At the halfway mark of the French Open, look who’s left! Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. Yup, and it’s 2021. Things will eventually change, but in tennis, just not when you expect it. And what should it?
The Fab 4 are all still playing well and they are now within striking distance of another French Open title. On the men’s side, Nadal has been solid as has Djokovic who has arguably been better. Though both have had really good, trouble-free draws. Thanks to Italy, that will change in the coming week.
Federer, meanwhile, has looked his age. After a blowout win over Denis Istomin, he had a little hiccup against Marin Cilic. And today, he really struggled in a 3 hour, 35 minute 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 7-5 win over Dominik Koepfer who played college ball at Tulane.
We saw a lot of errors from Roger, some shaky shot selection and discomfort. Koepfer was strong and probably should have won the match. The 27-year-old German was even with the all-time great in the first, then snuck out the second. After two hours, a weary-looking Federer was down a break in the fourth and looked completely out of it while Koepfer was crushing backhands, holding with ease and keeping Federer on his toes. But as the finish line for a 2-sets-1 lead approached, Koepfer blinked. Just for a moment he lost his way, unraveled and Federer pounced to steal the win. That’s what champions do.
Federer came into the French looking to get “tournament tough”. After today, it’s mission accomplished.
“I thought it was very important for me,” said Federer of the win. “I clearly hadn’t practiced 3 hours 35, because that’s obviously always pushing it. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought reasonable. But this today was I think a huge step forward for the team, and for all of us.
“I didn’t expect to be able to win three matches here, and, you know, sort of back up a good performance of Cilic as well in completely different circumstances tonight. So I’m very happy. I think we have a lot to go through with the team about tonight.”
Ahead, Federer will face Matteo Berrettini and then possibly Djokovic followed by Nadal just to get to the final. That’s not happening. If Federer plays Monday, I think Berrettini takes him out. At 39, I don’t know how much Federer will want to push his body with Wimbledon and the Olympics around the corner.
“I’d prefer to be in Rafa’s or Novak’s shoes right now where they’re like, I’m feeling good,” Federer said. “If I’m playing well, I’m winning.
“I don’t have that feeling right now, so for me these are all stepping stones, right, to something that is really important to me. It’s the season, and it’s the comeback. I need matches like these.
“We go through these matches, you know, we analyze them highly and look on what’s next and will do the same tonight and tomorrow latest, because I need to decide if I keep on playing or not or is it not too much risk at this moment to keep on pushing or is this just a perfect way to just take a rest. Because I don’t have the week in between here and Halle, like normal, to see, like, what’s best now if you count back from Wimbledon and so forth.
“It’s just a lot going on, but having a match like this, knowing I could have probably played a fifth set but not knowing how I will wake up tomorrow is interesting, to say the least. Yeah, it’s definitely a different time right now for me.”
So he even suggests there’s a chance he might be done with the clay. We’ll see. My guess is that he’ll play Monday for the fans, but he’s satisfied with where he’s at.
Looking at the draw, Djokovic and Nadal face the Italian teen duo of Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner. Musetti just played and won his first 5-setter today and while I think he’ll push Djokovic, the Serb should get through.
Nadal and Sinner met last year in Paris. I think Jannik gets a set this time (he should have won the first set in October) as Rafa finally gets tested. Then it looks like Djokovic-Berrettini Wednesday night while Rafa-Schwartzman in the afternoon. And the big one Friday between Novak and Rafa. For now I’m still going Rafa, but Djokovic has been superb so far. Let’s see if the Italians can push him.
In the bottom half, we saw Thiem succumb to his own self-confidence, his buddy Andrey Rublev also fizzled, and to me Christian Ruud was a surprise exit yesterday, but otherwise the draw has held to form. Daniil Medvedev is talking again so that means he’s confident. I like that he says he’s playing hardcourt tennis on clay. That’s a smart mental move. He’s becoming a player who if don’t get early you won’t get him. Cristian Garin will be his first true clay court opposition. I think Medvedev will rise to the occasion.
Tsitsipas has been solid and I expect him to pull through Pablo Carreno Busta tomorrow, maybe drop a set. But Medevedev in the quarters will be a problem for the Greek.
On top, after a first round scare, Zverev figures to coast in to the final four. He should get through a nervy battle with Kei Nishikori, then take down Federico Delbonis.
I had Zverev in the finals so I guess I’ll stay that course.
The weather was also a factor. Early on we saw the dry conditions help the big servers like John Isner, Reilly Opelka and even Federer had a bunch of aces. But with the rain the last few days, things are changing. If we get more wet conditions, that should help the true claycourters.
But with all the big names left, it should be a fascinating final week at the French.
In the women’s draw, hardly any of the top seeds remain. Americans Sofia Kenin and Serena are the highest left. But this event belongs to Iga Swiatek right now. If she can continue to hold her nerves and deal with the pressure, she’ll win another.
But it’s crazy to see all these upsets and they seem to happen at every Slam. And I think it’s partly because there is no overwhelming favorite, so that heightens the pressure for the Elina Svitolinas, Aryna Sabalenkas and the Karolina Pliskovas. And after the withdrawals from Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty and Petra Kvitova, the furnace only gets hotter.
Serena is well-equipped to handle it, I just don’t know if her body or her game is up to the challenge anymore. Elena Rybakina, Victoria Azarenka and Paula Badosa are all dangerous.
On the top half, as I said Swiatek is the clear favorite. But former finalist Sloane Stephens is playing well and looking as fit as I’ve seen her in 3-4 years, though her opponent Barbora Krejcikova has been on a recent tear. Coco Gauff is no easy out, though I’d give a slight edge to Ons Jabeur.
And Sofia Kenin-Maria Sakkari should be a good one. Kenin doesn’t seem to be at the level from last year, so maybe the Greek is the pick in that match-up. Regardless, Swiatek is the big favorite to get back to the final where anyone of the eight on the bottom half could be waiting. You’d probably have better luck using a dart board. Just be careful.
SUNDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
** Court Philippe CHATRIER ** Début à 12h00
1 SD H Victoria AZARENKA (BLR) contre Anastasia PAVLYUCHENKOVA (RUS) 
Pas avant 14h00
2 SM H Stefanos TSITSIPAS (GRE)  contre Pablo CARRENO BUSTA (ESP) 
Pas avant 17h45
3 SD H Serena WILLIAMS (USA) contre Elena RYBAKINA (KAZ) 
Pas avant 21h00
4 SM H Alexander ZVEREV (GER)  contre Kei NISHIKORI (JPN)
** Court Suzanne LENGLEN ** Début à 11h00
1 SD H Tamara ZIDANSEK (SLO) contre Sorana CIRSTEA (ROU)
2 SD H Marketa VONDROUSOVA (CZE)  contre Paula BADOSA (ESP) 
3 SM H Cristian GARIN (CHI)  contre Daniil MEDVEDEV (RUS) 
4 SM H Alejandro DAVIDOVICH FOKINA (ESP) contre Federico DELBONIS (ARG)
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