wednesday, but clearly stated his disappointment with his own level of play. “Today certainly wasn’t easy. I lost my way on the court today for quite a while…You can’t continue playing matches like that and then expect to win the tournament” said Murray.
The Brit will take on big serving Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Karlovic had a scare himself in the second round, as he was forced to play 22 games in the fifth set of his matchup with Australian Jordan Thompson, eventually pulling out the 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-7(4), 12-10 win.
Another Frenchman in action on Wednesday was on the opposite end of the potential upset bid as Gilles Simon battled back from two sets to love down to beat Argentine Guido Pella, 4-6, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(4), 6-4.
Pella, who is having a career year after having reached his career his career high ranking of No. 39 in March, raced out two a two sets lead and looked to be in complete control of the match. After going up a break in the third set and having a 3-1 lead, Pella was just three games away from his first third round appearance at a major, but the battle tested Simon needed to give his French faithful something to cheer for.
After going down 3-1, Simon won six of the next eight games, breaking Pella back to take the third set and keep the match alive.
Pella’s upset bid was far from over, though, as he broke in the first game of the fourth set and held a 4-2 lead before Simon was once again able to break late in the set to get back on serve, eventually forcing a tiebreak. The Argentine’s hopes looked to be crushed in that fourth set tiebreak as Simon raced out to a 5-0 lead and eventually won 7-4 to force a deciding fifth set.
The battle continued into the fifth set as each player was forced to battle in their service games, including at 2-2 where Simon had two break points and took advantage of the second one to begin his closing out of the match.
When the Frenchman served for it at 5-4, Pella showed just how much of a battler he is. A 22-point game ensued and Pella had a look at three break points, but Simon was too good and came up clutch as he saved all of them and finished off the comeback win to the delight of the Parisian crowd.
Simon’s epic win sets up a battle in the third round with Viktor Troicki.
by Kevin Craig
On a rain shortened day of play in Paris, Benoit Paire made the French faithful nervous, but was eventually able to pull out a five-set win over the No. 137 player in the world, Radu Albot, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
Paire appeared to have an easy day at the office on his hands after jumping out to a set and a break lead over Albot at 6-2, 3-1. Albot, the first player from Moldova to play in the main draw of a major, looked to settle in halfway through the second set as he got back on serve and broke Paire as he served to stay in the set at 4-5 to level the match at one set all.
The third set looked promising for Paire early on as he broke Albot at love to take a 3-2 lead, but that break was the first of five in a row that eventually saw Paire end up with a 5-4 lead. The Frenchman had no problems serving out the set to take a two sets to one lead and looked like he would be able to cruise into the second round to the delight of the home crowd.
If you have followed tennis for the past 12 months or so, then you know that nothing Paire is ever as straightforward as it should be, and that was certainly the case on the opening day of play. Paire, after taking the two sets to one advantage, looked to be uninterested in the fourth set as Albot was able to break serve three times and take it 6-1 to force a decider.
Albot, who had to win three qualifying matches to get into the main draw of the French Open, continued his fight throughout the fifth set, holding a break lead twice. Both times, though, Paire was able to break back in the next game as the lesser-experienced Albot was unable to come up clutch on the big points. This trend continued as Paire held a 5-4 lead on serve and Albot attempted to serve to stay in the match. Albot, though, found himself down 15-40, and Paire took advantage of the first match point he had to clinch the win and his spot in the second round.
Paire’s win see him go on to face Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia, who beat Donald Young in straight sets, 7-6(1), 6-2, 6-3.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also had difficulty in her first round match, but was able to overcome Danka Kovinic of Montenegro on Court Philippe Chartrier, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
Kvitova, like Paire, was also up a set and a break and looked like she would cruise into the second round. Kovinic, 21-years old and the No. 59 player in the world, was able to break Kvitova three consecutive times in the second set to force a deciding third set.
Kovinic was able to utilize her firepower to force Kvitova out of her comfort zone. “I think she just came back and tried to play more aggressive…I was just trying to put the ball in, but it’s not really my game,” said Kvitova
Kovinic continued to play well throughout the decider and looked very comfortable on serve. That was the case until she broke Kvitova to take a 5-4 lead and served for the upset win. Kovinic got to within two points of the match at 30-30, but never held a match point as Kvitova was able to break and get back on serve.
