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Kvitova Provides Suspense on a Dull Day at the Races

Rafa and David move to semis


June 06, 2012 | 08:59 PM

The best that can be said about today's men's quarters is that even when the outcomes of matches at this level are so foregone they could be fixed like a horse race, the tennis can be amazing and each set has a few moments when possibilities seem to be in the air. Today, the hopes of Murray and Almagro vanished into the heavy air on a somewhat sodden day at Roland Garros. For those following the matches from a distance, Rafa was always going to beat Almagro, and Ferrer was not going to lose to Murray on clay for the first time.

It can at least be said that Andy made his match competitive by winning the 2nd set tie-breaker, though his play was disappointing after that - he lost 6-3, 6-2 in the final sets. For Ferrer it was the first set he'd dropped in the tournie after losing only 25 games in his first 4 matches.

Rafa had of course lost even fewer games prior today (19) and no sets, and though he was forced to win the 1st set in a breaker and the next 2 sets took an hour and 45 minutes, the scores do not reflect a competitive battle: 6-2, 6-3. In terms of the outcome, it was uncompetitive.

Against David in the semis, Rafa can be expected to have to work harder, but there's a reason he's lost only two sets to David in their last 12 meetings on clay: he can do everything better. On hard courts, David holds a 4-2 career edge over Rafa, but that won't count for anything on Friday. A mouse trapped in a shoe box with a cat standing over him...

It will take another memorable match between Joker and Federer to shift the odds away from Rafa defending his title. The #1 and 3 reached the semis like a couple of partyers who've had too much to drink and stumble a bit when a small dog comes after them. They each ran into a bigger dog in the quarters: Joker sobered up when he got to double match point down, and Fed did the same when down two sets. If they don't show more of that focus against each other, Rafa will continue to be a 4:1 favorite over Joker in a final, and a 10:1 over Roger. He'll certainly be the fresher man. In 2008 and 2010 when he arrived in a final fresh, he lost 10 or fewer games (4 to Federer).

A smart bet would be on Rafa to win again this year, regardless of who wins the re-match between Fed and Joker. Losing to Fed here again in the semis with so much on the line for Joker would be an even greater shocker than last year. Don't look for that upset to be repeated. Joker in 3, or maybe 4 sets.

WOMEN

So it was up to the women to provide drama today. Sharapova can often be relied upon for that, but today she was all business in starting fast and closing out Kanepi 6-2, 6-3 in a little over an hour.

Maria's next opponent will be #4 seed Kvitova, though when Shevdova was leading 4-2 in the 3rd set it seemed like Petra was down and out. When she won 6-4 in the 3rd, she ended the longest run of a qualifier in decades.

If Joker and Fed have been a bit like sloppy drunks, you don't want to know what Petra's play in losing sets to players ranked over 100 has suggested. To be fair, her opponent today had been ranked in the top 30 and reached the quarters at Roland Garros two years ago, and Petra has won three convincing matches, which is more than can be said about Fed or Joker. It's just that when she's been bad, she's been really bad. Graf used to have patches of play when her forehand went off and the errors piled up, but those patches happened against champions. Outside of losing a breaker to Zakapalova in the last round, Maria has played at a consistent high level. Hence she is the heavy favorite to reach the final for a legitimate contest with Stosur. Though Errani is having a great year and has reached the doubles final as well as the singles semi, Stosur is too strong and too experienced for her at this stage.

Maria and Stosur are two women with the most to gain from a title here: a golden slam for Maria (winning all 4 majors), and a second title, a second chance for Stosur to become a French Open champion. Sam is the less nervous of the two as a starter, and her unblemished record after winning first sets in majors will put a lot of pressure on Maria to come out strong. She'll have to end points before Stosur can use her more consistent forehand weapon. Stosur moves, closes and defends better, and has a second serve second only to Serena.

This final will be decided in the first set. I like Sam's chances.

Of course, the semis have to be played first.

Roland Garros quarters day 2, 6.6.12


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