The 2014 French Open has featured a slew of tennis' biggest stars succumbing to unheralded foes in just over a week of clay-court action. Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Stanislas Wawrinka and Agnieszka Radwanska all bowed out of the tournament over the course of the first eight days, which means there will be plenty of drama and intrigue on Day 9 as the fourth round gets underway.
The men's bracket has played out a bit more predictably than the women's, but that doesn't preclude any of the later rounds from featuring some shocking upsets. The clay courts at Roland Garros are unbelievably taxing and players can falter through injury, exhaustion or an unraveling in their technique.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal is the biggest star set to take to the courts on Day 9. He will face an underwhelming challenger in the form of Dusan Lajovic, who defeated the United States' Jack Sock on Saturday. Lajovic had never won two tour-level matches in a row before the French Open. The matchup between No. 15 Sloane Stephens and No. 4 Simona Halep will anchor the action in the women's bracket.
Here is the breakdown for Day 9 of the French Open, as well as predictions on how each matchup will play out.
|Court Philippe Chatrier|
|Women's Singles- Round 4||Kiki Bertens vs. No. 28 Andrea Petkovic||Petkovic|
|Men's Singles- Round 4||No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. Dusan Lajovic||Nadal|
|Women's Singles- Round 4||No. 15 Sloane Stephens vs. No. 4 Simona Halep||Stephens|
|Men's Singles- Round 4||Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. No. 23 Gael Monfils||Monfils|
|Court Suzanne Lenglen|
|Men's Singles- Round 4||No. 19 Kevin Anderson vs. No. 5 David Ferrer||Ferrer|
|Women's Singles- Round 4||No. 6 Jelena Jankovic vs. No. 10 Sara Errani||Errani|
|Men's Singles- Round 4||No. 24 Fernando Verdasco vs. No. 7 Andy Murray||Murray|
|Women's Singles- Round 4||No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. No. 23 Lucie Safarova||Kuznetsova|
Matches To Watch
No 15. Sloane Stephens vs. No. 4 Simona Halep
The pressure is on both competitors to make a mark on the 2014 French Open by moving into the later rounds of the tournament. Halep's best performance at a major tournament was a quarterfinals appearance at the 2014 Australian Open, while Stephens has yet to move past the fourth round at the French Open. Neither player has dropped a set so far this year in Paris.
Of course, no one needs to worry about Stephens suffering a mental block when it comes to her excellent French Open play this year. Stephens has been at a loss to explain her inconsistent performances, as per The Associated Press (h/t Tennis.com):
Who will win: Sloane Stephens or Simona Halep?
"Nothing. I don't know. I don't know. I'm not sure. Honestly, if I had the answer and I knew, I would tell you guys. I'd be like, 'Oh, yeah!' But I can't even think of anything. Like, I don't know."
Not knowing how to improve or derail her own performance may allow her to play without fear against Halep, who is the highest-seeded woman still soldiering on at Roland Garros.
Sloane has performed well in Grand Slam events in her career but struggles in lesser tournaments. She's still very young so it may be too early to call her a big match player, but she has the chops to take on Halep and defeat her in a tournament that has been defined by early upsets.
Prediction: Stephens wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
No. 23 Gael Monfils vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Now that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet made their unceremonious exits from the tournament on Day 8, Monfils is the lone Frenchman capable of making sure the title stays at home in the men's bracket.
Monfils won a taxing match against Fabio Fognini (5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2) for the right to face Garcia-Lopez. The clash between two of the more colorful characters in this year's tournament was exasperating at times for onlookers, a sentiment encapsulated by Carole Bouchard of France's L'Equipe:
There's winning ugly and there's doing a Monfils-Fognini. Together on same court they're lethal for the game in all the wong ways.— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) May 31, 2014
Monfils strangely switched into a zombie-like stupor during the fourth set of that match, but explained his actions were all part of a bigger plan. Via Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times:
“It’s easy,” said Monfils. “I want to serve first in the fifth. So I mean, the only option I had is to take six-love. Why should I make any effort?”
Few players can afford to get away with such drastic decisions, but Monfils' game features nearly unparalleled athleticism and an ability to get to shots deep in the corner of the court.
Garcia-Lopez is in the final 16 at a major tournament for the first time in his career. He made an early splash by defeating No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in four sets in the first round. Garcia-Lopez showed great command in that match, hitting just 28 unforced errors to 23 winners in order to topple the 2014 Australian Open champion.
Garcia-Lopez may not be a particularly intimidating challenger, but he should be able to steal a couple of sets from the mercurial Monfils before succumbing in the fifth set.
Prediction: Monfils wins 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(8), 1-6, 6-4
No. 24 Fernando Verdasco vs. No. 7 Andy Murray
Fernando Verdasco looks dangerous after upsetting No. 12 Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 over the course of two days in Paris. He's been a difficult player to get a handle on throughout his career. He cruised to victory over Gasquet, despite the fact that it took a stunning comeback victory after dropping the first two sets against Pablo Cuevas in the previous round.
His indomitable spirit is a rarity in the Open Era, as ATPWorldTour.com's Josh Meiseles pointed out:
Verdasco becomes just the 6th man in Open Era to come back from two sets down at all 4 slams (Federer, Becker, Krickstein, Noah, Nalbandian)— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) May 29, 2014
Murray defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 12-10 in the fifth set of an epic match to move on to the fourth round. Murray commented on how physically challenging the match was, via a post-match report from Sports Illustrated:
"Physically in the fifth set I was struggling. You know, I was cramping. So I was disappointed obviously that I wasn’t able to finish in four sets.”
Murray will be short on proper rest for the matchup against Verdasco and is likely to drop a set early on, especially since his serve looked shaky in the third round. However, Murray was in fine form overall during the majority of the match against Kohlschreiber, and the talent gap here will be too wide for Verdasco to overcome.
Prediction: Murray wins 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3