Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Kirilenko
Azarenka leads head-to-head, 3-2
What Azarenka needs to do to win:
Stay aggressive, punish Kirilenko’s serve and step into the court to finish with the swing volley when in command. Azarenka is the bigger hitter, and she can bully the smaller Kirilenko around the court. Azarenka will want to take charge from the first strike, move the No. 12 seed side-to-side and use the pace, depth and direction of her drives to keep Kirilenko on the defensive.
What Kirilenko needs to do to win:
Disrupt Azarenka’s rhythm by throwing in some looping topspin and slice backhands. She also needs to work the frontcourt, because Azarenka is not sure-footed on clay and isn’t always quick off the mark moving forward. Kirilenko’s movement and net skills are two assets she must try to apply; if Kirilenko gets caught in a straightforward baseline match, Azarenka will overpower her.
The Pick: Azarenka in two sets
Although clay is Azarenka’s most challenging surface, she has looked comfortable in controlling baseline rallies, breaking serve 26 times in four matches. She has won six straight sets against Kirilenko, who has not faced a Top 50 opponent in her four tournament victories. This match is in Azarenka’s hands and she should advance to her sixth semifinal in her last eight Grand Slam appearances.
Maria Sharapova vs. Jelena Jankovic
Sharapova leads head-to-head, 7-2
What Sharapova needs to do to win:
Control the center of the court, blast Jankovic behind the baseline and play commanding six- to eight-shot rallies to prevent the former No. 1 from using her court coverage and counter-punching skills to prolong points. Sharapova will always have a play on Jankovic’s pedestrian serve, so she’ll want to hold convincingly to make Jankovic feel even more stress when serving.
What Jankovic needs to do to win:
Sharapova has ravaged Jankovic’s serve in the past, so the three-time semifinalist will need to serve exceptionally well. Jankovic should try to play some short angles to pull the slower Sharapova out of position. Jankovic’s court coverage is her advantage, so she must extend points and engage the defending champion in running rallies.
The Pick: Sharapova in two sets
This comes down to Sharapova’s aggressive baseline attack against Jankovic’s counter-punching defense. Sharapova crushed Jankovic, 6-2, 6-1, in Miami in March. And though the slower clay will give the Serbian more time to counter, Sharapova’s superior power, her immense edge on serve (if she’s landing it) and her ability to dictate play make her the strong favorite.
Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas
Djokovic leads head-to-head, 6-3
What Djokovic needs to do to win:
Play deep, cross-court shots to establish an advantage in longer rallies. Djokovic is nine years younger and is one of the fastest men in tennis while the 35-year-old Haas played a marathon five-setter in round three, so the world No. 1 will want to use his movement to create angles in running rallies. Strike first: Djokovic is 28-2 when winning the first set this season; Haas is 2-7 when losing the first set.
What Haas needs to do to win:
Play with variety and urgency. Haas will use his slice backhand to drag Djokovic to net, where he is not as comfortable, and will try to stretch Djokovic wide in rallies. Haas must mix up his serve against Djokovic, who leads the ATP in points won returning second serve (57 percent) but won just 27 percent of points on Haas’ second serve in the German’s sweep in Miami in March.
The Pick: Djokovic in four sets
A resurgent Haas will be pumped up knowing he just swept Djokovic two months ago, but the slower clay court strengthens Djokovic’s advantages in movement and defense. The world No. 1 beat Haas in their lone clay-court meeting at the 2006 French Open. If Djokovic plays with control, he will advance to his third straight semifinal in Paris.
Rafael Nadal vs. Stanislas Wawrinka
Nadal leads head-to-head, 9-0
What Nadal needs to do to win:
Play cross-court combinations and whip his lefty topspin forehand cross-court into Wawrinka’s one-handed backhand. Nadal has dictated play against Wawrinka in the past by backing the Swiss up behind the baseline on the backhand side to create open space, then driving the ball deep to the opposite corner. The onus is all on Wawrinka to take the risk.
What Wawrinka needs to do to win:
Recover quickly from his five-set marathon win over Richard Gasquet and red line his game from the start. Wawrinka must do everything as well as he can—drive his one-handed backhand down the line, serve with precision and attack the Spaniard’s second serve—and even if he does it all, he still has to hope the reigning champion has an off day to truly threaten.
The Pick: Nadal in three sets
Wawrinka’s rousing comeback from a two-set deficit to defeat Gasquet is a career highlight, but the Swiss may have a better shot of lofting a lob over the Eiffel Tower than beating Nadal, who has won all 19 sets they’ve played. Nadal dropped the opening set in his first two matches, but hasn’t surrendered a set since and should keep that streak going into his eighth Roland Garros semifinal.