A quick look at the men’s quarter final matchups this morning as we head into day 10 at this year’s French Open. This year the men’s seeds have played largely to form despite some earlier round struggles by all of the ‘big four’ competing in the tournament. Federer was pushed to five sets by Simon, Djokovic had a very tight four setter with Kholschreiber, and Nadal was stretched to four in both of his first two matches. For all that the big upsets have been few and far between, and those upsets which did occur were far from shocking. So let’s take a look at our quarter-final matchups for this year.
Roger Federer vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga has had perhaps the easiest route of all the quarter finalists on the men’s side. He’s been able to avoid all of the dangerous clay-court specialists floating in the draw, and has taken care of business handily against a series of favorable matchups. Federer’s path has been a little more rocky, but his five setter with Simon aside he’s played well. Benneteau is a dangerous floater and Federer dispatched of him in straight sets, and his other two matches were blowouts. Federer leads their head-to-head with 9 wins and 3 losses, but one of those losses is arguably the biggest of Federer’s career when two years ago he led two sets to love at Wimbledon before Tsonga came back to win in five.
However Federer is the second greatest clay courter of his generation (behind Nadal), and clay is far from Tonga’s favorite surface. Whereas Simon was able to ramp his aggression up to bother Federer, it was still built upon wily court play and consistency. Tsonga has no issues with aggression – it is defense that he struggles with. On a surface that rewards patience, Tsonga will find it hard to find a way past the Swiss unless Federer has a rough day. Expect Tsonga to attack the Fed backhand, particularly with inside-out forehands, but his flatter ball will see Federer drive many if not most back with topspin.
Verdict: Federer should take this in three or four sets.
Tommy Robredo vs David Ferrer
Robredo is the biggest surprise of the quarter-finalists this year, despite having made four quarter-final appearances at Roland Garros in years past. He’s not played the tournament the past two years, and it far off his career-high ranking of #5. After a routine opening win, Robredo came back from two sets to love down in three consecutive matches. His wins over Monfils and Almagro were impressive, but neither of those two is renowned for their ability to close out a match. More worrying is his being pushed to five by the unknown Igor Sijsling. Meanwhile Ferrer has snuck quietly through the draw, and has yet to drop a set.
The matchup is an interesting one – Robredo hits a good ball but isn’t blessed with an overabundance of weapons. Ferrer meanwhile is Ferrer – the consummate counterpuncher. Don’t expect the winners to flow off either player’s stick, but Robredo will likely set the pace in this match. His one-handed backhand is a very nice shot, but his forehand can break down on occasion and given Ferrer’s consistency that’s what we’ll expect to see today. Long rallies, punctuated by a few more errors from Robredo than he can really afford.
Verdict: Ferrer in three or four.
Rafael Nadal vs Stanislas Wawrinka
Wawrinka has played a great tournament to reach this stage, with a five-set win over Gasquet in the previous round. Nadal meanwhile has had some well-chronicled struggles, dropping a set in each of his first two rounds before seeming to begin to find his stride against Fognini and Nishikori. The issue for Nadal is that in years past he has largely dispatched opponents, not just with ease, but with casual brutality. With the exception of the occasional bad matchup, Nadal’s path to the quarter and semi-finals of Roland Garros have more resembled a series of dark alley street muggings than tennis matches for all that his opponents have been left wondering where their chances went.
Wawrinka is an interesting matchup for Nadal, with his backhand being his stronger side. Possessing a beautiful one handed backhand that seemingly never breaks down, it is the forehand side on which Wawrinka will tend to struggle (for more on this read our profile on Wawrinka). Nadal may be forced to alter his patterns slightly, and must respect Wawrinka’s ability to hurt him off both sides. However in our recent article on how to play Nadal, we talked about the importance of rushing the Spaniard to take him out of his comfort zone. Wawrinka has a fairly big game, but typically hits a heavy rather than penetrating ball on the forehand side. His serve is good but not exceptional, and we’re left wondering just how it is he’s going to truly challenge Nadal. Expect this to be a tight match, and if Nadal plays poorly Wawrinka is certainly capable of grabbing the win. However Nadal should be good for this one.
Verdict: Nadal in three or four tight sets.
Novak Djokovic vs Tommy Haas
In many ways the most intriguing of the quarter-final matchups, and possibly the hardest to predict. This will be Djokovic’s third straight match against an opponent with a one-handed backhand (who said one-handers were dead?) and in Haas he faces undoubtedly the best of the three. Djokovic’s path through the draw has been largely trouble-free although Kholscheiber stretched him to four sets in the previous round (and the other three were tight affairs). Haas meanwhile won an epic five-set struggle against the man-mountain John Isner before demolishing Mikhail Youzhny in a surprisingly one-sided encounter in the 4th round. At 35 years of age, Haas is the old man of the draw but he comes in in great shape and playing more to the form that once saw him ranked #2 in the world (despite that being 11 years ago!).
The matchup is curious one. Djokovic is a well-balanced player who likes to dictate play with his forehand. Haas fit much the same mold, although his game is more well-rounded than Novak’s. Haas has the better slice backhand and net play, with their serves being fairly well balanced. It would be easy to say that Djokovic is the better returner, but watching some of Haas’s return-winners against Isner that might not be a true statement within the bounds of this specific tournament. Both players defend well, so it will largely be a battle to see who can wrest control of points away from the other with the forehand, and who can finish points when the chance arises. On paper it should be a solid if challenging win for Djokovic simply because of his age and fitness. Matches are not played on paper however, and this one is just too close to call.
Verdict: Tennis is the real winner with this match.