Sunday, June 3, 2012

The French Quarters- No Not Bourbon Street

Confidence is such a fragile thing. If you don’t believe me ask No.1 Victoria Azarenka and No.1 Novak Djokovic…or even No.22 Andreas Seppi, who had Djokovic down two sets to love before his confidence started seeping into the clay. No.26 Svetlana Kuznetsova could provide some telling testimony about waxing and waning confidence as well.

The Women
No.15 Dominika Cibulkova Runs No.1 Azarenka
Despite her stellar start to the season, winning 26 consecutive matches, Azarenka has looked vulnerable since that incredible start. Given the difficulties she has had with Dominika Cibulkova (five three-setters in a row, down a set and 2-5 in Miami), the potential for upset was palpable. When Cibulkova failed to close Azarenka out at 5-4, and Azarenka served at 6-5, it looked as though Azarenka would escape again. Not so. Cibulkova broke to reach the tiebreak and showed no fear in claiming her spot in the Quarters, 6-2, 7-6.

No.21 Sara Errani 
Kuznetsova had dismantled Agnieszka Radwanska, the No.3 player in the world, in Round 3, 6-1, 6-2, playing with the confidence she exhibited while claiming two Grand Slam titles. However, capricious confidence was Sara Errani’s, not hers, when the two met in Round 4. Kuznetsova didn’t make a match of it until the second set (5-7), chewing a bagel (0-6) in the first set.

Despite having lost all five times they have played, Errani's confidence is high, having won two clay-court events in April (Barcelona, Budapest). That was evident in her win against Ivanovic in Round 3, and Kuznetsova in Round 4. Errani will meet another player brimming with confidence in No. 10 Angelique Kerber in the Quarters.

No. 10 Angelique Kerber
Kerber hasn’t faced the level of competition at Roland Garros that Errani has, downing 50th-ranked Petra Martic in straight sets in the previous round, but she has posted some good wins this year (see preview post). Kerber did pummel Errani (6-1, 6-2) in January of this year on hard courts in Hobart, but this is clay and an entirely different Errani. This ought to be some match, and again, I think I’m gonna lean Errani’s way. Her gutsy, heady play is perfect for the slow red stuff.

Lepchenko Downs Schiavone
Varvara Lepchenko (Who?), listed as an American (as of 2011) by way of Uzbekistan, was responsible for another surprising upset, outlasting former French Champion (2010) Francesca Schiavone, 8-6 in the third set in Round 3. Other than a terrific run in Madrid in early May (losing to Radwanska in the Quarters) Lepchenko hadn’t had great results this season. She did, however, beat Schiavone in that event in Madrid, and their only other battle was another tough three-setter which Schiavone won on hard back in the day (2005). Ya think maybe Lepchenko was confident? Methinks so. We shall see how Lepchenko fares against No. 4 Petra Kvitova next.

No. 4 Petra Kvitova
Kvitova is flying under the radar, and athough her game isn’t as clean and she isn’t nearly as confident as she was when she won Wimbledon last year, she should have enough to get past Lepchenko. I can’t imagine Lepchenko sending Schiavone AND Kvitova home…but this is the Women’s Draw we’re talking about here, so anything goes.

No.7 Na Li 
Still without much mention, Defending Champion Na Li is one match short of the Quarters, taking on Yaroslava Shvedova in Round 4. After taking a set to get her legs under her, losing that set to Christina McHale 3-6, Li proceeded to plow through McHale, 6-1, 6-2. Shvedova reached as high as No.39 in the world in 2010, fell off the face of the tour last year at No.206, but is climbing her way back into relevance. Her best result was a Round-of-16 appearance at Charleston in April, so a win over Li would be a major upset.

No.2 Maria Sharapova

It’s certainly looking like Sharapova versus the rest of the field. In the Round of 16, Sharapova will play Klara Zakopalova, who has been inside the top 50 the past two years, but has just one win over a top-twenty player this year. Sharapova won a straight-setter against Zakopalova in Madrid in early May, and the smart money will be on Sharapova to prevail again. If Sharapova makes it to the Quarters, she will face No.23 Kaia Kanepi or Arantxa Rus.

