The first seven days have come and gone at the 2013 French Open and it was a very entertaining week of tennis. The usual suspects are through to the round of 16 with a few exceptions and the second week looks to be very entertaining with many great matches.
Since I am a Federer fan I will start with him. He had a simple draw to the 4th round facing a qualifier, young prospect Pablo Carreno-Busta in round one (62 62 63), then another qualifier in Somdev Devvarman in the second round (62 62 61). He won both those matches comfortably playing his unique brand on all-court attacking tennis, serving well and hitting many winners. Then in the 3rd round he faced a man that can be tricky for him, Julien Benneteau, but the Frenchman was coming off a long 5-setter and had a leg injury. He came through that one rather easily 63 64 75. He has been on court a very short time through his first three matches and that should only bode well for the next week when the matches get tougher.
Even though Roger did not have a difficult path to the 4th round, it is undeniable that he is playing very good tennis this week. He is confident, playing aggressive, hitting over the backhand return of serve, and coming to the net plentifully. Overall in the 3 matches, he has hit 125 winners to 73 unforced errors, a differential of +52. That right there shows you how aggressive he has been, hitting an average of 41.6 winners per match and 13.8 per set. You might say it was easier to hit winners given his three opponents, but you could probably estimate that Djokovic and Nadal would not have hit that many winners in each match.
Speaking of Nadal and Djokovic, it has been a different story for both of them. The World #1 had a tricky opening match against David Goffin (who made the 4th round last year and took a set off Federer) which he won in three tight sets. He then had a much easier contest against Guido Pella before an anticipated 3rd round match against Grigor Dimitrov, who upset him a few weeks ago in Madrid. The young talented Bulgarian made no dents in the Djokovic armor this time and only won 7 games in a lopsided defeat.
Rafael Nadal has struggled a fair bit so far in this tournament and he is far from the player we saw last year when he was rolling through easily. He had a tough 1st rounder against German Daniel Brands, a big guy, the kind that can give Rafa trouble. He took the first set and went up 3-0 in the 2nd set tiebreak before Nadal came roaring back to win the tiebreak and the next two sets. Then in the 2nd round the King of Clay faced Martin Klizan, who also took the opening set before falling in 4 to the Mallorcan native. And in what looked to be an easier 3rd round encounter against the Italian superstar Fabio Fognini, Rafa struggled once again going down a break twice in the opening set (once at 6-5) before he eventually worked his way to a straight sets win.
Federer has cruised, Djokovic has looked solid, and Nadal has looked shaky and lacking confidence, which sounds absurd to say because he has been so great on the dirt this season. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is slated to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, has not dropped a set and looks as dangerous as he did last year when he fell to Djokovic after having multiple match points. And the scrappy Spaniard David Ferrer, seeded #4 this event, has quietly gone about his business and marched through all his matches under the radar.
Other main highlights from the week that was:
The 1st round match between 5th seed Tomas Berdych and wildcard Gael Monfils felt like an anticipated quarterfinal match-up instead of a 1st round. The beyond-athletic Frenchman won in 5 sets after winning the first two; it was a highly entertaining match but the end result saw one of the big guns knocked outin the very first round. Monfils next took on an in-form Ernests Gulbis and he won that match in 4 sets (more on Gulbis later).
Unfortunately for the French crowd, Monfils' luck ran out in the 3rd round when he lost to veteran Spaniard Tommy Robredo in 5 sets after having 4 match points in the 4th set. The win for Robredo sent him into tears and he will have a shot at making the quarterfinals once again at the French Open (he did in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009 as well).
Tommy Haas continues to amaze at 35 years of age, and he moved to the round of 16 after outlasting big John Isner in a 5-set match in which he won 10-8 in the final set. Isner played the day before against Ryan Harrison, where he won 8-6 in the 5th set after coming back from two sets down. Isner, who should be known now as the Marathon Man, saved 12 (yes 12) match points in the 4th set and then was up a break in the 5th set before the wily German broke back and served it out in the 18th game of the set.
By the 5th Isner was visibly injured and was giving up on drop shots Haas threw his way. Still, it's astounding to see a man of Isner's size fight through his fatigue and physical problems to keep hanging in there, large part thanks to his massive serve. It was a match that will be remembered as an epic, especially when you consider one of the participants was 35 years old.
Another interesting story was 18 year-old Nick Kyrgios who won the Junior Australian Open in January, played his first pro Grand Slam ever and took out Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks. He lost to Marin Cilic in round two but it was a success story for the kid in his first Slam. I hope we see more of him in the next decade.
There are a few off-court issues I want to put in this article.
The first, as I noted earlier, had to do with Ernests Gulbis, the brash talented Latvian who is very outspoken. He has a very rich family and he has a history of partying and general off-court behaviour problems. He has gotten his game together this year and has pushed Rafael Nadal to the limit twice, once in Indian Wells and the other in Madrid. After his match it was brought to the media's attention of some words he said a few months back (and maybe he repeated them after his post-match presser after losing to Monfils). To paraphrase it, he basically said that the big 4 (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray) are boring with their press conferences, saying the same things and not being interesting enough for his liking. Very honest and always the attention seeker, Gulbis spoke his mind and that's fine. He is entitled to his opinions.
