You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Alona Bondarenko’ tag.

Samantha Stosur - 2010 French Open - Day Fourteen

Benesova vs. Stosur:  Reinvigorated with a stirring week in Rome, last year’s finalist must recover swiftly from the illness that troubled her there.  Stosur recently defeated Benesova on clay, but the Czech lefty reached the second week at the Australian Open by upsetting a pair of seeded opponents.  Opening the fortnight’s action on Philippe Chatrier, the Aussie may feel some flickers of the pressure that hampered her play at the season’s first major.  While Beneosva almost certainly cannot outplay her for an entire match on this surface, we might gain a window into Stosur’s current confidence as she enters the scene of her most glorious victories and most painful defeat.

Ferrer vs. Nieminen:  Like Stosur, the second-ranked Spaniard suffered from illness in Rome that may have filtered into an unimpressive performance in Nice.  After reaching a Masters 1000 final on clay and another semifinal last season, Ferrer fell meekly to Melzer in the third round at the major where he should prosper the most.  If he has not fully recovered his energy, the aging lefty Nieminen could trouble him as he did a few months ago in Rotterdam.  Nevertheless, Ferrer’s far superior fitness should bolster him in the best-of-five format against his occasional doubles partner, whom he overcame in a Melbourne four-setter.

Hewitt vs. Montanes:  Receding into the mists of tennis history, Hewitt has battled gallantly through multiple surgeries as he attempts to resist the evolution of the game.  The valiant Aussie’s counterpunching tactics no longer can frustrate the ATP elite, and repeated injuries have slowed his once formidable movement.  Against the offensively challenged Montanes, however, he might find one more opportunity to thrill his devoted Aussie fans in a match certain to feature grueling rally after grueling rally.  Armed with the competitive willpower of a champion, Hewitt may ambush a player who relies just as much upon high-percentage point construction and stingy defense.  But the surface edge swings the advantage clearly towards Montanes, who has defeated even Federer on clay.

Jankovic vs. A. Bondarenko:  Fourteen meetings normally suggest a hard-fought rivalry between two players near the peak of the game.  In this case, by contrast, the frequency of this non-rivalry tells nothing about the relative strengths of its components.  Jankovic has won twelve of their thirteen meetings, with eleven of the wins coming in straight sets.  After recording three bagels and four breadsticks against the unfortunate Ukrainian, perhaps she can expand the menu to croissants.

Rybarikova vs. Kuznetsova:  When Kvitova abandoned the Rome tournament to play her local challenger in Prague, she surely expected to cruise to an uneventful title.  Such proved not the case, for Rybarikova squashed the Czech’s dreams of hometown heroics.  A Birmingham champion two years ago, the Slovak possesses the flat strokes and limited movement more suited to grass or the indoor hard-court in Memphis where she won another title this year.  Her Prague ambush might have meant nothing at all in the larger picture, but she now faces a highly vulnerable opponent who has lost four opening-round matches in 2011 and four to players outside the top 50.  On the other hand, Kuznetsova also has defeated three top-10 players this year, in addition to Henin, as she continues to translate unpredictability into Russian.

Peer vs. Martinez Sanchez:  Hailed as a genuine threat when she won Rome in 2010, Martinez Sanchez has proven those proclamations unfounded as she has sunk below the top 75.  Not as dazzling as she was during that championship run, she remains a more compelling adversary than her ranking suggests.  Against a baseliner like Peer who moves better laterally than forwards and prefers longer rallies, the Spaniard’s drop shots and serve-volley tactics could pose complicated questions.  On the brink of the top 10 earlier this year, the Israeli has slumped to the edge of the top 20 as she has struggled to integrate timely aggression into her naturally counterpunching style.  Like Jankovic, she may prefer to return to what she does best and accept her limitations rather than attempting to have her pain au chocolat and eat it too.

Shvedova vs. Pavlyuchenkova:  Both reaching the second week of Roland Garros last year, they stood as monuments to either the current dearth of WTA clay specialists (viewed pessimistically) or the ability of two heavy hitters to project their power onto a hostile surface (viewed optimistically).  Both the Russian and the pseudo-Kazakh have suffered from a concerning quantity of injuries that have hampered their attempts to establish momentum.  Absent from the Australian Open, Shvedova may require a few months to regain her shot-making precision, which often placed her atop the WTA power rankings in a measure of sheer velocity.  The highest-ranked teenager in the sport, Pavlyuchenkova must develop a sturdier serve to complement her penetrating groundstrokes before taking the next step forward.  The narrow confines of the outer court where they collide should illuminate their first-strike power by creating more opportunities to strike terminal blows early in the rally.

