by: Tom Cochrane
Women’s top seed Victoria Azarenka is out of the tournament, and men’s top seed Novak Djovokic almost joined her on a dramatic day of tennis at Roland Garros.
Day 8 Recap
Short in stature but full of fight, Dominika Cibulkova had thrown away commanding leads against Victoria Azarenka in previous encounters, and after racing through the opening set against the world number one, all eyes were on the Slovak to see whether she would again crumble on the big stage. Up 4-2 in the second set, Cibulkova gave back the break but refocused in the second set tiebreaker to stun the top seed and move into the quarter-finals.
That result is good news for former French Open finalist Sam Stosur, who made her way into the quarter-finals with a solid straight sets victory over American upstart Sloane Stephens. Stosur has a poor record against Azarenka, but will instead face Cibulkova for a place in the final 4.
In the other women’s matches on Day 8, Angelique Kerber finally put a stop to the giant-killing run of Petra Martic, taking out the Croat in straight sets. Kerber will face Sara Errani for a spot in the semi-finals after the Italian continued her good clay-court form this year by taking out former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
In windy conditions in Paris, Andreas Seppi looked like Lleyton Hewitt and showed plenty of the Australian’s grit and competitiveness. Seppi stunned the Parisian crowd by taking the opening 2 sets against the world number one, the Italian serving well and executing his backhand down the line with precision.
But Djokovic remained composed, even though he wasn’t playing his best tennis, and after taking the third set with ease, the Serb capitalised on a moment of anxiety on Seppi’s part to break in the twelfth game of the fourth set and send it to a decider. There, Djokovic’s superb conditioning and big-match experience were enough to get him over the line.
When Roger Federer lost the opening set against unheralded lucky loser David Goffin, another potential upset was on the cards, but the Swiss veteran edged out the young Belgian in a tight second set and from there was relatively untroubled as he claimed a 4 set victory. But after the match Federer was full of praise for Goffin, who impressed with his ability to take the ball on the rise and his shotmaking creativity.
Two men’s matches will resume on Day 9, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looking to make amends for last year’s 5 set loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in Paris, the Frenchman up a break in the final set, while Juan Martin Del Potro leads Tomas Berdych by 2 sets to 1.
Matches of the Day – Day 9
1. Klara Zakopalova vs. Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova has blitzed her way through the opening 3 rounds, the Russian dropping just 5 games across her 3 matches. With Serena Williams’ exit from the tournament, Sharapova’s path to the final has been made easier, and the second seed’s chances of winning the tournament improved with Cibulkova’s upset of top seed Victoria Azarenka yesterday.
Like Cibulkova, Zakopalova is short in stature but packs a punch on court. Often, she is let down by too many unforced errors, but the Czech has been in good form at Roland Garros this past week. Zakopalova is looking to take down a third seeded Russian in as many matches, after knocking out Maria Kirilenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but I think Sharapova’s scalp will remain out of reach. Sharapova in 2.
2. Richard Gasquet vs. Andy Murray
After struggling with back pain against Jarkko Nieminen, Andy Murray looked far fitter and also more focused as he worked his way past Santiago Giraldo with a minimum of fuss. Gasquet, however, represents a step up in class as well as being a player whom Murray has struggled against in the past.
Gasquet and Murray have split their 6 career meetings, with each player able to draw confidence from particular aspects of the rivalry. The Frenchman upset Murray on clay in Rome only a few weeks ago, while the Scot came back from 2 sets to love down to beat Gasquet at Roland Garros a couple of years ago. As Murray himself acknowledged, Gasquet at his best is a very difficult player to beat. It will be up to the Scot to control proceedings from the outset and not let the flashy Frenchman work his way into the match. Murray in 4.
3. Janko Tipsarevic vs. Nicolas Almagro
Janko Tipsarevic is in the midst of the best period of his tennis-playing life, while Nicolas Almagro is enjoying yet another very successful clay-court season. I was impressed with Tipsarevic’s performance in the third round, where he overcame the unpredictable Julien Benneteau in straight sets, but Almagro represents a far tougher obstacle.
On grass or hard-courts, Tipsarevic would get my nod as the favourite in this match, but on clay Almagro is in his element, and the competitive Spaniard is willing to stay out on court for as long as it takes to wear down his opponent. I think he will be too patient and too consistent for Tipsarevic in this clash. Almagro in 5.
4. Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Monaco
Juan Monaco is enjoying a superb season on the ATP Tour, which has seen him reach number 15 in the world rankings, one spot off his best-ever ranking. Monaco has shown himself to be a very good player on hard-courts, reaching the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows last year and also enjoying some success on the American hard-court swing earlier this year, but like so many South Americans and Spaniards, the Argentine is at his best on clay.
The king of clay is of course Rafael Nadal, and Monaco would face a near-impossible task even if he were fully fit and fresh for this match. But unlike Nadal, who enjoyed a straightforward win over Monaco’s compatriot Eduardo Schwank, Monaco was forced to 5 sets to see off Milos Raonic. I think Monaco will compete strongly at the start of the match, but Nadal will wear him down in the latter stages of the match. Nadal in 3.
5. Li Na vs. Yaroslava Shvedova
After cruising through her opening couple of matches, defending champion Li Na was forced to scrap and fight for her place in the round of 16, having to come from a set down to defeat American Christina McHale. With Williams and Azarenka out of the tournament, Li Na will, like Sharapova, be fancying her chances in this tournament, but the Chinese player will need to play more aggressively than she did at the start of the match against McHale in order to challenge for the title.
Kazakhstan’s Shvedova is better known on the tennis circuit for her doubles and mixed doubles abilities, and she has let her singles career slip a bit in recent years as she has focused on her doubles career. But Shvedova is a former top 30 player and a French Open quarter-finalist, so Li will need to be on guard. Li in 3.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.