French Open 2012: 5 Bold 4th-Round Predictions You Shouldn't Overlook
So here we have it.
Sloane Stephens and David Goffin are probably the biggest surprise stories of the remaining 32 singles players still in it, while Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova are looking the best of the championship candidates.
It's been an exciting first seven days at Roland Garros, but there's more fun ahead of us.
Here are my predictions for the fourth round.
Wawrinka Knocks off Tsonga
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It's no secret that clay is not Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's best surface.
He dropped one set each in his first two matches, against Russian Andrey Kuznetsov and German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, players whom he would have probably beaten soundly on a different surface, despite not having "home-court advantage."
Though he did pull it together better against Fabio Fognini, winning 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, he isn't looking like the man who reached the Wimbledon semis last year, or the man who got to the final of the 2009 Australian Open, for that matter.
Despite the fact that Stanislas Wawrinka has already played two five-setters and a four-setter, he has had extremely tough matchups in Pablo Andujar and Gilles Simon, while Flavio Cipolla is no walk in the park on clay, either.
Wawrinka is looking quite good, and I think it is his ability to bounce back that will help him against Tsonga. In spite of the tiredness factor, Tsonga doesn't play too many long points, so the Swiss No. 18 seed is OK in that aspect.
Plus, Wawrinka is more solid, as Tsonga is error-prone (especially on clay). I also think that backhand-to-backhand rallies favor Wawrinka, and that might just be the deciding element.
Sharapova to Lose at Most Four Games
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That's how many games Maria Sharapova has lost in three matches. The Russian has come into this French Open looking virtually unstoppable, impressively keeping first-round matchup Alexandra Cadantu off the board, scoring the first double-bagel of the tournament.
She then managed to defeat Ayumi Morita of Japan 6-1, 6-1, and Chinese Peng Shuai 6-2, 6-1, establishing herself as the No. 1 favorite over Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
Ranked at No. 42 in the world, Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic took out Maria Kirilenko, seeded 16th, as well as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (22nd seed) in straight sets.
As remarked yesterday in the commentary box, Zakopalova has had a good run until now, but it's unrealistic that she can beat Maria Sharapova.
Moreover, I think Sharapova will lose a maximum of four games on her way to the quarterfinals. (Bonus prediction: I think Maria will take home the title this year).
Berdych-Del Potro Goes to Five, and the Winner Is...
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This is a really great match.
Two of the game's hardest hitters will lock horns Sunday on the Court Suzanne Lenglen, in the last match of the day there.
Juan Martin del Potro dropped one set to Albert Montanes of Spain, one set to Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin and then looked impressive as he beat 21st seed Marin Cilic in straight sets to reach the Round of 16.
Berdych's first two rounds were straight-set victories, but in the third round, things got interesting against Kevin Anderson, as it took a 6-4 fifth set to give the Czech a spot in the fourth round.
Berdych has been playing well on clay lately, notably in Madrid, where he got to the final but fell in three to Roger Federer.
It will be a really good-quality matchup, as neither giant will hold back.
I am giving Berdych the edge here, however, because of the surface, especially if it's playing a bit slow today in particular. This is partly due to delPo's wrist problems, because we all know it's tender, and a long match could potentially wear it out.
Sloane Stephens Gives Stosur a Very Tough Time
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Sloane Stephens is looking great, coming into the tournament as the world No. 79.
The 19-year-old American is showing that she can hit hard and consistently, wearing out—as well as overpowering—opponents.
In three matches against Russian Ekaterina Makarova, compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands and crowd favorite Mathilde Johansson, she has not dropped a set yet, giving American tennis fans hope of a "new savior."
Yes, that term is used very loosely, but I think she has a shot against 2010 French Open finalist and sixth-seed Samantha Stosur, who has yet to be tested.
For all the people who say that her run ends here, I agree, but I don't think that match is a gimme in any way for the Australian.
I think that Stephens will play very well, but Stosur will prevail in three sets.
Andy Murray Upset by Gasquet
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I don't know how much of an upset this is due to Murray and his back, but it's still something.
In the words of BBC Sport, he "overcame a significant injury scare" to beat Finnish Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.
Yesterday, however, he didn't look too bad, beating Santiago Giraldo in straight sets. Nevertheless, clay is not really his surface, so I don't see him advancing past the Round of 16.
On the other side of the net will be Richard Gasquet, who has lost two sets in three matches.
His match against Grigor Dimitrov featured two of the best and most aesthetically pleasing two-handed backhands in the game right now, and the long rallies were enjoyable.
Especially in front of his home fans, the Frenchman can be deadly, and Murray is clearly not favored at Roland Garros, so I give Gasquet the odds of winning here.
I think it will be interesting to see backhand-to-backhand rallies in this match too, since Murray has a good one also.
This one, along with del Potro vs. Berdych, should be at the top of your must-see list for Saturday.