Advertisements

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+wimbledon&iid=9204393″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9204393/maria-sharapova-rus-during/maria-sharapova-rus-during.jpg?size=500&imageId=9204393″ width=”500″ height=”736″ /]

Emphatic for most of her second-round match against Ioana Raluca Olaru, Sharapova improved distinctly in two statistical areas that play an essential role on grass.  Maria connected with 71% of her first serves and converted 20 of 23 net points, thus dominating both the beginning and the end of most points on her serve.  Unfortunately for Sharapova, her potential fourth-round opponent Serena Williams was even more overpowering in a 48-minute rout of former top-10 denizen Anna Chakvetadze.  In eight total sets at the All England Club, the Russian and the American have conceded just eleven games, hurling three bagels and two breadsticks at their hapless victims.  Although tennis often defies prediction, one sense that Cibulkova and Zahlavova Strycova will find themselves taxed to the limit of their powers if they intend to forestall a marquee Monday meeting between these legendary champions.  The best ticket of the entire tennis calendar, Monday also might feature yet another edition of the melodramatic intra-Belgian rivalry that already has produced two final-set tiebreaks in 2010.  Write this potential collision in pencil for the moment, however, because a powerful Russian veteran has a legitimate chance to derail it.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=petrova+wimbledon&iid=9190774″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9190774/nadia-petrova/nadia-petrova.jpg?size=500&imageId=9190774″ width=”500″ height=”343″ /]

Henin (17) vs. Petrova (12) (Centre Court, 1st match):  Two Slams ago, Petrova scored a stunning third-round upset over a  member of Belgium’s dazzling duo, and she has an opportunity to repeat the feat on the grandest stage of all.  Typically tormented by Henin’s graceful, versatile style, the programmatic Russian dropped two tight matches to the seven-time major champion early this year in Australia, during which she revealed the mental frailties that have undermined her formidable game.  Nevertheless, Nadia has shone at Slams this year with consecutive quarterfinal appearances that will have boosted her confidence for a clash against Henin, whose comeback has slowed after an explosive start at Brisbane and Melbourne.  Effective but not overwhelming in her first two matches, Justine continues to struggle with her modified service motion; in this match, she can’t afford the chronic wobbles on serve that she suffered in her second-round clash with Barrois.  A quarterfinalist at last year’s Wimbledon, the Russian centers an outstanding grass-court style around a reliable serve and dexterous net play.  Just as Stosur relied on her massive delivery to defuse Henin’s shotmaking brilliance at Roland Garros, Petrova’s unglamorous but functional game might well end the Belgian’s Wimbledon campaign, as long as the Russian doesn’t ponder the situation too deeply.

Monfils (21) vs. Hewitt (15) (Centre Court, 2nd match):  Outstanding movers who reside almost entirely at the baseline, the Frenchman and the Australian showcase dramatically divergent styles beneath those superficial similarities.  The methodical Hewitt plays intelligent, careful tennis based on excellent technique and canny court sense, whereas the flamboyant Monfils favors jumping forehands, eye-popping slides, and spontaneous shot selection.  While the Frenchman will win more free points from his distinctly more potent serve, the Australian showcases more natural grass-court movement and far greater focus.  The veteran’s understated style belies his gritty determination to win at all costs, a trait absent from the function-follows-form Monfils.  Although this born entertainer will thrill the Centre Court crowd with improbable winners and retrievals, we expect the steadier, more experienced, and more tenacious Hewitt to take risks at more judicious moments.  His exceptional mental fortitude should allow him to weather his opponent’s barrage after various momentum shifts and navigate into a second-week duel with Djokovic.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=venus+wimbledon&iid=9191471″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9191471/venus-williams-second/venus-williams-second.jpg?size=500&imageId=9191471″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

Kleybanova (26) vs. Venus (2) (Court 1, 2nd match):  In 2007, the ball-bruising Russian played a respectably competitive match against Venus at the All England Club that testified to her precocious maturity.  A more relentless competitor than most of her peers, Kleybanova scored a tense three-set win over the elder Williams on the relatively fast clay of Madrid last year.  Venus moves more fluidly than any of her rivals, yet Kleybanova covers the court extremely well and can match her from the baseline blow for blow.  Since both players will seek to play first-strike tennis, first serves and second-serve returns will be crucial factors.  Neither the Russian nor the American will want to start the point from behind, as they probably would if they miss their first deliver, and neither will want to donate points with reckless returning.  Accomplished in doubles, Kleybanova is exceptionally comfortable at the net and won’t shrink from the forecourt like many younger players.  Despite her impressive wins so far, Venus has become increasingly prone to the and few first-week opponents would be more ready to profit than the alert, opportunistic Russian. 

