What a Friday we have at the French Open. Now that we are two rounds down we can finally get some good matches, and tomorrow the real tournament begins.
The marquee matchup by far in the third round is World No. 2 Novak Djokovic against Juan Martin Del Potro. It’s the match we all circled when the draw came out six days ago and now we officially have it.
Djokovic is no mystery. The guy has been on fire this season winning all 39 matches, and overall he’s on a 41-0 streak. And watching him play, there’s really no weakness, no place to hit the ball and feel safe. Maybe you go at him and cut off the angles. Maybe you can bring him to the net and pass him. Maybe. So far, nothing had worked.
Meanwhile, Del Potro remains a mystery. The guy showed so much promise winning Estoril but pulled up lame with a hip injury just before a massive showdown in Madrid against Rafael Nadal.
Is the hip healed? Who knows. But the guy has some serious firepower, the kind you need to beat someone as hot as Djokovic.
Delpo can outslug Novak (and anyone else for that matter) from the baseline and his serve is big enough to get some easy points even against a premium returner like Djokovic.
And mentally, Delpo has shown when he’s healthy he’s “right” upstairs in the head. You cannot win the US Open the way he did without being mentally tough.
Still, I just don’t think he’s 100% back to a) health and b) form. And this tournament, especially given the way Nadal played today, seems destined to fall Djokovic’s way. The Serb’s also won all three career meetings with Delpo and all in straight sets. So I think Novak continues to dominate and takes down Del Potro in three sets. I hope it goes longer and I’m rooting for the Delpo upset, but I just don’t see it happening.
Earlier in the day, Roger Federer and Janko Tipsarevic battle on Suzanne Lenglen Court. Like Djokovic, Federer has a 3-0 edge on his opponent but they played a tight one 10-8 in the fifth back at the 2008 Australian Open third round.
This time I think Federer gets through much easier. Tipsarevic is a tricky player with sneaky power and we know this isn’t the same Federer we are use to seeing. On clay, though, I give the Swiss the edge. I expect multiple breaks and lots of tense moments but in the end it’s Federer in four.
Another great matchup is JW Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka. Stan’s the better of the two on clay but Tsonga will have the crowd and the emotion and that’s why I’ll take the Frenchman to come through.
I’ll also take Richard Gasquet over Thomaz Bellucci. I usually don’t like Gasquet in France but I think he’s playing some of the best tennis of his career. The Brazilian lefty isn’t too shabby. He tore it up in Madrid beating Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych before gagging to Djokovic, however I’ll go against my better judgement (of picking French players) and stick with Richard.
As for the outer courts, David Ferrer is on against Sergiy Stakovsky and Mikhail Youhzny clashes with Albert Montanes.
Looking at today’s results, if you are a Nadal fan you have to be concerned. After improbably going to the brink against John Isner, this afternoon Nadal really had to fight hard just to get past his countryman Pablo Andujar 7-5, 6-3, 7-6. Andujar actually led Nadal in the third 5-1 before completely unraveling.
Credit to Nadal for saving eight set points in that third. But, Rafa was dropping balls short off the ground and appeared attackable again, especially to the forehand side. He’s also dropped serve far too much. And that’s not good news. Fortunately, his next opponent is not Nikolay Davydenko but the guy who beat the Russian: qualifier Antonio Veic. Maybe then the 5-time champ will get right.
Murray, Robin Soderling, Mardy Fish, Fernando Verdasco and Gilles Simon were also winners while my semifinal pick, Jurgen Melzer, was stunned by qualifier Lukos Rosol. Melzer’s exit leaves Murray with a once in a lifetime virtual challenger field to the semifinals. Simply amazing. As for Melzer, I should have known better but his draw was too good to pass up.
Today, the big story wasn’t just the horrible weather but also the women’s event where we saw one champion steal victory and another steal defeat.
Maria Sharapova, who needs the French to complete her career Slam, was just two games from the exits down 6-3, 4-1 before little-known 17-year-old Caroline Garcia caved in. With her back to the wall, Sharapova reeled off 11 straight games to put the French girl away. Credit to Garcia, she might just be a star in the future.
Earlier, it was Kim Clijsters with a massive lead of 6-3, 5-2 and matchpoint. But in this one just when it looked routine Clijsters inexplicably collapsed. Her opponent, 20-year-old Arantxa Rus, summoned a better known Arantxa who ruled those French courts in the 90s to win five straight games to take the set.
Rus kept it going in the third and eventually the 188th ranked women in the world took down Clijsters 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. It was one of the biggest upsets in French Open history.
As for a pick of who’ll win the women’s tournament, I didn’t have one when the draw came out and two rounds in it’s still no clearer. Anything is possible at this point.
Tennis Channel will again have the coverage until 6pm ET when ESPN2 takes over.
FRIDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
Court Philippe Chatrier 11:00 AM Start Time
Gisela Dulko (ARG) v. Samantha Stosur (AUS)
Marion Bartoli (FRA) v. Julia Goerges (GER)
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) v. Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 11:00 AM Start Time
Shuai Peng (CHN) v. Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) v. Roger Federer (SUI)
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) v. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
Richard Gasquet (FRA) v. Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)
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