After holding at love to take a 6-5 lead, Kvitova was able to break Kovinic one more time and close out the win, earning herself a spot in the second round against Su-Wei Hsieh, who defeated Lara Arruabarrena, 7-6(6), 6-3.
Kvitova was happy to get the win, but knows she will have to play better if she has plans to advance to the later round of the tournament. “I think that the end of the match was kind of sorry from my side. It was a big fight again. I’m happy that I won it,” said Kvitova.
It is the ninth time that Rafael Nadal has won the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. The win has increased Nadal’s French Open odds. He was crowned champion last Sunday after he won 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 against Gael Monfils in the final. He is now the second favorite to win the championship in Paris. It was an extra special day as Prince Albert II along with Princess Charlene watched from the royal box to see Nadal win a 28th trophy on the ATP tour.
It was the first win for Nadal in nearly two years. The 29-year-old went on a record winning streak of 46 matches unbeaten at the Monte-Carlo Country Club between 2005 – 2012. His run came to an end when Novak Djokovic beat him in the final in 2013.
The win puts Nadal back in the frame for the French Open. His form has suffered in recent years due to injuries and age taking its toll. He showed though at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters that he is back to his best. Many experts are making French Open tennis predictions that he will make the final.
The last time that Nadal won a competition on the APT World Tour was in August 2015. He won in Hamburg beating Fognini in the final.
The final between Nadal and Monfils lasted two-hours and 45 minutes. It was an epic battle and to begin with it looked like Monfils would be victorious. He made great shot selections when it mattered most, and his defensive side of the game was exceptional. Nadal hit his stride though and to pull the victory out of the bag.
Nadal proved he is back to full fitness at long last, and it was his energy that won it for him. Monfils was worn out having to return all of Nadal’s powerful baseline shots. After winning match point, Nadal was extremely emotional falling to his knees. You could tell exactly how much it meant to the player from Spain.
Monfils was graceful after the game saying the better man won on the day. He left Nadal played unbelievably well, and there was nothing he could do to counter it.
It was a staggering 100th final at tour-level that Nadal has competed he. The Spaniard has managed to win 68 of them. It is the sixth time that a player has reached 100 finals in Open Era on the ATP Tour. He is just a single trophy away from beating the record of most titles on clay-court. The record for the Open era is set by Guillermo Vilas and stands at 49. With the event in Paris on clay-court Nadal’s French Open odds of beating the record have tumbled. It could be a magical tournament for Nadal if he can carry on his form from Monaco.
It is going to be interesting in Paris to see if Nadal or Djokovic will make it to the final and claim the crown. It is hard seeing past them both when making French Open tennis predictions. If Nadal wins, he will beat the record and if Djokovic wins he will claim the only trophy missing from his cabinet. Hopefully the effects of Nadal’s recent loss in Australia won’t be affecting him, and both players bring their best game
The best players have dominated the French Open for years, but William Hill’s Lee Phelps is looking at the bigger odds to see if anyone is worth betting on for a shock.
The Slams are usually the realm of the favourites in tennis, but we saw Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic surprise the top order last year, so could the 2015 French Open go to a player a big price?
Rafael Nadal has dominated this tournament for a decade, with only Roger Federer winning the title in the last decade. In fact only two men outside the top four seeds have contested the final. Robin Soderling twice and in 2005 Mariano Puerto lost to Nadal when he won his first French Open trophy.
Let’s look at the men outside the top four in the betting though, just in case 2015 is a year we saw one from the pack upset the odds.
Federer has been a long time victim of Nadal’s at Roland Garros, but did win when Rafa was injured in 2009. The questions over his demise won’t go away, but to be fair neither will Fed.
A final appearance against Djokovic in Italy and his world ranking suggest that Federer will once again be a big player in Paris. He did pick up straight-sets wins against Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka too playing his best tennis on the dirt in quite some time.
He may not have the speed of his younger days, but the clay should benefit him. It’s just whether he can hold his own on the baseline.
Stan had a great 2014, but he’s finding it tougher going in 15 and his best at the French is a quarter final in 2013.
