Three To See, French Open: June 2
Kerber dug in on critical points to outduel Kuznetsova in Madrid last month, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. The rematch could escalate into another three-set escapade.
If you accept the premise that major matches between accomplished veterans often come down to a handful of critical points, then you must favor Kerber. The sturdy German usually plays pivotal points with more clarity than the sometime combustible Kuznetsova, who can be her own worst enemy. Watch Kerber closely and see how she'll change a pattern on a key point, she did in the third set of her third-round win vs. Varvara Lepchenko, hooking a sharp-angled forehand cross-court winner. Counter-puncher Kerber has a knack for the correct situational shot; all-courter Kuznetsova can light up the court with winners, yet can look so burdened by pressure she sometimes resorts to the drop shot to bail out.
Kuznetsova's game is more expansive and better suited for clay—Sveta has all the shots though sometimes isn't quite sure how to put them together—but I believe Kerber competes with more vigor and is more consistent. Kerber is playing for her fourth quarterfinal in her last seven Grand Slam tournaments; 2009 French Open champion Kuznetsova, the only unseeded woman still standing in the top half of the draw, is 11-2 in three-setters this year and 40-9 lifetime at Roland Garros. If she minimizes the cranky implosions, invests total commitment to every point and applies her all-court skills, I see Kuznetsova reaching her sixth Roland Garros quarterfinal.
The Pick: Kuznetsova in three sets
Remember when Troicki pulled the camera man on court to inspect the ball mark in Rome? He may want to come to court armed with a magnifying glass to get a better look at Tsonga's serve. The explosive Frenchman has not surrendered a set and has dropped serve just twice in powering through the first three rounds.
The good news for Troicki is he's shown a paparazzi's power of perseverance in fighting back from a set down in all three of his career wins over Tsonga. The bad news is Tsonga has won all four sets they've played on clay. Troicki's two-handed backhand is his best groundstroke and the shot he'll want to play cross-court to Tsonga's sometimes sporadic, though improving, backhand.
There are two reasons Tsonga has had the upper hand on dirt: He's had time to run around his backhand and crunch his forehand, and he's teed off on Troicki's second serve before. Former world No. 12 Troicki turned in a strong performance sweeping 10th-seeded Marin Cilic in round three, and if he's landing his first serve and drags Tsonga into backhand exchanges, he can challenge. But Tsonga has played commanding tennis so far, has bullied Troicki with his forehand in past meetings on clay, and plays with energy and emotion when the crowd is engaged. Which they will be today.
The Pick: Tsonga in four sets
This is a milestone match for Federer, who is playing for his 900th career victory and a record-extending 36th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.
The slender Frenchman had given Federer fits in the past. Then Federer dished out a dose of misery, thrashing Simon, 6-1, 6-2, in Rome last month.
Federer was in brilliant form in that match—when a player hits a drop shot return winner off a Top 20 opponent's serve, as Federer did that day, he's operating at a different level. It will be interesting to see if there will be collateral damage from that match or if it will free up Simon, who may feel things can't get any worse than that Rome rout.
Simon has an underrated first serve, he's very skilled at changing up the pace and driving the ball down the lines off both wings, and he pushed Federer to five sets at the 2011 Australian Open. The 28-year-old is an extremely fit player, but he's endured five-setters in two of his first three matches (beating Lleyton Hewitt in round one and rallying past Sam Querrey in round three) and his legs and lungs will be tested against Federer, who has not dropped a set in three matches and is backing up his first serve brilliantly.
If Simon can drag Federer into a tiebreaker or if the 2009 champion plays a sloppy service game and donates a break, I can see the Frenchman possibly taking a set. But Federer has more shots (look for him to use the slice to lure the flat-hitter forward), more power, more success in this event, and he's playing more confident tennis. Federer will be highly motivated to join Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, and Guillermo Vilas as the fourth man in Open Era history to reach the 900-victory mark. The last time Federer failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal was at the 2004 French Open when former champion Gustavo Kuerten beat him; I can't see Simon stopping his streak.
The Pick: Federer in three sets