And we are finally down to eight players on the men’s side and the most important clay court event in the world, the French Open. And it’s quite an “Elite Eight” with no fewer than six of the Top 10 players in the world plus the fast-rising Ernests Gulbis and my man Gael Monfils who’ll lace up tomorrow.
First to who isn’t there. The only real surprise of the final eight is the absence (3rd time in last 4 Slams) of Roger Federer. The Swiss had a good crack at Gulbis yesterday but a blown overhead that would have put him up and out of reach by two sets cost him oh so very dearly. Forget the momentum-changing fourth set medical walkoff by Gulbis, forget getting outplayed in the fifth. If Roger makes that basic over overhead the match is over. He knows it. I know it. Lenny and Leo probably know it, too.
I recall Andy Roddick missing that volley at Wimbledon. Same sort of thing, just in Roger’s case the stakes were much, much lower. He’ll recover I’m sure – and he’s saying the right things talking up Wimbledon – but it’s rare to see him miss a shot like that with the match on the line. I guess that’s just getting old…
That said, credit to Gulbis who was ferocious off his backhand wing and hung tough with Federer. He could have easily gone away like he’s done in the past but the 25-year-old didn’t. He know has patience to go along with the power. And while off court he still hasn’t matured all signs are that’s changing on the court.
So looking ahead to tomorrow for out first batch of quarters…
Ernests Gulbis v Tomas Berdych
Am I sold on Ernests? Not quite. But every time I pick Tomas I lose. So here we go again.
Gulbis might be the hotter player after winning in Nice and taking down Roger. Berdych, though, has the experience. He’s done this before and he’s won. And he, unlike Federer, has the raw power to go toe-to-toe with Gulbis. And Berdych can even out throttle Gulbis.
I also don’t know how much partying Gulbis did after the Federer win – I mean, there had to have been some sort of celebration following the biggest win of his career, am I right? Meanwhile, aside from that horrific shirt, Berdych has been all business thus far, quietly dismissing opponent after opponent. Though that’s his normal M.O. pretty much everywhere.
Gulbis, however, does have two wins over Berdych including a Wimbledon three breaker effort a couple years ago. But Berdych has won the last two – granted indoors – and won their only meeting on clay.
Honestly, looking at the matchup I don’t know what Gulbis does better than Berdych between the lines. Maybe movement? Maybe smashing racquets? Therefore, with the post-Federer hangover a factor…
The pick: Berdych in four
Novak Djokovic v Milos Raonic
It was nice to see Milos Raonic get that big win over Gilles Simon over the weekend. It was a match he should have won and did win, that is if he someone to take seriously going forward. And he showed we should.
This season Raonic has added to game and it’s good to see. He’s moving better, he has more penetration with the backhand and of course he’s got that boomer serve. That’s not going anywhere and my guess neither is his Top 10 status.
Raonic, though, meets the ultimate elastic man in Djokovic. It looks like that wrist injury isn’t an issue at all and after the blowout win over an MIA JW Tsonga, he’s back to being the man to beat.
These two played a month ago in a good one in the Rome semifinals won by Novak 6-3 in the third. Raonic had some chances in the second but couldn’t seal it. The problem now is Raonic will have to win not two but three sets. And I just don’t see the Canadian pulling that off just yet.
Djokovic returns too well and he has the ability to take control of the point off either wing. I said Milos is moving better, but at 6-foot-5 or so he’s no Nadal or David Ferrer.
And of course this is far more important for Novak. Now in the quarters he’s nine sets from the ultimate prize. So I can’t see him losing here to a non-claycourt from Canada.
The pick: Djokovic in four
As for the women’s event, I’ve been saying all year that Simona Halep might be the one to beat in Paris. Since Serena’s gone (to the beach), I’ll actually stick with those words and pick her to take the title over the Maria Sharapova-Garbine Muguruza winner, a match that is really a toss up. The way Muguruza hits the ball I think she’ll be a Top 5 player very soon and if she beats Maria she could win this title!
Up next tomorrow, what the Nadal back injury really means or doesn’t mean.
Tennis Channel and ESPN will have coverage. Check you local listings to see what’s on.
TUESDAY FRENCH OPEN QUARTERFINAL SCHEDULE
Court Philippe Chatrier 2:00 PM Start
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) vs. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Milos Raonic (CAN) vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 2:00 PM Start
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs. Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
Tomas Berdych (CZE) vs. Ernests Gulbis (LAT)
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