He has made people sit up and take notice by beating Nadal in Rome, but he is one of four to do that already this season including Fabio Fognini. That win was his first in 13 attempts against Rafa, but I still think it says more about the Spaniard.
Tennis odds makers know that the Spaniard is arguably the best players on the ATP circuit today never to have won a Grand Slam. Clay has historically been his best surface, and in 2013 he did all he could before facing Nadal in the tournament final – he did what everyone else has done and promptly lost.
I don’t see that famed fitness lasting out for another final appearance here. It quarter finals and out for Ferrer, but he will make life hard for one of the top seeds before saying Au Revoir.
Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The two home hopes will be talked about as usual in Paris, but it’s hard to see them going all the way. Monfils best is the semi-final in 2008 and Tsonga went to the last four stage in 2013.
Despite the clamour among the media and hopeful Parisian fans, I don’t see either player having the game or the consistency to make it to the last four. Tsonga is on a 5 and 4 run on clay this season and his compatriot is 7 and 3.
In truth I don’t see any of these outsiders troubling the big guns. But if I was taking one to creep into the final with my tennis picks it would be Roger Federer, just because of his pedigree and with a fortuitous draw he could find some out-of-form and less than fresh players. My pick for the final is Novak Djokovic versus Kei Nishikori, with Djokovic (-125 favorite on the French Open odds board) winning.
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by Andrew Eichenholz
Novak Djokovic is playing the best tennis of anybody on the men’s tour, no ifs, ands or buts about it. However, as the Serbian star looks to grab his first French Open title, he faces stiff competition and an even tougher draw.
If he will lift his first Coupe des Mousquetaires after all the dust settles, he will have denied Rafael Nadal, who seeks his tenth French Open championship, Andy Murray, who pushed Djokovic to his limit in Australia and Roger Federer, who is a 17-time Grand Slam champion.
The big debate heading into the draw ceremony on Friday was whether or not the tournament supervisors should make an exception and seed Nadal higher then his No. 7 ranking, making him the sixth seed at the tournament due to the withdrawal of Milos Raonic. Would it be fair to the higher-ranked players who may have to deal with the Spaniard earlier then usual?
Djokovic was anything but the beneficiary when the tournament decided to leave Nadal at No. 6, as arguably the two best clay court players in the world ended up in the same quarter of the draw, making for what should be an entertaining fortnight in Paris.
So much for the top seed supposedly deserving the easiest draw. Novak Djokovic faces what really is not all that tricky of an opening week in Paris, but he may not fall for the City of Love even if he were to get through the toughest sections of the four. By the time Djokovic could face his first seeded opponent, he should be pretty fresh, with no clear threat early on, as Gilles Muller of Luxembourg is far more dangerous on a quicker surface with his lefty serve. However, a duo of Australians who will more than likely face off in the second round, No. 27 Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis, may pose somewhat of a challenge to the World No. 1. Even though Novak comes into the second major of the year with a 35-2 record, it is hard to believe he will come out of the gates in peak form, giving a player like Tomic, who tends to draw the worst out of his opponents, a chance to make a fight of affairs.
Nadal on the other hand is the king at Roland Garros. Nine times he has conquered the terre battue, with his only loss coming against Robin Soderling. It will take a tremendous effort to take him out, and it is hard to see it happening unless Djokovic does so. Now, their potential quarterfinal match may very well be the early final, but first, Nadal may face some of the tour’s next big stars. In the round of 16, Grigor Dimitrov is the likely opponent, one of the most naturally talented players in the world. He broke through at Wimbledon, but is he ready to do so again? Others to look out for include Borna Coric and tough veteran Tommy Robredo.
