Roland Garros—Paris, France
It's been wet, it's been slippery, it's required scarves and jackets, and if you listen close enough, Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini are still arguing with the tournament director in the middle of Court Philippe Chatrier—but what it will always remain (hopefully) is Roland Garros.
A draw which contained 128 of the best men's players in the world has been minimized to the big eight. We've encountered a few notable upsets, but for the most, all of the major favorites have advanced.
The countdown towards another Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal final remains in the bounds, but the two top dogs will have to defeat a variety of trigger-happy clay court specialists in order to keep their Sunday showdown.
Let's now take a look at the four quarterfinal matches and what lies ahead for each encounter.
Roger Federer vs. Robin Soderling
Federer leads the pairs head-to-head 12-0, which includes three victories on clay.
Soderling has shown incredible gusto in reaching the final eight for the second straight year, considering his recent slump coming in. The Swede has lost one set en route, and has executed his game to perfection.
However, there is that little matter of a head-to-head deficit against his next opponent—a deficit that can't be ignored.
The trouble for Soderling historically against Federer has been (believe it or not) his lack of power. There's no doubt that Soderling can blow through the court, but because he doesn't have a cannon forehand like Juan Martin del Potro, and he doesn't exude the spin of Nadal, his name has come in second place a dozen times.
Coupled with the fact that Federer loves to play against pace, La Sod is in danger of encountering a 13th loss.
I will say this for Soderling; however, he's accepted the challenges that have been put before him, and he's gone at them at mach speed. It will be crucial for Soderling to make this a hitting match and forget about rallying with Federer. Although the tactic will not tire out the Swiss, Soderling's best chance at victory will reside in winning a high percentage of fewer than three shot rallies.
That said, I just can't see how Federer won't continue to display the form that has historically been good enough against Soderling. Federer's serve has been solid in Paris and his forehand and movement are in top form.
Last year's final has come two rounds early, but don't hold your breath for a different result. Although Soderling ended Nadal's campaign last year, it's unlikely that he'll stop Federer from reaching his 24th straight Major semifinal and holding onto his No. 1 ranking.
Pick: Federer in four sets
Rafael Nadal vs. Nicolas Almagro
Nadal leads the pair's head-to-head 6-0, which includes four matches on clay.
I remain guilty of predicting a five-set thriller the last time these Spaniards met in Paris in 2008. During that quarterfinal contest, Nadal took Almagro to the cleaners with the loss of just three games. Two years removed from that beatdown, Alamgro enters France with renewed belief and at peak form.
The Spaniard took apart Fernando Verdasco in the last round and remains one of only two players this season to take a set off Nadal on clay-courts.
Almagro's back has been an issue during the fortnight, and Nadal's high spin to his one-handed backhand won't provide any injury relief.
If Almagro comes out firing on all cylinders, I could see him taking a set. Remember what happened the last time I predicted that? But remaining in the laws of nature, and all that distinguishes reality from crossing over to fantasy, it will take the best performance of Almagro's career to cause an upset.
All in all, Almagro is a far better player than he was in '08, but in many ways so is Nadal. Starting off strong will be a must for the lower ranked Spaniard, but the trouble will still remain winning two further sets.
Only one player has been able to pull off that feat during Nadal's clay-court dynasty, and the chances of lightening striking two years in a row are slim.
Good luck, Nico. It's going to be struggle.
Pick: Nadal in four sets
Novak Djokovic vs. Jurgen Melzer
Djokovic leads the pair's head-to-head 2-0. First clay-court meeting.
Having avoided a top 30 opponent along his road to the quarterfinals, Djokovic has struggled to some degree, but pulled through when necessary. His allergies and technical problems have become a broken record, and his breathing ailment appeared to resurface in his match against Robby Ginepri.
However, with all of the baggage that Djokovic has brought into Paris, he can't complain about facing quarterfinal newcomer Melzer next. Although Melzer does possess a tricky left-handed game, his confidence and shot selection have gone south in the past when he's trailed. Melzer has never really been the type of player to come back from two-sets-to-love. An early start to his charge will be crucial.
Melzer will likely look to take the ball early and often, hoping that Djokovic malfunctions in some way. It's tough to predict the outcome of this encounter simply because both players have exhibited flaky behavior in the past. Melzer has tanked his share of matches, while Djokovic has been physically less than 100 percent for quite sometime.
I'll still have to go with Djokovic in this match for the dominant reason that surrounds his movement. Clay tennis revolves around a player's wheels, and Djokovic has some of the best court coverage in the business.
Melzer played great to defeat David Ferrer earlier in the event, and it wouldn't surprise me if he somehow pulled through. In saying that, although Melzer is a top flight player, he doesn't possess the experience or the consistent ball-striking ability to outlast the Serb.
Djokovic should bend down and pray to the draw gods for his draw this year—a draw that could very well increase in difficulty in the next round.
Pick: Djokovic in four sets
Tomas Berdych vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Youzhny leads the pair's head-to-head 6-4, which includes a 1-1 record on clay.
Who saw this one coming? I can't say that it was me. Nevertheless, credit to both players for winning their matches and advancing to their first career French Open quarterfinals.
Berdych appears to be back in his Miami form, while Youzhny, who has quietly been advancing to a handfull of lower tier Tour finals, has lost two sets in reaching the final eight.
Berdych destroyed Andy Murray and John Isner in the previous two rounds, and could become the one player no one wants to face going forward. Berdych has enough power to hit through the damp conditions in Paris, and that could become a critical factor against the Russian.
I've always felt that Youzhny should have done better on clay in his career, considering his finesse and consistency. Taking into account his recent form, this could be his best (and last) chance to make another drive to the top 10.
To me, Berdych will remain the favorite here, especially if it rains on Wednesday.
Youzhny will have to weather both the storm from above and on court level if he is to advance. The match will inevitably lie on Berdych's racket, and depending on how you interpret that, it could either favor or hinder his chances.
Nevertheless, a great opportunity for either player to reach the final four of Major.
It just seems that based on court form, Berdych is ready to cash in.
Pick: Berdych in five sets