After a steady if fairly unspectacular first week in Paris, the middle Monday – as is often the case in the sport’s majors, cooked up a treat of incident and intrigue.
With defending champ and three-time consecutive finalist here Masha dumped out today, Serena battling through a tough draw and Ivanovic looking comfortable amidst a host of dangerous floaters, the women’s competition is anyone’s guess.
The men? It remains an equally fascinating contest and begins proper now with a truly mouthwatering set of match-ups. The smart money must surely still stand with Novak, but Rafa and especially Murray will be half-expected victors come Sunday.
Djokovic vs Nadal
We start then with the match of the tournament – billed as such from the moment the draw was announced. Djokovic has been nigh on imperious all year and has remained the best player in the world for the last three years. Nadal, with his increasingly fragile body succombing to the demands of his punishing playing style, hasn’t won a clay title this year.
The odds don’t look good for the man gunning for a barely believable and historic tenth title here, but Nadal has visibly grown in confidence and comfort at his second home. Cracks most definitely remain, but Rafa still has that magic here.
Verdict – Nadal in a world-beating 5
Murray vs Ferrer
After a slump of sorts, the evergreen and awe-inspiring terrier Ferrer is looking back to his best again. The diminutive Spaniard picked apart Marin Cilic earlier today and has been little troubled all tournament. If he keeps his form and intensity he can cause Murray a lot of problems.
And yet, were this 12 months ago – or even six, I would put it almost as a non-contest, Ferrer would dismantle a ponderous Scot in no time. But gone once more are the cautious, defensive shackles of the Scottish number one. The Lendl effect is re-emerging and Murray is looking like a champion in waiting. Those clay titles last month won’t hurt either.
Verdict – I hope I’m wrong, but Murray in 4
Nishikori vs Tsonga
The toughest of the men’s matches to call perhaps. The reason is wholly Tsonga. The Frenchman’s star was more than on the wane coming into Paris, for years his once formidable all round game had crumbled into a sea of inconsistency and anonymity. But here once more – buoyed on by a crowd he feasts upon, and Jo has looked unstoppable once again.
Against Berdych, we saw this much. Alas, we saw all too clearly what can happen to the maverick just as easily. A capitulation that is nothing new to a homegrown player here, and all too typical of this particular player.
One feels that all the unassuming Nishikori need do is weather some early storms and the aforementioned crowd, and he will succeed. But the Japanese is still a tad green on the biggest stages despite that wonderful run to the final hurdle in New York last year.
Anyone’s call this.
Verdict – Nishikori in 3
Wawrinka vs Federer
Everyone predicted that Roger would run into trouble with Monfils in the fourth, and so it proved. But whilst Gael’s strong recent record against the world number 2 has been well documented, few mentioned Wawrinka as a likely usurper. But Federer himself will remember Monte Carlo a year ago.
He will do well to respect his opponent and be ready for a fight.
As for Stanimal? He needs to reignite that self belief that threatened to once again die out and simmer underneath that crackling backhand. On his day, he can defeat the man who has ruled Swiss tennis for forever. But can he stay concentrated and positive?
Verdict – Federer in 5
Serena vs Errani
Serena has struggled big time in all of her matches in varying degrees, and while this has been a tough draw to say the least – there have been genuine reasons for alarm. Unlike last year, the American has been back to her serene best this year – and should have too much for a player who has troubled her little in the past.
Errani herself should be more than happy to finally return to the higher echelons in which she – and her compatriot’s Schiavone and Pennetta have looked so effortlessly comfortable before.
This though, will be as far as she goes.
Verdict – Williams in 2
Van Uytvanck vs Bacsinzsky
An unknown entity of a quarter final? It must be the French Open! Both players have played truly sparkling stuff to get here; the young Belgian having had the less intimidating draw, but one that still included the tricky Mladenovic.
Bacsinzsky looks to be hitting her peak at the perfect time however – with two titles in the clay season and a host of scalps here. The Swiss is in danger of being swept off the court at times, but her attitude and tempo remain difficult to break down.
Verdict – Bacsinzsky in 2
Ivanovic vs Svitolina
Svitolina’s business-like and efficient play is refreshing to behold amongst the screeching theatrics of some of the very best players. But Ivanovic is looking like she might finally be ready to deliver on the biggest of stages once more.
Many pundits tip for the title, and one that I could easily imagine – but the Serb is just as likely to not show up mentally, and crumble away from seemingly out of nowhere;
Verdict – Svitolina in 3
Muguruza vs Safarova
As good as we all know Lucie Safarova can be, it was tough to see past Sugarpova reaching another final here – the Russian quickly building up a relationship with the Parisian clay that echoed that of previous multi-champs. But in her victory of the reigning champion, maybe now Safarova can allow herself to truly believe in greater things – she has the game.
In the likeable Czech’s way stands another player to have only re-clicked back into gear at the last gasp. Muguruza has faded away in recent months. One wonders how far back to her devastating best she really is.
Verdict – Safarova in 3