And then there were 12. Tuesday saw half of the semifinalist field for the 2014 French Open be set, leaving Wednesday's action to cement the final four on both the men and women's side.
Favorites Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova took care of business, while Eugenie Bouchard and Ernests Gulbis proved that you can never count out a No. 18 seed. On both sides of the bracket, Wednesday's action will again highlight the split between tennis haves and have-nots.
Rafael Nadal and countryman David Ferrer are scheduled to repeat their Roland Garros final from a year ago. Meanwhile, 23rd-seeded Gael Monfils will have the cheers of an entire country behind him when he takes on Andy Murray.
The women's bracket features top-10 seeds Sara Errani and Simona Halep trying to stave off the upset-minded Andrea Petkovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
It will at the very least be an interesting day featuring myriad storylines. Svetlana Kuznetsova is attempting to reascend into the national conversation for the first time since her 2009 win in Paris. Ferrer has been carrying a torch for his potential rematch with Nadal since the draws were announced. Monfils is generally just pretty awesome to watch amid a throng of screaming French onlookers.
With that in mind, let's check in on the four semifinals clashes and predict outcomes guaranteed to come true to make me look terrible by midafternoon.
|June 4||8 a.m. to 1 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
|June 4||1 p.m. to 7 p.m.||Tennis Channel||WatchESPN|
|Sara Errani||vs.||Andrea Petkovic||Court Chatrier|
|Simona Halep||vs.||Svetlana Kuznetsova||Court Lenglen|
|Andy Murray||vs.||Gael Monfils||Court Chatrier|
|Rafael Nadal||vs.||David Ferrer||Court Lenglen|
Nadal, Ferrer Hit Repeat Button on 2013 Final
Whenever it just seems like Nadal is starting to show a sign of weakness, he comes back and again proves why he's the best ever on clay. Amid talk of a bothersome back injury that weakened his serve, Nadal needed just 93 minutes to defeat Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in their fourth-round matchup Monday.
The top-seeded Spaniard won his first 19 first-serve points and 81 percent overall while allowing Lajovic to earn 15 receiving points the entire match. It was the type of outright dominance you'd expect in Round 1—not with a quarterfinals berth on the line.
“I played with no mistakes and having the control with the backhand, with the forehand from the baseline,” Nadal, who has won 32 straight at Roland Garros, told reporters. “Sure, you never know what’s better, but in theory, the theory says that it’s better win like this than win longer matches.”
The back injury largely faded to the background, with Nadal saying he was in "good shape." He was seen wearing tape on his back but showed no outward signs of injury. While it's impossible to know how much pain anyone who is not yourself is in, it's probably best to take Nadal at his word and assume he'll be near 100 percent on Wednesday.
That's probably not the best of news for Ferrer. The fifth-seeded Spaniard has dropped only one set in four victories coming into the quarterfinals but has lost 22 of his 30 career matches versus his countryman. Nadal defeated Ferrer in straight sets the last time the pair played on this stage. In their three matchups at Roland Garros, Ferrer has won more than three games in a set just once.
And yet...there is reason for (some) hope. Ferrer has taken three of four head-to-heads against Nadal since the 2013 French final, including a win at Monte Carlo's clay court this year. Ferrer had only ever beaten him in back-to-back matchups once prior. If recent history is any indication, an upset is far from out of the realm of possibilities.
And yet...good luck getting me or anyone to pick against Nadal at the French Open. Men lie, women lie, Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros doesn't.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets.
Monfils, Murray Square Off for First Time in Four Years
Monfils and Murray met at Roland Garros once before. In 2006. The men were a combined 39 years old. Murray had just turned 20; Monfils was a few months away from reaching the two-decade mark. Both were considered promising young players, the type who made tennis diehards swoon for this seemingly innocuous first-round match.
The result was a hard-fought, five-set win for Monfils. He'd go on to a fourth-round appearance en route to moving into the top 30 by the end of the year.
Eight years later, it's disappointing how much their paths have diverged.
Murray, despite his current No. 8 ranking, is considered by most one of the three- or four-best players in the world. He became a national hero after winning Wimbledon last year, has two Grand Slam titles under his belt and has reached the Australian final three times.
