Three To See, Madrid: May 10
Both women displayed grit in digging out comeback wins on Wednesday: Kerber edged former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5; Ivanovic rallied past Laura Robson, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (5).
Ivanovic’s toss can sometimes stray under pressure, and consequently she’s a streaky server: She served 50 percent and hit 10 aces and 10 double faults against Robson. She must have a sharper serving day against Kerber, who is winning 57 percent of points on opponents’ second serves and converting nearly 50 percent of her break-point chances.
Kerber is an annoying adversary because she’s so good controlling counter-strikes on the run that she can frustrate opponents into errors. Considering that Kerber is coming off the Stuttgart semifinals, contesting her fourth quarterfinal in her last five tournaments, and is the better defender, I can’t argue if you’re picking her to beat a former French Open champion for the second straight match. Still, Ivanovic is competing with a greater calm recently, is 7-1 on clay this season, and is the flatter hitter. If she’s making the first strike, can control rallies, and is proactive with her footwork and solid on serve, I see her prevailing.
The Pick: Ivanovic in three sets
When these two convene on clay, action-adventure epics can ensue. Two years ago, Wawrinka roared back from a two-set deficit to beat Tsonga at Roland Garros. In their French Open rematch last spring, Tsonga halted another Wawrinka comeback with a 6-4, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 triumph in a match that spanned four hours spread out over two days.
This is their second straight Masters meeting: Tsonga was a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victor in last month’s Monte Carlo quarterfinals. Since that loss, Wawrinka has won seven straight matches, collecting his fourth career title with a thrashing of David Ferrer in the Oeiras final on Sunday. Wawrinka has won 12 of his last 14 clay-court matches and is playing with confidence, dropping just one set in reaching the quarterfinals. Wawrinka will want to work Tsonga over in backhand exchanges, as Stan’s one-hander is a much more reliable and penetrating shot than Jo’s two-hander.
Both men are strong servers, so breaks could be scarce. Tsonga leads the ATP in break points saved (73 percent) and is fourth in service games won (88 percent). He typically plays a bit closer to the baseline, is skilled in the art of attack, and has been tie-break tough recently, winning seven of his last nine breakers.
The Pick: Tsonga in three sets
Murray may have been eating breakfast for dinner after subduing Gilles Simon, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6), in a two hour and 57-minute thriller that ended about 1:15 a.m. local time on Thursday. The ornery Scot squandered five match points, converted just three of 18 break points, tugged at his left hip in the latter stages, and cracked a racquet off the bottom of his foot in a rage after netting a return. Ultimately, Murray showed strong survival skills and could well be empowered by finding a way to win when his best tennis eluded him.
Berdych has served boldly in big spots—he’s served 64 percent with 20 aces and three double faults in two tournament wins—and the 2012 finalist’s flat shots have been effective in the high altitude.
Though Murray is the faster, more agile athlete, Berdych has won both of their clay-court meetings. The 6’5” Czech has hit his forehand down the line with authority to open up the court against Murray, who has improved his own forehand under coach Ivan Lendl, but still doesn’t quite finish with his forehand quite as convincingly as the Czech does on clay. Berdych has been sharper and played more assertive tennis this week, and should be fresher given Murray's early-morning ending.
The Pick: Berdych in three sets