PARIS—The 2018 French Open began with an overwhelming favorite on the men’s side, and no clear-cut favorites at all on the women’s. That hasn’t changed after the first week. Rafael Nadal, who has surrendered just 11 games in his last six sets, is still on track for La Undécima—title No. 11—at Roland Garros. And the three women who were playing the best tennis of anyone through the clay season—Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, and Elina Svitolina, champs in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome, respectively—have all been sent packing. In their places, though, current and former No. 1s—Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza—have stepped up their games.
Now that we’ve reached the fourth round, the tournament’s mid-point, here’s a Roland Garros reset, with a look at who has surprised us so far, who might pull a surprise or two, and who is set to collide with whom in the second week.
By his standards, Nadal survived a semi-scare in the first round from Simone Bolelli—he almost lost a set. But that may have been just what he needed, because it got him fully into the tournament right away. Since hitting two huge forehand winners to save the third-set tiebreaker against Bolelli, he has cruised.
Still—and it’s one of the beauties of sports—no matter how dominant Rafa is, whenever he faces a new opponent, there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that asks: Maybe this guy can do it? Maybe he has the secret? Marterer will be the next to accept the challenge, and he’ll likely be Nadal’s 83rd victim in 85 matches in Paris. But it will be interesting to see the previously little-known 22-year-old from Germany try. He’s a lefty, which might help, and has a two-handed backhand, which won’t hurt. Marterer hasn’t received the same kind of press attention as his fellow lefty Next Genner Denis Shapovalov, but hopefully his second-round win over the Canadian will begin to rectify that. Marterer has skills, and flash, too.
WATCH: Daily Serve—Day 7 Recap
It’s a tennis chicken-and-egg question: Does the fact that Zverev has fallen behind two sets to one in both of his last two matches, but come back to win both times, make us more likely or less likely to bet on him going forward? I’ll go with the latter. While he has looked surprisingly ordinary much of the time in Paris, the kid is too good not to get it together at the majors eventually. And why shouldn’t “eventually” be this week? Two years ago, Andy Murray went five sets in his first two matches at Roland Garros, and ended up making the final. Zverev’s draw isn’t easy—he has Karen Khachanov Sunday, and then either Dominic Thiem or Kei Nishikori—but he’s the No. 2 seed for a reason.
Don’t look now, but Delpo has his tank-like game pointing in the right direction, and he’s bearing down on the second week. The 2009 semifinalist has dropped just one set in three matches, and twice he has had a chance to play his traditional role as the ATP’s kindly reaper. Delpo, who beat Andy Roddick and Marat Safin in their last career matches, did the same for Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau this week—even the French fans didn’t begrudge him. Is it too early to think that Delpo could give Rafa a run in the semis? Yes, because first he has to find a way past a dialed-in John Isner on Monday. No matter how well Delpo is playing at the moment, there’s no guarantee he’ll survive that.
Remember the days when commentators liked to muse on the idea of the big American making a run to the French Open semis? They’re back: Isner has been very solid, and virtually unbreakable, through his first three matches here, the same way he was when he won the title in Miami two months ago. One of the players who couldn’t break him, or beat him, that week was Del Potro. The two big men will face off again on Monday.
WATCH: Daily Serve—Day 8 Preview:
It’s either lock-in, or lock-out, for Muguruza, and so far in Paris it has been the former. She hasn’t dropped a set in her first three matches, and she was at her ruthless best in a quick win over Sam Stosur on Saturday. The question now is whether her form is good enough and stable enough to handle a quarterfinal with one of her fellow former French champions, Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova.
Anything you can do I can do better, and faster: Sharapova followed Muguruza onto Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday, and followed her off 59 minutes later with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Karolina Pliskova in one of the tournament’s most-anticipated third-rounders. Sharapova had a plan—take control of the rallies within the first two shots—and she executed it perfectly. Seeing her in that kind of form, you might think she’s ready to win the event. And she might be, if only she didn’t have to face...
While Serena hasn’t thrown down a blowout win the way Muguruza and Sharapova have, she played her best tennis of the week in a straight-setter over Julia Goerges on Saturday. Now we’re at the point where we need to think seriously about Serena, despite not having played Grand Slam tennis in 15 months, winning the tournament and becoming the second player, after Steffi Graf, to win all four majors at least four times. As well as Sharapova played in her last match, there’s no reason to think Serena won’t raise her level as high it needs to go to beat her on Monday. She always does.
WATCH—Serena Williams' post-match press conference:
Whatever happens when she faces Madison Keys on Sunday, Buzarnescu has been the tournament’s freshest new face and most fun new game to watch. “New,” in her case, is a relative term of course; she’s 30 years old, and has a Ph.D. in sports science. Does that mean we have to call her “doctor”? “No no no no no no.” Buzarnescu said when she was asked that question by a reporter. The Romanian was a junior contemporary of Agnieska Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki, but knee problems—she’s had muliple surgeries on them—sidelined her for years. Better late than never to add her exciting, attacking, southpaw-slinging handed game to the WTA show.
While she’s the second seed, and while she won the last major, in Australia, Wozniacki may be the surprise of the first week. Wozniacki has never been a dirtballer, she has reached the quarterfinals just twice at Roland Garros in 10 tries, and she had a middling lead-up to this Slam. But she has been blowing people out so far. Now she’ll face a test in Daria Kasatkina, a clay-lover who has won both of their meetings in straight sets this year.
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