Kanepi has won two events this year (Estoril in April, and Brisbane in January), beat No.9 Caroline Wozniacki in the previous round, and has beaten Rus in straight sets the only two times they have played. Chances are good that it will be Kanepi and Sharapova in the Quarters. The two haven’t played previously on tour, but the way Sharapova has been playing…nah, I don’t want to put the “Niles Curse” on her.

No.6 Sam Stosur
Another player who has had success at Roland Garros, but hasn’t been discussed much as a potential champion, is Sam Stosur. Stosur moved past Sloane Stephens, the last American-born player in the draw in two competitive sets, 7-5, 6-4. The teenager gave a good account of herself, but showed that she is not quite ready for center stage. Stosur will have her hands full with Cibulkova in the Quarters. The two haven’t played since 2009 on hard courts, but Stosur won the only time they played. This is an even matchup and the winner will be whoever can control her nerves better.  

The Men
No.1 Novak Djokovic
The men continue to produce dramatic affairs. No.1 Novak Djokovic appeared to be in serious troubles after dropping the first two sets, but again, the longer a match goes on clay the more the confidence seems to fade for some. It was obvious that Seppi’s confidence had fled, when serving at 5-6 in the fourth set, his play was tentative, and the unforced forehand error in the net to end the set, told the tale of things to come.  It was just a matter of time from there. Djokovic closed out the 4-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory.

Djokovic is awaiting the incomplete match between No.5 Jo Wilfried Tsonga and No.18 Stan Wawrinka. Their match was suspended with Tsonga leading 4-2 in the fifth, after he had won the first two sets and Wawrinka the others. Tsonga will be serving to go up 5-2, and chances are good that he will move on. The bad news for Tsonga, however, is that he won the first two sets last year at Roland Garros and lost in five. Regardless of which gets there, Djokovic is still looking good to reach the semis.

No.3 Roger Federer
No.3 Roger Federer also looked to be in trouble against 21-year-old David Goffin. Goffin outplayed Fed in the first set and things were nip and tuck late in the second, as Fed made too unforced forehand errors with Goffin serving at 4-4, deuce. But Goffin was feeling the pressure and some of the winners he had been hitting turned to errors, and Roger’s serve came alive. One he had wrested control, Fed held onto it, and marched into his 32nd straight Grand Slam Quarterfinal, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.

Fed awaits either No.9 Juan Martin Del Potro or No.7 Tomas Berdych, and both have ended Grand Slam runs for him in the past. Berdych has the most recent win against Fed in a Grand Slam, stopping his Wimbledon run in 2010 Quarters. It may seem like yesterday, but Del Potro’s win over Fed at the U.S. Open was in 2009. Roger has beaten Delpo five straight times since 2009, and Berdych hasn’t ever beaten Roger on clay.

Berdych and Del Potro Suspended
Berdych and Delpo split the first two sets before the match was suspended, and they split matches this year as well. Delpo won on hard back in February, and Berdych won two tiebreaks on clay last month.  The only thing certain in the remainder of this one is that it will be a slugfest. Neither will be easy for Roger.

Rest of Top Ten
No.2 Rafael Nadal, No.4 Andy Murray, and No.6 David Ferrer all will try to earn their ways into the Quarters tomorrow. Rafa in immune to the Niles Curse, so he's my stone cold lock against No.13 Juan Monaco. The two have played just once since 2007, and Rafa made short work of Monaco then. 

If Murray's back is okay, he should prevail against No.17 Richard Gasquet. Gasquet has plenty of game, but not enough consistency to contend with a healthy Murray. Ferrer has yet to drop a set to No.20 Marcel Granoliers, and should punch his ticket to the Quarters.

Stay tuned for another terrific day of tennis tomorrow. Game, set, match...T. A.

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