For me, the real business end of a slam starts with the quarterfinals. With only 8 players left in the draw, the possibilities no longer seem endless, and we can start looking at who has the most legitimate shot at the title with only 3 wins needed to take the it all. Let’s looks at what we have.
Men’s Top Half
The obvious intrigue of this half is Rafa/Sod, who meet for the third time in as many years at Roland Garros. On paper, Rafa is the obvious favourite. Considering his recent form, however, he might not be… but, Sod has hardly been the player he was last year either. I can’t help but think the match will be a tale of two halves. Rafa has been a slow starter for most of this tournament (and often through the year) whereas Sod had some serious trouble closing out Gilles today and was going through periods of really passive play. If Sod takes the first set, everyone should stay calm. Other than the fact that it’s Rafa, obviously, I fully expect this match to develop over the course of several hours with some big time momentum swings.
Below, clay grinder and veteran Chela awaits the winner of Muzz/Troicki. I actually really like Chela’s chance here, even though he’s played two 5 setters and one 4 setter already this week. Vik and Andy need to finish off their 5 setter tomorrow and then play again the next day. Even though Andy is the favourite to move through, even with a wonky ankle, he’ll be seriously up against it versus an even more rested Chela.
Men’s Bottom Half
With Nole already through, a Fed/Nole crash course seems inevitable, unless Monf can harness the crowd and pull off what I would consider the impossible against Fed. Fed has silently been moving through the draw with ease, especially considering what he had to endure to win the tournament 2 years ago. Does that put him in a position to take out Nole? Probably not. Nole got a free pass from Foghat, so he’ll be well rested, but Fed can hope that he might be well rusted as well. Fed will definitely need his A game in terms of his backhand, and probably a bit of help from the tennis gods if he wants to reach the final again.
Women’s Top Half
Was the women’s draw “wide open” from the beginning? Yes. Is it wide open right now? Yes. Is the caliber of players low? Hell no. With a mix of older powerhouses, young talent, and the resurgence of Sharapova, this is a quality last 8 without a player from the top 16 seeds. To boot, the champions of the past two years, Fran and Kuz, are still in, as well as 3 time slam winner Masha and slam finalists Nails and Marion.
If you’re a neutral, and maybe even if you’re not, you really, really want Fran/Kuz to happen again, after they slugged out the longest women’s match in history in Australia this January. Kuz has played quite well this tournament, and is looking really consistent, by her standards. Versus a hometown favourite Marion, whose worst surface is clay, that should be a winnable match.
Fran has a much more difficult test in the free swinging Pavs. Fran has never really had much problem with absorbing pace, and often uses it to her advantage. I’m thinking her consistent patterns of play will outdo Pavs who is likely to fire off a lot of errors, and we’ll have our dream semifinal.
Women’s Bottom Half
Last but not least, we have Nails/Vika and Masha/Petko. Nails and Vika might prove to be the closest and most interesting match-up of all. Both have been fantastically solid and have similar games. Vika is the favourite, but it should be a tight one. Let’s hope so anyway.
Masha should be able to deal with Petko, but both have had periods of brilliant play, interlaced with periods of boneheaded play. I think the consistency of their backhands is going to be key, as well as Masha’s serving, which has held up well so far this tournament. Petko is probably going to need to play the match of her career, to get through… which she just might do.