The one problem I have with it is that he does not understand the heavy toll these press conferences take on these 4 men, especially Federer, who is the most sought after by the media of all the tennis players. They have the most press conferences (because they win the most, while Gulbis has very few in comparison) and they are forced to sit there and answer the same questions over and over again, and in the case of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, in different languages.
I'll use this example: after his 3rd round win against Benneteau, Federer was asked about the new Asian league that will take place in the coming off-season which features the other three members of the big 4. Federer replied "I've already answered it, look at my last two transcripts." That was more or less what he said. Basically, another repeated question. That sort of thing happens all the time in press conferences for these 4 guys and you know it must get very tiring after a while, especially Federer, who has basically been answering the same questions for the last 5-plus years since his decline from the stratosphere after the end of 2007.
Gulbis pretty much wants their pressers to be like those you see in boxing, with trash talking, controversy, and the like. Sorry Ernests, that is just not the way it works. All these 4 amazing athletes respect each other a lot and are humble and courteous to one another. Their pressers may sound boring to you (Gulbis, not you the readers), but maybe you would understand if you had them after each match for an entire season (75-95 matches) where you get poked and prodded over and over all the while being annoyed more and more.
Sorry, that just really grinds my grill.
The other thing: On Thursday, Rafael Nadal's 2nd round match against Klizan was postponed due to rain until Friday where they went on first on Court Suzanne Lenglen. After his win, he complained about not being put on earlier (before the women, because they play best of 3) and the fact that his next opponent, Fognini, was able to complete his match against Lukas Rosol and have a full day off.
His remarks were direct and honest and a bit harsh. I stand on the fence. I understand his frustration that he wasn't given priority over the women (a match that featured Victoria Azarenka). I also don't understand why he was unhappy that Fognini finished his match. Were the organizers supposed to not let them complete the match (which was on another court) just because Rafa wasn't going to get on?
The bottom line is that weather at the French Open and US Open can screw up a schedule badly. Every player has gone through what Rafa went through, and while he has a point that men should be given priority over the women (because of the longer length), in the end he may not have finished on Thursday if he was put in the scheduled spot that Azarenka had - and then he would have had to play three straight days, which I know he would have hated.
Besides, there would be no problem whatsoever if the tournament put in lights and a roof on Chatrier and Lenglen so players could play beyond 9:30. It is 2013 after all, not 1813.
Okay, enough with the Kyle rant session.
Predictions for the Round of 16:
Sunday features the bottom half foursome pairs of Federer/Simon, Tsonga/Troicki, Ferrer/Anderson, and Almagro/Robredo.
Federer has had tough matches against Simon in the past but he beat him easily in Rome two weeks ago and expect more of the same here. Simon is coming off two five-setters in three matches and should be tired. Kevin Anderson beat David Ferrer in Indian Wells earlier this year, but expect the Spaniard to advance in 3 or 4. Troicki, the 3rd-ranked Serbian, has played well so far but he is going up against a hot Tsonga so Jo should win in 4 at the maximum. Almagro vs Robredo could be interesting but Tommy could have his gas tank empty after the tough match vs Monfils.
The top half features Djokovic/Kohlschreiber, Haas/Youzhny, Nadal/Nishikori, and Wawrinka/Gasquet.
Kohlschreiber beat Djokovic in straight sets here in 2009 but Djokovic as we all know is a whole different animal now in Slams than he was then. Expect Djokovic in 4 at worst. Haas vs Youzhny should be a good match and the German has a real chance if he recovers well after the match vs Isner. Nadal, though he has struggled thus far, should take care of Nishikori. The only way the Japanese talent has a chance is if his backhand (his best shot) is firing. Wawrinka vs Gasquet is the battle of the beautidul one-handers and it could very well go 5 sets in a toss up. Both are in good form and Gasquet will have the French crowd behind. Take your pick; I say Gasquet in 5.
Very much looking forward to seeing who these matches unfold. Now, I leave you with stats.
Winners/Unforced Errors through the first 3 matches for all R16 players:
Djokovic: 68/79 (-9) - 9 sets
Federer: 125/73 (+52) - 9 sets
Nadal: 91/95 (-4) - 11 sets
Ferrer: 86/73 (+13) - 9 sets
Tsonga: 88/93 (-5) - 9 sets
Gasquet: 92/46 (+46) - 9 sets
Wwarinka: 153/112 (+49) - 11 sets
Almagro: 124/102 (+22) - 10 sets
Haas: 146/114 (+32) - 11 sets
Nishikori: 96/115 (-19) - 11 sets
Simon: 131/119 (+12) - 14 sets
Kohlschreiber: 90/64 (+26) - 6 sets (one walkover)
Anderson: 127/85 (+42) - 10 sets)
Youzhny: 157/126 (+31) - 12 sets
Robredo: 134/88 (+46) - 11 sets
Troicki: 122/104 (+18) - 11 sets
1830 winners, 1488 errors, +342 difference, 163 sets.
PS: This round of 16 has 8 players with a one-handed backhand: Federer, Gasquet, Wawrinka, Almagro, Haas, Kohlschreiber, Youzhny, Robredo. Quite cool!