Three to See: Day 8 Women's Previews
Each day during the French Open, we'll preview—and predict the winner of—three of the most compelling women's matches.
(1) Victoria Azarenka vs. (15) Dominika Cibulkova
—Head to Head: Azarenka leads 7-1
The world No. 1 rallied from a 0-4 second-set hole, winning 12 of the final 14 games in a tough first-round test. Since then, an empowered Azarenka has lost just 10 games. Aiming to advance to her third French Open quarterfinal in the last four years, Vika won't look past the 5’3” Slovak, whom she’s known since their junior days.
The Australian Open champ is 38-3 on the season, including a 12-3 mark on clay. She’s ravaged opponents with her return game, hits a heavier serve than Cibulkova, has one of the most dangerous weapons in the WTA—her two-handed backhand—and is working with former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo to refine her clay-court game. On paper, this match belongs to Azarenka, but scratch beneath the surface of this one-sided rivalry and you’ll find that Cibulkova’s lone win came on clay, and their last five meetings have gone the distance—including their most recent match in Miami, where Cibulkova dictated play in building a 6-1, 5-2 lead, only to blow it.
Don’t be fooled by Cibulkova’s small stature: She can crack the ball with authority, as she did in dusting Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-2, to reach the 2009 French Open semifinals. Cibulkova can struggle to hold against Azarenka’s return game, and concedes she has gotten tight trying to close matches this year. But sometimes players and prognosticators have to gamble in Grand Slams. Cibulkova beat then-world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year, and if she plays at the peak of her powers, she can upset another world No. 1 in a major.
The Pick: Dominika Cibulkova in 3 sets.
(27) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. (21) Sara Errani
—Head-to-Head: Kuznetsova leads 5-0
There’s a history between these two, and it’s always seen a happy ending for Kuznetsova. The two-time Grand Slam champion has dropped only two sets to Errani in five career meetings. She's even done damage in doubles: Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva beat Errani and Roberta Vinci in the Australian Open doubles final in January.
The 2009 French Open champion played one of her best matches of the year in the third round, dismantling third-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 6-2. Kuznetsova hits the heavier ball, has tremendous clay-court skills, and has much more experience at this stage of majors, playing for her sixth French Open quarterfinal in the last seven years. Errani is the fitter player and a calmer competitor who showed her problem-solving skills in fighting back from a one-set deficit against another former French Open champ, Ana Ivanovic. The Italian is aiming for her second straight major quarterfinal.
If Kuznetsova can keep her nerve and play with patience and control, she should prevail, but Errani is an upset threat if she can drag it into a third set.
The Pick: Kuznetsova in two sets.
Petra Martic vs. (10) Angelique Kerber
—Head to Head: Martic leads 2-0
Martic hails from Split, the same Croatian hometown that spawned Goran Ivanisevic. While her serve is not as explosive as the Wimbledon champ's was, Martic has hit 17 aces and surrendered serve just four times in three tournament victories, including a second-round win over No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli.
The 50th-ranked Martic has beaten Kerber in both prior meetings, which may alleviate some of the nerves she’s sure to feel playing for a spot in her first major quarterfinal. I'd say Martic must serve at least 60 percent, and win 80 percent of her first-serve points, to pull off the upset here, because Kerber will go after second-serve returns: She’s broken serve 14 times in three tournament wins.
Kerber is playing for her second quarterfinal spot in her last three majors. The 10th-seeded German is accurate when hitting on the run, can hook her lefty forehand into the corner to create openings down the line, and should be the more consistent and confident player: She’s won nine of her last 11 matches, with her only two losses coming to second-ranked Sharapova in Rome and to reigning French Open champion Li Na in Madrid.
The Pick: Kerber in three sets.