French Open 2011: Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and 2nd Round Matches to Watch
Arguably the two favorites going into this year's French Open, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova have a couple intriguing second-round matches ahead. The streaking Serb will meet towering Romanian Victor Hanescu, a former quarterfinalist and the runner-up in last week's Nice tournament. Sharapova, meanwhile, faces a 17-year-old French wild-card, Caroline Garcia, who reached the third round of the Australian Open in January.
While both are winnable bouts, the popular pre-tournament picks could face a few stiff challenges along the way to victory.
What other exciting matches are on the docket? Kim Clijsters takes on an unknown hottie, Sam Querrey does battle with another big server, David Ferrer goes up against a feisty Frenchman and so much more...
(2) Novak Djokovic vs. Victor Hanescu
How they got there: Djokovic downed Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker easily to extend his win streak to 39-0, while Hanescu beat home favorite Benoit Paire in four.
Why it's good: Even though it'll take a much better player to end Djokovic's streak, Hanescu still has a good shot at testing the Serb. The 6'6" Romanian turned it on last week in Nice, failing to drop a set on his way to the final—where he lost a tight three-setter to Nicolas Almagro.
Despite a penchant for nerves in big matches, Hanescu excels on the red clay more than any other surface, and he should be an entertaining fight. Not to mention any chance you can get to see Novak Djokovic's sensational play at the moment, take it.
Prediction: Djokovic in straights. The first two tight, the last one a blowout.
(3) Vera Zvonareva vs. (Q) Sabine Lisicki
How they got there: Zvonareva battled past moonballer Lourdes Dominguez Lino in Round 1, while Lisicki, who breezed through qualifying, racked up another convincing win against the hulking Uzbek Akgul Amanmuradova.
Why it's good: I think there's big upset potential here. Before a horrific shoulder injury destroyed her 2010 season, Lisicki was poised to break through to the top of the women's game. A couple years ago, she took home the big clay-court trophy in Charleston—beating Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki to do so—and reached the quarters of Wimbledon. Her big serve and powerful groundies match up nicely against Zvonareva's thrifty counterpunching style.
Prediction: I'm going with the stunner—Lisicki in a three-set marathon. Zvonareva's had a lackluster last couple of months, and though she beat the German handily in the second round of last year's U.S. Open, Lisicki was only just returning to the game.
(7) David Ferrer vs. Julien Benneteau
How they got there: Ferrer felled Jarkko Niemenen in surprisingly easy fashion, while Benneteau took down Portuguese Rui Machado in four—losing just three games in the last three sets.
Why it's good: Ferrer is having yet another astounding clay court season, and watching him move and retrieve and counterpunch on the dirt is a thing of beauty. Benneteau, meanwhile, is one of the most unpredictable players on tour—his ranking fluctuates regularly and he conjures up big wins out of the blue.
Benneteau's had a few good French Open runs in the past, so if his shots are working and the crowd gets behind him, he could give Ferrer a good run.
Prediction: Ferrer in four. Just too solid.
(7) Maria Sharapova vs. (WC) Caroline Garcia
How they got there: Sharapova needed less than an hour to dispatch Mirjana Lucic in her opener. Garcia took out veteran Zuzana Ondraskova in comprehensive fashion.
Why it's good: Much like the Clijsters-Rus match, the opportunity to see a young player on the rise against one of the game's greats can be exciting. Plus, I'd like to see Sharapova go up against a player who, unlike Lucic, probably won't fold like a tent if things start going badly.
Prediction: Sharapova in two. Ahh, to be blessed with a good draw.
(8) Samantha Stosur vs. Simona Halep
How they got there: Stosur looked solid against Iveta Benesova in her opener, while Halep dissected Alla Kudryavtseva.
Why it's good: When these two met in the first round here last year, I thought Halep had a great shot to take Stosur out—a former French Open junior winner, Halep's got a great clay court game and built up some good results prior to the tourney.