Monfils never quite got over the hump. At age 27, he has only five career titles on the circuit. The highest world ranking of his life was No. 7 in 2011, but that proved a momentary blip on the radar.
A knee injury in May 2012 sent him on a steep descent out of the international consciousness, and he ended the year No. 77 in the world. His comeback last year pushed him to the fringes of the top 30, and he's now a healthy No. 28.
But let's be real: No one even considered Monfils a semifinals threat coming into Paris.
Now, eight years after his first tryst with Murray here, Monfils will have the focus of an entire nation as he attempts to pull the upset. It's been 31 years since Yannick Noah became the most recent French male to win the Open. No countryman has even reached the finals since 1988.
Ending drought is something with which Murray is familiar. Last year, he became the first Brit in 77 years to win at Wimbledon.
One of the most athletically talented players on the tour, Monfils has all the physical tools to get it done. With Murray still trying to find his peak form, he'll have the opportunity to at least reach the semifinals. Even all this time later, I think the result mirrors the one eight years ago.
Prediction: Monfils in five sets.
Errani Looks to Make Third Straight French Open Semifinal
If you hadn't heard, Sara Errani is very good on clay. Though not a Nadalian fixture of dominance, it's her best surface by a pretty significant margin—especially at majors. She and Roberta Vinci are semifinalists for the third straight year in women's doubles, where the pair won their first title together in 2012.
Errani is also quite the dirt devil herself. She made the singles final in 2012 before losing to Sharapova and was held off from a repeat finals appearance by Serena Williams last year. When not put against the two best players in the world (at least for my money), Errani is a near-automatic advancer on your bracket.
She hasn't lost a set since surprisingly dropping her second against first-round opponent Madison Keys. Taking down Jelena Jankovic, a three-time French Open semifinalist, in straight sets was particularly impressive. Errani didn't have the entirety of her game in peak form, but she managed to fight through a difficult first set and get into a groove in the second.
"It was an unbelievably tough match today," Errani told reporters. "All the points were very tough. I just tried to be focused. I was 4-1 up and then she started to play much better and it was not easy to stay there with her. Of course, it was very important to win that first set. I'm so happy to get through to the quarterfinals here again."
It's difficult, then, to have much faith in Petkovic providing much more than a walkthrough. The German has never gotten beyond the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam and hasn't been all that impressive reaching this one. Each of her last three matches went the full three sets, none coming against seeded opponents.
Errani should be able to match her easy win over Petkovic from Madrid earlier this year.
Prediction: Errani in two sets.
The Past Champion vs. The Future
When you compare experience, there is no comparison.
Svetlana Kuznetsova has two Slams under her belt, including at this very establishment. She has had by far her most success at any major tournament in Paris, where she flashes an innate ability to read the sport's most difficult surface.
Simona Halep hadn't even gotten out of the fourth round at a Slam prior to this year. Hell, she'd been eliminated in this very tournament after just one match in consecutive years and three of the past four. Getting to the second week at Roland Garros is a win in and of itself, similar to her quarterfinals run at the Australian Open.
And yet there seems to be something different about Halep's game. Whether it's confidence, maturity or some other immeasurable noun in between, the result has been four consecutive straight set romps over talented opponents.
"I have more confidence in me now, and I try to do my best at Grand Slam also," Halep told reporters. "I'm in quarterfinals the second time this year. I'm happy, and I feel prepared to go more far."
Kuznetsova has had a considerably more difficult go of it. It took the Russian 16 games to upset fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova in the third round, perhaps the best match of the tournament on the women's side. Camila Giorgi sent her to a first-set tiebreak a round prior.
While her fourth-round win over Lucie Safarova was impressive, this feels like a classic battle between talent and experience. Kuznetsova is not ancient at 28 by any means, but she's a half-decade removed from her last time finishing a season in the top 10. Halep is on the way up—and her ascent toward the top might be coming sooner than we expected.
When all else fails, go with the better player. That's Halep right now by just about any metric.
Prediction: Halep in three sets.
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