Now the tournament begins. After four rounds of bad weather, long matches, high drama and occasional what-the-heck-was-that play, it’s go time at the French Open. The quarterfinals start tomorrow and our last eight are a pretty strong quartet with mix of the favorites and a few surprising veterans. Well, lots of veterans.
I count four 30+ players and youngest is 26-year-old Novak Djokovic! On to my picks.
Tommy Robredo v David Ferrer
About the only real shock among the quarterfinalists is Tommy Robredo. The 31-year-old overcame three 0-2 set holes to book his spot in his first quarterfinal of this decade. Unfortunately for Robredo, his tournament is about to end tomorrow. Tommy faces fellow Spaniard and another guy pushing 32 and that’s David Ferrer. Ferrer, a semifinalist at the French last year, has barely broken a sweat this event and even if he had, his legs would still be far fresher than Robredo’s.
Ferrer has also beaten Robredo six of eight times. So everything is pointing David’s way in this one. And I think Tommy won’t mind. He’s had an incredible week, quite a lucky one as well.
So unless Ferrer gets tight, which can’t be ruled out, he’ll get through probably pretty easily.
The pick: Ferrer in three
Roger Federer v JW Tsonga
In the main event JW Tsonga clashes with Roger Federer. Tsonga had that epic in this round with Novak Djokovic a year ago when he held a total of four matchpoints but just couldn’t get over the finish line, and Djokovic won in five.
Tsonga and Federer have their own five set history. JW stunned him at Wimbledon a few years ago after being down two sets, and earlier this year in Australia Roger toughed it out in five. I expect more of the same tomorrow.
Roger finally got tested on Sunday by Gilles Simon. Federer blitzed Simon early, then tweaked his ankle which disrupted his game for about an hour and Simon took advantage oing up 2-1. Federer regrouped and held on in five.
Against Tsonga, Federer can’t afford any such lapses because once you let Tsonga to get going, there’s not much you can do to stop him.
But the clay should help Federer more than Tsonga. It’s not a reach to say clay is Tsonga’s worst surface while Federer has played his best tennis this year on this stuff – a final in Rome and this week’s quarter.
And I also think the French pressure hinders Tsonga, though not as much as it hurts a Richard Gasquet or Gilles Simon. Tsonga will still feel the pressure and the moment, and like last year I expect him to make a mistake on a crucial point and that’s that.
Head-to-head, Federer leads 9-3. He likes pace, he likes power and Tsonga provides plenty of that. And every time they’ve played Roger’s won at least a set. That’s important.
But Roger isn’t the same Roger anymore. He’s 31 now, a family man. Not quite as sharp as he once was, nor as swift. But he still has the smarts, maybe more than ever, to go with experience. And that should be the difference in the end. Federer will play just the right mix of offense and defense and let JW implode at the key moment.
The pick: Federer in five
As for today, it was nice to see Rafael Nadal finally put up a good number. I thought Kei Nishikori would make it close but Rafa dominated winning 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on his 27th birthday.
“I played much better today than the first three matches, no doubt about that,” said Nadal. “I started to have feelings with my forehand when I had a chance to hit my forehand. I started to change directions well. I started to feel that I can hit the ball longer and am having more confidence in every stroke.”
Nadal now moves on to play Stan Wawrinka. The “Other Swiss” gutted out of a two set deficit to deny Gasquet 8-6 in the fifth set in just over four hours of play.
“It’s ranked really high in my wins if you look at my level and how I decided to fight for this match,” said Wawrinka. “And also the fact that I won for the very first time the round of 16, and it was such a crowd that was supporting us for four hours.”
Wawrinka and his leg which need treatment will have to reset for the upcoming Nadal battle in two days – I’m not sure how fresh Stan will be for that one. Meanwhile, it was another bitter defeat for Gasquet who blew another 2-0 set lead and remains one of the great underachievers in the sport.
“He was fresher than I was,” Gasquet admitted. “He was serving first serves at more than 215 kilometres. After two hours, that’s huge. He took his chances. He’s such a great player, one of the best ones I’ve ever played. We were really close. I could have reached the quarter-finals, I know. I was so close.”
Also today, Novak Djokovic dropped his first set of the tournament but then dominated Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his 16th straight Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Djokovic was buoyed by the death of his former coach Jelena Gencic on Saturday. And with her passing serving as added inspiration, a looming clash with Rafa on Friday just got that much more interesting.
Up next for Novak on Wednesday is Tommy Haas. The 35-year-old Haas continued his remarkable road by smashing Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. The winner wasn’t a surprise, but the scoreline sure was. Haas is really playing some great tennis of late, though I think a lot of today’s match had to do with Youzhny just being awful.
The women are also on tomorrow with two quarterfinals. It’s still hard to pick against Serena Williams, though I think former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova has the game to push the world No. 1 around a little. And I’ll go with Agnieszka Radwanksa to end the run of Sara Errani. Radwanska should be a factor on the dirt, but for whatever reason she hasn’t proved herself in Paris. That is until this week.
Tennis Channel and ESPN once again have the live end-to-end coverage in the U.S.
TUESDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
Court Philippe Chatrier 2:00 PM Start Time
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) v. Sara Errani (ITA)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v. Roger Federer (SUI)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 2:00 PM Start Time
Serena Williams (USA) v. Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
Tommy Robredo (ESP) v. David Ferrer (ESP)
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