Kohlschreiber (29) vs. Roddick (5) (Court 1, 3rd match):  Not unlike Henin, the compact German compensates for his relatively unprepossessing height by unleashing his entire body into the ball.  Applying a boxing metaphor, he punches well above his weight and possesses an exquisite one-handed backhand that penetrates the court much more effectively than does the American’s matching groundstroke.  Consequently, Roddick should strive to orient cross-court rallies from forehand to forehand rather than backhand to backhand.  Armed with relatively short strokes, the fifth seed will find his less graceful but more efficient swings better suited to grass than the looping swings of his opponent, who needs more time to prepare his racket.  Similar to most bold shotmakers, the German sometimes struggles to control his aggression, oscillating between the sublime and the ridiculous with startling swiftness.  His opponents face the mental challenge of persevering through his scorching stretches while awaiting his lapses.  At the 2008 Australian Open, Kohlschreiber ignited his most fiery tennis at just the right moment against Roddick in perhaps the best match of his career, but it’s unlikely that lightning will strike twice. 

Lopez (22) vs. Melzer (16) (Court 2, 3rd match):  The winner of this clash earns a tilt with the titlist, a less unappetizing prospect than usual considering Federer’s indifferent form in his first two rounds.  Featuring two lefties with similar styles, the match should witness plenty of slicing wide serves and forays into the forecourt, since both of these aging veterans serve and volley expertly.  While Melzer hopes to extend the momentum from his unexpected Roland Garros semifinal run, Lopez seeks to validate his upset over Nadal at Queens Club.  Although the Spaniard and the Austrian favor their forehands, the latter possesses a sturdier backhand and will be forced to run around fewer balls; on grass, groundstroke symmetry (or relative symmetry) can be a vital advantage.  Since neither competitor will earn many break points, their relative success in converting the openings that do present themselves will prove vital.  Known for emotional volatility, Melzer retained his poise to rally from a two-set deficit in the preceding round, yet he may enter the match a step slow after his exertions.  Meanwhile, Lopez retired from Eastbourne last week with a shoulder injury that may drain a little velocity from his serve.  Remember those two potentially costly x-factors as the match unfolds.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=zvonareva+wimbledon&iid=9171748″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9171748/the-championship-wimbledon/the-championship-wimbledon.jpg?size=500&imageId=9171748″ width=”414″ height=”594″ /]

Wickmayer (15) vs. Zvonareva (21) (Court 12, 2nd match):  Highly impressive was the Belgian’s win over her surging compatriot Kristen Flipkens, which featured a marathon first-set tiebreak and a second set that stayed on serve until the final game.  Once again, we observed the psychological sturdiness for which Wickmayer has earned renown but that has faltered a little in past weeks.  On the other hand, psychological sturdiness is not a characteristic commonly associated with the often overwrought Zvonareva, whose volcanic temper can erupt at the most untimely moments.  At this phase in their respective careers, the Russian holds the shot-for-shot edge over the Belgian and is not notably inferior on grass, which hints that a mini-upset could occur.  The grander the stage, however, the greater the probability that Zvonareva will implode at the first sign of adversity.  In New York last year and Melbourne this year, Vera held Pennetta and Azarenka firmly within her grasp through a set and a half, then suddenly unraveled late in the second set and endured a third-set bagel.  Wickmayer must remember that the match is not over until the last point, no matter how bleak the situation may seem, and the Belgian’s natural tenacity will serve her well in these circumstances.