Popcorn Match-Grigor Dimitrov v. Jack Sock OR Pablo Carreno Busta v. Victor Estrella Burgos
First Seed Out- Adrian Mannarino
Quarterfinal Result- Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal
If Andy Murray plays the type of tennis that he conjured during the first couple of sets of the Australian Open final when he looked for all the world to be the best pure ball-striker in the world, he will advance through this quarter. But, there will be a huge issue in the form of a small, but tough-as-nail man— David Ferrer. Murray tends to fall apart most when he gets frustrated, and there are few on tour who are better at scraping balls back and making an opponent work for a point than Ferrer. The “Little Beast,” as Ferrer is called, has arguably the easiest 1/16th in the draw, with Murray facing far tougher challenges along the way. Vasek Pospisil recently hurt himself playing doubles, but has the firepower to test the Scot in the second round if he does not come prepared, with the energetic Nick Kyrgios lurking in the third round for what be one of the most fun matches with two of the biggest personalities on tour. Kyrgios is scared of nobody, but if Murray is aggressive right off the bat, the Australian may not have enough experience and guile to stay in touch. David Goffin is the most improved player on tour in the last couple of seasons, but again, will not have enough to take it to Murray. But, all of the obstacles in his way may take just enough out of Murray for Ferrer to pounce.
Popcorn Match- John Isner v. Andreas Seppi
First Seed Out- Leonardo Mayer
Quarterfinal Result- David Ferrer def. Andy Murray
This section of the draw may have the most diverse group of players and talents in the tournament and in recent memory, with players from all over the world and court looking to advance to the semifinals. Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori, seeded fourth and fifth, respectively, are the most talented players of the group, both elite ball-strikers who are two of the few capable of competing from the baseline with Djokovic and Murray. There are enough lefties in this section to fill multiple courts, distinguishing themselves with many different playing styles. Feliciano Lopez is a slicing and dicing serve and volleyer who on his day can keep anyone on their heels, while Fernando Verdasco has the only lefty forehand within realms of Nadal’s. Thomaz Bellucci is one of the hottest players on tour, and the list keeps on going. But, there are also the players who bring an out-of-the-ordinary game onto the court, with the flat strokes of Roberto Bautista Agut and confusion of Florian Mayer. Then, there is the enigma that is Fabio Fognini, who can blitz anybody in the section when focused, but could lose in the first round to Tatsuma Ito if he is not ready. This is the most unpredictable section with many talents, but look for two of the more dynamic players to get through.
Popcorn Match- Roberto Bautista Agut v Florian Mayer
First Seed Out- Feliciano Lopez
Quarterfinal Result- Kei Nishikori def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
It is impossible to ignore the greatest player of all time, and that is what is happening in the lead-up to the French Open. Roger Federer may have the easiest road to the second week, yet all the talk is about whether or not Djokovic or Nadal were affected more by ending up in the same quarter. His first two opponents will be a qualifier and possibly Marcel Granollers, who does not have enough weapons to threaten Federer. Ivo Karlovic and eventually Gael Monfils could be looming, but could either really put together a solid enough block of play to take out the No. 2 seed in a five-set affair? If Roger plays well, neither can, and then comes his compatriot Stan Wawrinka. The man is one of the most talented in the sport, as he showed when he won the Australian Open last year, but his play so far this season has left much to be desired. It is never easy, but if Federer is focused from the get-go, it is his section to lose. Arguably the highlight is the potential drop that Ernests Gulbis may suffer in the rankings pending his result. The Latvian made the semifinals in Paris last year, even with his odd forehand, but losing those points combined with a lackluster start to the year can plummet him to near the boundary of the top-100.
Popcorn Match- Guillermo Garcia-Lopez v. Steve Johnson
First Seed Out- Ivo Karlovic
Quarterfinal Result- Roger Federer def. Gilles Simon
DARK HORSE- Dominic Thiem
MOST TO LOSE- Ernests Gulbis
FINAL RESULTS-Djokovic def. Ferrer, Federer def. Nishikori; Djokovic def. Federer
Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women. As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective. (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.) What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.
7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9
The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished. Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open. Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis. By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could. Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity. The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon. For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.
6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4
On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game. But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1. By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail. When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall. Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4. Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner. The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final. It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances. Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.
Honorable mention: Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.
5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5
Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began. No, I thought not. And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire. To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008. The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface. Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different. Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her. She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris. Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.
4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3
When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA. But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry. As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence. The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set. Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak. She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third. Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove. (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.) All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.
3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0
Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well. Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history. For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead. But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum. Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket. Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight. She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.
2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4
With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger. Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal. Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry. A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match. At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading. There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors. Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points. The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama. When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.
1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3
Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top. The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens. When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity. The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve. Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries. Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court. But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense. With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself. She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.