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Three To See, French Open: May 28

Monday, May 27, 2013 /by

Daniela Hantuchova vs. (18) Jelena Jankovic
Head-to-head: Jankovic leads 5-3

These two veterans know their way around red clay. Hantuchova is a former French Open mixed doubles champion, doubles finalist, and has reached the fourth round in her last two appearances in Paris. Jankovic is a three-time semifinalist who has won three of five clay-court meetings with Hantuchova, including a 6-4, 6-2 fourth-round triumph at the 2011 French Open. Hantuchova has beaten a pair of Top 15 players on clay in recent weeks, sweeping No. 13 Maria Kirilenko in Fed Cup and surprising No. 8 Petra Kvitova in Madrid.

I watched Jankovic practice in Charleston, where she took a set off Serena in the final, and was impressed: She was working hard, looked fit, and seemed to be in a positive place mentally. The former No. 1 has won 14 of her last 18 clay-court matches, diminishing the drama that can pop up when she's tight. Hantuchova is two wins from a milestone—her 500th career victory—and should be motivated, but I think Jankovic will win. She's the better mover, and if she manages her nerve, doesn't decelerate the racquet on her second serve, and stays aggressive, she will advance.

The Pick: Jankovic in two sets

Marcos Baghdatis vs. (24) Benoit Paire
Head-to-head: Baghdatis leads 1-0

In their lone meeting in Rotterdam three months ago, Baghdatis served 48 percent—yet did not drop serve and still won the match. Since then, these two have gone in decidedly different directions. The charismatic Cypriot has stumbled to a 2-7 record and has not won a set on clay this season. Paire, on the other hand, has posted a 16-10 record since Rotterdam, reaching the Rome semifinals two weeks ago, and arrives in Paris with a career-high ranking of No. 26.

Baghdatis, who trained in Paris during his junior years, is most comfortable on hard courts, but he relishes the big stages at majors. The former world No. 8 is still quick around the court and will try to attack Paire's forehand, knowing the Frenchman is more comfortable hitting his electric two-handed backhand.

This is an intriguing mental test for Paire. It's his first Grand Slam as a seeded player and he will likely feel the pressure. Stress can provoke flaky shot selection in Paire, who is so enamored of the drop shot you half-expect him to hit it during the coin toss. Baghdatis is a shot-maker who should carry confidence from beating Paire earlier this season, but if the Frenchman doesn't implode, his game is better suited for the terre battue, and he should get through.

The Pick: Paire in four sets

(23) Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi
Head-to-head: Kanepi leads 2-0

The 5'5" Zakopalova generates surprising sting on her shots, has beaten five Top 25 opponents this season, and is skilled at taking the ball early and redirecting shots up both lines. When she's playing well, the Czech manages the court shrewdly and relies on her timing and compact strokes to pick apart bigger hitters. A year ago, she surprised 16th-seeded Maria Kirilenko and 22nd-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in succession, then pushed second-seeded Maria Sharapova to three sets before bowing to the eventual champion in the fourth round.

The pride of Estonia, Kanepi is the proverbial dangerous floater who enters this match on a roll. She dropped just one set in claiming her third career clay-court title in Brussels last week and is 11-2 in her last 13 clay-court matches. Zakopalova can play cleaner tennis, but two-time quarterfinalist Kanepi is the bigger, stronger player, and she's beaten Zakopalova with the depth and pace of her drives in the past. If Kanepi can navigate this match, she's capable of sticking around to the second week.

The Pick: Kanepi in three sets


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