Briefly noted:  For the third consecutive Slam, Jankovic faces Alona Bondarenko  in the third round.  Once a perfect 9-0 against the Ukrainian, the Serb suffered a stunning upset in Melbourne before winning a tight two-setter in Paris.  Grass is probably the least comfortable surface for both players, so the quality of play should be rather indifferent, although the match itself might well be competitive.  Reaching the second week of both Slams thus far in 2010, Kirilenko attempts to score a notable upset for the third consecutive major when she confronts Clijsters, having defeated Sharapova at the Australian Open and Kuznetsova at Roland Garros.  Although the Russian’s punchless serve doesn’t aid her grass, her adroit volleying game and clever drop shots might cause the Belgian a headache or two.  Only the most ardent tennis fans will remember the 2002 Davis Cup final when Youzhny overcame Mathieu in a five-set fifth rubber, but the Russian and the Frenchman will attempt to reprise that scintillating pas de deux on Friday.  Having booked a place in history, what can Isner summon against another mighty server in Thiemo de Bakker?  Perhaps a better question would be:  will it end this week or next?

***

Witnessing the first clashes between seeded players, Day 5 should provide the most compelling entertainment of the fortnight thus far.  As always, happy watching!

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+roland+garros&iid=8941908″ src=”e/2/d/2/French_Open_tennis_73fd.JPG?adImageId=13029634&imageId=8941908″ width=”500″ height=”550″ /]

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=henin+roland+garros&iid=8939032″ src=”8/1/1/e/Tennis__French_8bd4.jpg?adImageId=13029665&imageId=8939032″ width=”500″ height=”663″ /]

It gets late early in Paris this weekend.  We refer not to the avalanche of complaints from players who resent peering through twilight at the ball, but to the third-round collision between two WTA superstars with ten Slam titles between them.  This match marks the first time in ten meetings that Sharapova and Henin have intersected before the quarterfinal.   (Shouldn’t the French Open adjust its seedings to reflect clay expertise as Wimbledon does for grass prowess?)  Winning six of their nine previous clashes and both of their clay matches, the Belgian clearly has the surface edge as well as the overall edge in the rivalry, which suggests that the encounter might not live up to the media’s expectations.  On the other hand, Maria has showcased her highest level of tennis on the past three occasions when she has confronted Justine:  the 2006 US Open final, the 2007 year-end championships final, and the 2008 Australian Open quarterfinal.  Although all of those matches were contested on hard courts, the two clay meetings don’t hold much significance because they occurred five years ago before Sharapova’s game had evolved into its mature form.  Yet Justine has evolved markedly as well since that time, now more willing to finish points quickly with an imposing forehand or by approaching the net.  Meanwhile, Maria has improved her patience and fitness, an arena in which the Belgian long had held an advantage over her.  On this occasion, the fitness edge should be effectively neutralized, however, because Henin has been physically fragile during her comeback while Sharapova has devoted much effort to that feature of her game.  

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+roland+garros&iid=8941913″ src=”9/9/d/7/French_Open_tennis_757c.JPG?adImageId=13029609&imageId=8941913″ width=”380″ height=”453″ /]

Brushing aside a quartet of helpless opponents, both players looked equally dominant in their first two rounds; Justine responded to the pressure of her Roland Garros return with trademark poise, and Maria advanced through the early stages with much more efficiency than usual.  Despite a few new wrinkles like Sharapova’s occasional drop shot and Henin’s sporadic serve-and-volley, there are no secrets in this rivalry.  Contemptuously rejecting a reporter’s suggestion that she modify her style for the clay, the Russian will hammer away at the Belgian’s defense from the baseline, while the four-time champion will seek to improvise ways to disrupt her opponent’s programmatic point construction.  Essential for both players, impressive serving would allow Maria to instantly assert control of rallies, pinning her opponent behind the baseline, and allow Justine to approach the net, where she regularly excels.  The cooler evening temperatures and more spacious Chatrier court would favor Henin more than if the match were played in mid-afternoon on Lenglen, but those factors shouldn’t be crucial.  Instead, what will be crucial will be the relative confidence of both players and their ability to seize opportunities while controlling their aggression.  Capturing the minor Strasbourg title last week, Sharapova enters the contest with a seven-match winning streak on her least favorite surface but has yet to defeat an elite player this season.  Entering the contest with a 23-match winning streak at Roland Garros, Henin has countless positive memories on which to reflect but has yet to defeat a former Slam champion or a player of Sharapova’s competitive resilience during her comeback.  If the Belgian finds her rhythm, she should be able to defuse the Russian’s power; if she’s a little off-key, she might be in trouble.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=henin+roland+garros&iid=8943022″ src=”d/5/8/6/2010_French_Open_d252.jpg?adImageId=13029658&imageId=8943022″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

Beyond the soiree of champions, here are additional matches of note on a somewhat nondescript Day 7.

