Francesca Schiavone - 2011 French Open - Day Eight

Pavlyuchenkova vs. Schiavone:  Surviving a taut three-setter against Jankovic, Schiavone must recover swiftly in order to reinvigorate the adroit movement and reflexes essential for her suffocating court coverage.  If the Italian enters the match flat-footed or emotionally dulled by her previous rollercoaster, she could fall prey to Pavlyuchenkova’s blistering backhands.  But fatigue seems unlikely to afflict a player who recovered from the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history to threaten the world #1 a round later in Melbourne.  Remarkably mature for her nineteen years, the Russian defeated Schiavone in Miami last year before collecting just three games from her at the US Open, part of an arid second half for the teenager.  Trailing Zvonareva in both of the sets that she ultimately won, Pavlyuchenkova showcased not only her familiar ball-striking brilliance (seemingly something that her compatriots take from the womb) but an unfamiliar tenacity that she formerly had lacked.  Nevertheless, the Russian now will face a foe much steelier than the still-fragile Vera, and she must beware of the complacency that could stem from appearing in her first Slam quarterfinal after scoring one of her most significant victories to date.   Discounted on the eve of the tournament by many observers, including ourselves, Schiavone stands three winnable matches from an improbable title defense that would free her from the label of “one-Slam wonder.”  A victim in the quarterfinals of the last two majors, she can deploy her experience and veteran cunning to defuse an opponent eleven years her junior.

Monfils vs. Federer:  For the third time in four years, the 16-time major champion meets the leading home hope on the Parisian terre battue.  During their 2008 semifinal, Monfils infused his countrymen with fleeting hope as he captured a set from the Swiss grandmaster; in 2009, by contrast, he succumbed relatively meekly after an intriguing first set.  Always separating Federer from the Frenchman are his superior focus and superior desire, the first of which has ebbed in recent years but the second of which remains largely undimmed.  At his best, Monfils scampers along the baseline while uncorking thunderous serves and forehands with an exuberant nonchalance simultaneously endearing and frustrating.  At his worst, he lapses into a leisurely lope and soporific exchanges with all of the rhythm and imagination of a metronome.  The best of Monfils surfaced during his scintillating upset over Federer at the Paris Indoors last fall, when he swatted away five match points from a disinterested world #2.  Struggling to sustain that level in a best-of-five format, the Frenchman danced near disaster by squandering double match point as he served for the match against Ferrer in their two-day encounter.  Perhaps relieved  to escape the scrutiny enveloping Nadal and Djokovic, Federer has arrived in the quarterfinals without dropping a set and will bring greater reserves of energy to their encounter.  While a few Gallic flourishes should enliven the afternoon, the 2009 champion has shown sufficient composure here to weather the spectacle across the net by maintaining the steadiness of a Rolex.

Kuznetsova vs. Bartoli:  Defying the conventional wisdom, playing a tournament the week before a major has benefited three of the women’s quarterfinalists.  Bereft of momentum until Brussels and Strasbourg, Bartoli, Schiavone, and Petkovic finally dug into the terre battue at those minor events and entrenched themselves further during the first week of Roland Garros.  Scoring a startling victory over Stuttgart champion Goerges, the top-ranked Frenchwoman should climb even higher as the lawns of Wimbledon beckon.  Both women owe boxes of chocolates to fourth-round opponents Hantuchova and Dulko, who greatly eased their routes by ambushing Wozniacki and Stosur, respectively.  Wildly inconsistent in their results, they have not played a suspenseful match in their three meetings, instead trading bagels and 6-2 sets.  A far superior mover and somewhat more versatile stylist, Kuznetsova clearly has the surface advantage over a player who depends upon her serve and return to seize immediate control of points.  Able to win few rallies with defense, Bartoli will aim to attack the Russian’s indifferent second serve while exposing her backhand.  Like Stosur and Ivanovic, Kuznetsova runs around her two-hander to unleash forehands in the belief that the firepower of her preferred groundstroke justifies the court territory that she surrenders.  Yet Sveta has struck impressive backhands throughout this tournament, so the Frenchwoman should refrain from adhering to that strategy too blindly.  Countering Kuznetsova’s psychological comfort at a tournament that she won two years ago is Bartoli’s superior poise at potential turning points.  No matter the outcome, though, Roland Garros will have produced at least one semifinalist whose hopes seemed as remote as Andorra a few weeks ago.