Julia Goerges - Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open - Day Seven

Bartoli vs. Goerges:  Not a factor on clay before this year, the former Wimbledon runner-up married her fast-court skills to her least friendly surface by reaching the Strasbourg final last week.  A player renowned for return winners and similarly potent first strikes, Bartoli will face an opponent who has built her suddenly augmented credentials upon two upsets over Wozniacki.  Goerges should count herself fortunate to have survived her three-setter with Safarova a round ago, however, for the Czech nearly buried her under a barrage of lefty forehands into her more vulnerable backhand.  Potentially vital in this match is the German’s far superior serve, which rarely undergoes the wobble experienced by Bartoli’s ungainly delivery at some stage in most matches.  While the French crowd that boosted Garcia will stand firmly behind Marion, Goerges appears a steady competitor unlikely to implode upon request.  But one wonders how she will adjust to Bartoli’s unorthodox, double-barreled style, having struggled to adapt to the distinctive weapons of Safarova.

Wawrinka vs. Tsonga:  The only Swiss star to feature on Chatrier today, Wawrinka knows that another encounter with his nation’s #1 lies just beyond a potential victory here.  Will that deflating realization infect the play of Federer’s doubles partner?  Behind his quarterfinal runs at each of the previous two majors loomed not only bellicose coach Peter Lundgren but an enhanced offense highlighted by the mightiest one-handed backhand in tennis.   Wawrinka could deploy that stroke to pin Tsonga into his relatively weak backhand corner, tempting the French hope to run around that shot to hit forehands and thus surrender a gaping swathe of court position.  Belied by the Swiss #2’s compact, unprepossessing frame, his serve often enables him to take command of points more frequently than he once could.  En route to his unexpected quarterfinals in New York and Melbourne, Wawrinka toppled Murray at the former and Roddick at the latter, so Tsonga represents a target well within his range.  The ebullient Frenchman proved against Andreev that baseline grinding alone will not erode him, though, requiring the Swiss to seize the initiative if he hopes to seize the day.

Del Potro vs. Djokovic:  Probably more anticipated than any first-round encounter, this collision will occur as the suitably dramatic late-afternoon shadows creep across Chatrier.  Yet the sun will not set on Djokovic’s 41-match winning streak unless Del Potro unleashes his most imposing performance since the 2009 US Open—and sustains it across the course of five sets against the most relentless mover in the sport.  The Argentine looked increasingly convincing after losing the first set of the tournament to Karlovic, measuring his balanced groundstrokes to the baselines and heightening his focus at potential turning points.  Nevertheless, Djokovic has thundered through his first two matches with bulletproof determination, perhaps emboldened by the prospect of the #1 ranking four wins ahead.  A personality gentler than his fearsome forehand would suggest, Del Potro may find the task posed by the second seed too formidable to even contemplate the possibility of victory so soon after his return from a leg injury.  Unless he finds an early ray of optimism, he may meekly bare his neck to the Serbian battleaxe.

Peng vs. Schiavone:  For some players, returning to the scene of their greatest achievements intimidates them into timid, uncertain performances.  Not so for Schiavone, who so far has frolicked on the clay where she sprawled in ecstasy a year ago.  The competition spikes upward with the resolute Peng, who has split her two meetings with Schiavone and menaced her throughout an airtight two-setter in Madrid this month.  Moreover, the rising Chinese star won three consecutive sets against top-three opposition in Brussels last week before succumbing to Wozniacki in the final.  Since Peng clearly believes that she belongs in the conversation with the elite, Schiavone cannot expect the assistance that her previous opponents generously provided in their own demise.  Always eager to engage in battle, the feisty Italian gladiator must sharpen her sword before dispatching an opponent worthy of her steel.

Tipsarevic vs. Federer:  Few can forget their magical meeting at the 2008 Australian Open, when the GOAT locked horns with a bespectacled Serb who had the audacity to extend him into an 18-game final set.  Surely remembering that blight upon his escutcheon with especial clarity, Federer has not earned an opportunity for revenge until now.  Although the clay can expose the Swiss legend’s sporadic bouts of inconsistency, Tipsarevic should find the dirt poorly suited to his low-percentage shot selection.

Wozniacki vs. Hantuchova:  Whenever the graceful Slovak takes the court, two Hantuchovas alternate in confronting her opponents.  In the first set of her Miami meeting with Wozniacki this year, the feckless Hantuchova struggled to time or locate even the most routine swing volleys into the open court.  In the second set, the free-flowing Hantuchova executed improbable drop shots and exquisitely placed forehands with apparent effortlessness.  Probably anticipating an uneventful victory after the first set, Wozniacki needed her most dogged defense (and a bit of luck) to dodge a third.  Almost as lucky to avoid a final set against Wozniak, the Dane looked uneasy in a desultory performance that featured an unusually high quantity of unforced errors.  Whatever frailty she experiences, however, seems slight when juxtaposed with an emblem of physical and emotional fragility.

Gasquet vs. Bellucci:  Plats du jour at the two main appetizers of the clay season, these incorrigible underachievers enjoyed their weeks in the spotlight at the expense of Murray (Bellucci) and Federer (Gasquet).  A power merchant who spares little effort for finesse, the heir to Gustavo Kuerten bludgeons his backhand at a velocity almost equal to his sweeping forehand and with seeming indifference to the lines.  Likewise inclined to flirt with the perimeters of the court is his French foe, although the latter relies upon elegant forecourt touch as much as his crackling backhand and underrated serve.  Clay grants these players more time to arrange their elongated groundstroke swings, but it also tests their dubious fortitude under pressure.