She ultimately went down in straights, buckling under the weight of the Aussie's booming serve and groundies. It's safe to say Halep wants revenge this year. Halep's sleek backhand and graceful movement pitted against Stosur's massive serve and topspin-laden forehand should make for great tennis.
Prediction: Stosur in three, with Halep failing to take advantage of opportunities to win.
(9) Petra Kvitova vs. Jie Zheng
How they got there: Both Kvitova and Zheng dispatched their respective opponents, Greta Arn and Sandra Zahlavova, in straights.
Why it's good: Kvitova's on top of her game, belting the ball beautifully and hitting the ball harder than, arguably, anyone else in women's tennis at the moment. While it's been slow going for Zheng after injuries wrecked the second half of her season last year, she did capture a big clay court doubles title in Madrid (the same week Kvitova took home the singles crown) and scored an uncomplicated win in the first round here.
These two had a nice match at Wimbledon last year, a surface which seems better suited to the Czech's game. But with her recent prowess on the dirt, the light new French Open balls and Zheng's low confidence, Kvitova's poised to destroy. Will she?
Prediction: I think she will. Kvitova in straights, although I'm hoping Zheng makes it a close one.
(17) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Igor Andreev
How they got there: Tsonga had no trouble taking down Jan Hajek, while Andreev mauled Tsonga's compatriot Florent Serra.
Why it's good: It's a shame Andreev isn't more consistent, because he's got all the tools to become a fixture at the top of the men's game: a good serve, nice pop on the forehand, great movement. Everything, I guess, but the belief. Especially in the last couple years, Andreev's spark to win matches has faded.
With the pressure on Tsonga's shoulders in front of the Parisian crowd, will the Frenchman step up to the challenge or wilt under the pressure? Clay isn't his favorite surface, while Andreev has had some great results on the terre batue—even reaching the Roland Garros quarters back in '07—so we could be in for a dogfight.
Prediction: Tsonga in five.
(17) Julia Goerges vs. Lucie Safarova
How they got here: Goerges opened well against French wildcard Mathilde Johansson, dropping just five games. Safarova only lost two, though, in her first round beatdown of Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
Why it's good: Safarova is one of those players who always seems to just miss out on a Grand Slam seeding. She's armed with huge lefty strokes and a nice serve when it's working well. Question is, how will they stack up against a red-hot Julia Goerges?
Prediction: I'm forecasting a great match here. I'll give the slight edge to Goerges, though Safarova is more than capable of pulling off the upset. The German in three.
(24) Sam Querrey vs. Ivan Ljubicic
How they got there: Querrey eliminated the very dangerous Philipp Kohlschreiber in four surprisingly easy sets, while Ljubicic beat my former fellow Wahoo, Somdev Devvaarman, in straights.
Why it's good: If you like battles between big servers, be sure to tune into this one. Even more than that, though, is—much like Safarova—Ljubicic deserves to be seeded. His Indian Wells points from last year fell off, and he plummeted in the rankings. But he's a better player than his ranking suggests, and because of that, he's going to bring it against Querrey.
The American, meanwhile, will be determined to subdue the Croat in straights. He doesn't want a repeat of Mardy Fish's second round encounter with Ljubicic in last year's French Open second round, where Fish fell 10-8 in the fifth to a fired-up Ljuby.
Prediction: This is the toughest one I've had to call yet. I think Querrey played awesome in his first match and will be just too determined for the Croat to break down. Querrey with another solid four-set victory.
Other Matches to Catch
(1) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Alexandra Wozniack: The battle for Top Woz commences again. I think the Dane will be much too good for the Canuck, advancing in straights.
(28) Daniela Hantuchova vs. Sara Errani: Errani's doggedness matched up against Hantuchova's fragility is salivating. After miraculously digging herself out of a hole against Christina McHale in Round 1, I'm looking for Errani to step it up and knock out Hantuchova in straights.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Andreas Haider-Maurer: A battle between two of the game's brightest young prospects, I'm expecting Dolgopolov to prevail in four over the Austrian.