Vera Zvonareva - 2011 French Open - Day Four

Zvonareva vs. Pavlyuchenkova:  Two of the six Russians who advanced to the second week, they met last month on the indoor clay of Stuttgart.  Rallying from a one-set deficit on that occasion, Zvonareva likewise erased a one-set deficit before saving a match point in her second-round encounter with Lisicki here.  Since Vera and Nastia have combined to play 27 three-setters this year already, one might expect a fiercely contested encounter littered with twists and turns.  Seeking her first Slam quarterfinal, Pavlyuchenkova displayed creditable composure by outlasting clay specialist Llagostera Vives a round ago.  Both Russians have compiled a balanced groundstroke game and will hope to cling as close to the baseline as possible, looking for opportunities to move forward and take time away from the opponent.  A superior server and much superior mover, Zvonareva has few clear weaknesses that the teenager can exploit, although her indifferent clay results will have infused her with little confidence.  Striking a flatter ball with less margin for error, Pavlyuchenkova might aim to redirect her groundstrokes in order to hit behind her compatriot, who reverses direction more awkwardly than she covers the open court.  Intra-Russian affairs rarely produce the most aesthetically pleasing tennis, but they frequently produce comical, emotional, or otherwise entertaining moments to remember.

Gasquet vs. Djokovic:  Swaggering onto the court for the third consecutive day, the world #2 concluded a dangerous battle with Del Potro on an uplifting note by breaking the Argentine four times in the last two sets of their completion.  Rarely has Djokovic struggled to break the serve of the former French prodigy, feeding him four breadsticks during his four previous victories and dominating him at Indian Wells this spring.  As contenders like Murray has discovered at majors past, Gasquet can blaze through sets at a time with effortless precision equal to Federer.  As Murray also discovered, however, the Frenchman disintegrates swiftly when his timing falters by even a fraction, hampering him in the best-of-five format.  Djokovic thus should stay calm if Gasquet slips into one of the torried streaks that has propelled him through the finest performance of his career at his home major.  Falling behind early in both sets in their Indian Wells clash, the Serb comfortably regrouped behind his scorching return and constantly threatened the Frenchman on serve.  Before this week, Richard had won just four total matches in seven appearances at Roland Garros, finding the surface ill-suited to his mercurial flamboyance.  Despite his heartwarming resurgence in 2011, highlighted by a victory over Federer in Rome, he lacks the mental fortitude to grind past a champion of Djokovic’s pedigree at a major unless fatigue significantly undermines the Serb

Jankovic vs. Schiavone:  Somewhat to our surprise, the defending champion reached the second week with minimal ado against a trio of thoroughly overmatched opponents.  Her path now grows steeper as she confronts a three-time Roland Garros semifinalist who has won their last three meetings, crushing her in Marbella two years ago.  A semifinalist or better at no fewer than six majors but never a champion, Jankovic must consider this vulnerable draw an exceptional opportunity to address that lacuna in her resume.  On the other hand, the former #1 appeared to lose much of her competitive desire over the last year, while excessive court mileage from an overstuffed schedule has dulled her once-explosive movement.  Inspiring hope in the Serb, though, was a comfortable victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who previously had enjoyed a compelling clay season.  Can Schiavone’s bubbling joy in the sport and appetite for the battle overcome an opponent with superior weapons?  If the Italian can slip into the forecourt, she could disrupt Jankovic’s baseline rhythm and sow confusion in her mind.  Conversely, the Serb will hope to pin Schiavone behind the baseline, miring her in conventional rallies where the defending champion’s inferior ball-striking capacity will doom her.  Outstanding movers and indifferent servers, these two combatants should win few easy points but instead engage in a series of elongated exchanges that exploit the geometry of the court.

Gael Monfils - 2011 French Open - Day Four

Ferrer vs. Monfils:  For the Spaniard, tennis resembles less a sport than a war.  For the Frenchman, tennis resembles less a sport than a performance.  As one of the ATP’s greatest overachievers collides with one of the ATP’s greatest underachievers, observers might reflect upon the divergent routes that brought them to essentially the same destination:  a status lofty although clearly outside the elite circle of contenders.  Whereas Ferrer lacks the weapons to regularly compete with the best, Monfils lacks the motivation and willpower.  Three years ago at Roland Garros, the latter conquered the former in an uneventful quarterfinal a round before extending Federer to four sets.  In order to repeat that accomplishment, Monfils must maximize his vital advantage at the service notch.  Also a far superior athlete and shot-maker, the Frenchman should not flinch before unleashing his firepower.  Too often, his superlative defensive skills cause him to forget his mighty offensive weapons, most notably a jumping forehand more like an overhead than a groundstroke.  Among the finest returners and baseline retrievers in the ATP, Ferrer would relish a defensively oriented encounter that could showcase his fitness and focus, his two principal advantages over Monfils.  The seventh and ninth seeds should conduct their collision from well behind the baseline, allowing observers to witness a classic display of clay-court tennis.

Hantuchova vs. Kuznetsova:  After the dual upsets of Wozniacki and Stosur, Kuznetsova leapt from the status of an intriguing dark horse to the favorite from her quarter and perhaps her half.  The 2009 champion has not thrived in such a position before, often tripping on the threshold when a door opens for her.  Sharing that trait is her opponent on Sunday, although Hantuchova demonstrated an uncharacteristic degree of composure in surviving a desperate second-set rally by Wozniacki and dispatching a reigning #1 for the first time.  Perhaps still soaring from that stunning accomplishment, the stylish Slovak may have sufficient momentum to overcome her negative history against Kuznetsova, who won both of their previous clay meetings in straight sets.  Pitted against the Russian’s superior athleticism are Hantuchova’s exquisite ball placement and unpredictable angles.  While Sveta appreciates the extra time to set up her forehand on clay, Daniela welcomes the extra time with which the surfaces masks her tepid movement.  Although none of the 11 meetings has occurred at a major, Hantuchova won the most important match of their rivalry in the 2007 Indian Wells final.  In an encounter between two competitors with the flakiness of a millefeuille, however, whoever thinks less will laugh last.