First Ball In, 6/2: The Second Week Scramble Begins
We’re into the second week and down to the two big show courts at the French Open. All of Monday’s matches, except one, took place inside Chatrier and Lenglen. The outlier was Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Lucie Safarova, who were exiled at the last minute to the Bullring. Their court location might not have made them feel better, but their spot in the draw should. Lucie and Kuzzie, neither of them ranked in the Top 20, played for a spot in the quarterfinals today.
“I try my best and fight for every point.”
If Simona Halep isn’t a French Open champion yet, she has certainly learned how to sound like one. Those words, which Halep spoke after her 6-4, 6-3 fourth-round win over Sloane Stephens today, could have been lifted from every Rafael Nadal press-conference transcript of the last 10 years.
OK, the Romanian, who reached her first quarterfinal at Roland Garros, isn’t at Rafa’s level yet. But she had reason to be satisfied with her play and her win today. For one thing, it confirmed again how much Halep has improved over the last year and a half. The last time these two young women, and probable future rivals, met at a major was at the 2013 Australian Open, and Stephens blitzed her 6-1, 6-1. Today, while the rallies were long and tiring, Halep showed that right now she’s the better all-around tennis player—is there anyone in the sport who changes directions with the ball as fluidly as Halep? Stephens has had the superior record between them at the Slams, but this could be the start of a sea-change in that department.
As for Sloane’s performance, it can be summed up in two frustrated sentences uttered by Lindsay Davenport as she called the match for Tennis Channel.
“Just a few steps over and Sloane could be hitting forehands,” Davenport said as Sloane rallied passively from her less-lethal backhand side in the middle of the court.
“She didn’t get up fast enough for that forehand and ended up having to hit it at her ankles,” Lindsay said when Sloane put an easy ball into the net.
What more needs to be said?
Chums Across the Channel
“Murray is in black sneakers, and he’s a righty, if you’re trying to figure it out.”
This is how Tennis Channel commentator Ian Eagle suggested keeping Murray and his opponent today, Fernando Verdasco, straight. It wasn’t easy: Both were in yellow-green tops, black shorts, and white caps made by Adidas. I’ll say it again: If two players put on the same kit in the locker room, the lower-seeded player should have to change. But that might not have made a difference today: Murray and Verdasco actually weren’t wearing exactly the same shirts.
Two days ago, we were talking about the similarities between Murray and another player, Gael Monfils. Each man uses, and doesn’t use, his considerable talents in similar, exasperating, match-lengthening ways—they like to run more than they like to hit. Both are also famous for going the extra mile with their antics at Roland Garros.
So leave it to both Murray and Monfils to confound us again in Paris. Today each of them took care of business in straight sets, in matches that had promised to be much trickier. Murray in particular played some of the most settled clay-court tennis of his career in beating Fernando Verdasco on Lenglen. Meanwhile, against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Chatrier, Monfils reminded us of why watching him play, and especially win, at Roland Garros is still one of the finest sights in tennis. No one uses all of Chatrier’s vast expanse—as well as the airspace above it—the way La Monf does, and no one can charge the place up with a raspy “Allez!” after a winner the way he can.
“The crowd fits me here,” Monfils said afterward. They’ll try to fit him for a place in the semis he faces Murray on Wendesday. The two haven’t played since 2010, but the Scot has let it be known in the past that he’s a La Monf fan, too.
See Tuesday’s Order of Play here.
Maria Sharapova vs. Garbine Muguruza
Maria won their only meeting, in Rome last May. But Serena had won her only meeting with the Spanish sensation before this tournament, and look what happened to her. Muguruza can hit with Sharapova, and I doubt she’ll be awed by the moment or the opponent. But as we could see after her last win, Sharapova really wants this title. It will take a thorough, start-to-finish effort from Garbine to take it from her. Winner: Sharapova
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Eugenie Bouchard
Suarez Navarro won their only meeting, in straight sets, at Wimbledon in 2013. But as with Muguruza and Sharapova, the younger player has made strides since then. Bouchard may be the better competitor, but Suarez Navarro has the more natural clay game. I picked her to reach the semis from the start, so I’ll stay with her here. Winner: Suarez Navarro
Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic
They’ve played twice, both times on clay, and Djokovic is 2-0. But Raonic had him on the ropes, and extremely testy, for two sets in Rome this year. The Canadian Catapult is playing well again in Paris—the clay may give him a little extra time to get his long limbs in order before he hits the ball. But Djokovic is on a mission, and having three sets to work with here should keep him calm. Winner: Djokovic
This is the hardest call of all. Both guys have played very well at Roland Garros so far; Gulbis well enough to beat Roger Federer, Berdych well enough to keep John Isner from reaching a single tiebreaker in three sets—I’m not sure which is the more impressive or surprising accomplishment. Berdych is 5-2 in their head to head, he’s won their last two matches, and he won their only meeting on clay. But Gulbis won their only match at a major, at Wimbledon two years ago. Winner: Gulbis
For Further Reading
Pete Bodo here at Tennis.com, and Doug Robson of USA Today, have features on Francis Tiafoe, 16-year-old American who was the top seed in the French boys' draw. The kid obviously has talent, and he's obviously from the States—he was upset in the second round at Roland Garros today.
Anybody else in the U.S. up for changing the nation's tennis name to "North America"?
Fan of the Day
Every Prince knows that when you come to see the King of Clay, you bring your scepter.