Serena (1) vs. Pavlyuchenkova (29) (Chatrier, 1st match):  Predictably unsteady in her opener, Serena looked considerably sharper during a 55-minute demolition of Julia Goerges.  The top seed probably plans to use the first week to find her range before a challenging quarterfinal.  Formerly the #1 junior in the world, Pavlyuchenkova has cultivated a style most effective on hard courts but adaptable to all surfaces.  She appears to have recovered from a nagging foot injury that has hampered her for much of 2010.  Still too inexperienced to topple a competitor of Serena’s steel, the much-anticipated Russian phenom could create some engaging baseline rallies.  We’re curious to see what attitude Pavlyuchenkova brings to the match; Goerges capitulated rather spinelessly, but we suspect that Serena’s next opponent might not be willing to concede immediately. 

Peer (18) vs. Bartoli (13) (Lenglen, 2nd match):  Like Gasquet, Bartoli prefers the grasses of Wimbledon to the grit of her own country.  The top-ranked Frenchwoman left little imprint upon the rest of the clay season and was fortunate to draw a pair of underwhelming adversaries in the first two rounds.  By contrast, Peer has excelled throughout the road to Roland Garros despite preferring hard courts to the slower surface.  Although the star performers of Stuttgart, Rome, and Madrid have enjoyed mixed results so far in Paris, don’t be surprised if the tenacious Israeli outlasts the eccentric, controversial leader of les bleues.

Verdasco (7) vs. Kohlschreiber (30) (Lenglen, 3rd match):  An engaging contest between two baseliners who love to take huge swings in both opportune and inopportune situations, this match should showcase exceptional shotmaking.  The German punches well above his size and unleashes explosive backhands, while Verdasco’s forehand remains among the most powerful in the ATP.  Perhaps a little tired from Nice, the Spaniard recording outstanding results at all of the preliminary clay events except Madrid.  Expect a few momentum shifts, but expect Verdasco’s more potent serve, improved fitness, and somewhat improved patience to carry him into the final 16.

Hantuchova (23) vs. Wickmayer (16) (Court 2, 2nd match):  The stylish Slovak navigated her first two matches rather routinely, showing further signs of the resurgence that began in March.  Extended deep into a deciding set by Bammer, meanwhile, Wickmayer may be running low on energy as she was a few months ago in Australia. Somewhat like Kuznetsova except stronger mentally, this future top-10 WTA star possesses outstanding athletic talents that should serve her well on every surface.  One should remember that she is returning from an elbow injury that required surgery, however, and may not be able to display her highest-quality tennis.  If Hantuchova can control her nerves and stretch Wickmayer laterally with her trademark down-the-line groundstrokes, she’ll have a definite chance to pull off the mini-upset.

Ljubicic (14) vs. Bellucci (24) (Court 2, 3rd match):  Just weeks removed from his Indian Wells renaissance, the 31-year-old Croat stands a win away from setting up a rematch with Nadal.  This meeting presents an intriguing clash between a seasoned veteran and a raw but highly talented upstart.  Will Ljubicic’s greater versatility and all-court expertise prevail over Bellucci’s flamboyant lefty shot-making from the baseline?  Complicating the situation a little is the Croat’s marathon win over Fish on Friday, which might have drained his energy and taken a few vital miles per hour off his massive serve.  Nevertheless, expect few breaks and many short points, unlike a conventional clay-court encounter.

Briefly noted:  More impressive than anticipated against Nishikori, Djokovic shouldn’t experience excessive difficulty with Hanescu, who secured just three games in Madrid against Murray—nobody’s idea of a clay-court expert.  Even if the Serb’s much-scrutinized fitness sags a bit, the slow-footed Romanian won’t be able to extend the rallies sufficiently to test it.  Jankovic strives to improve upon a lackluster second-round performance by exacting revenge upon Alona Bondarenko for a loss in the same round of Melbourne.  On the other hand, the Ukrainian had lost all nine of their previous meetings before that Australian encounter, so perhaps Jelena should show her some mercy.  In the weakest section of the draw, Ivanovic nemesis Kleybanova intersects with Radwanska nemesis Shvedova for a ball-bruising pas de deux.  One of these two hard-court aficionados will be favored to reach their first Slam quarterfinal over the winner of Groth-Rodionova; it’ll be intriguing to note who capitalizes upon the opportunity.  Moreover, both Kleybanova and Shvedova have scored success against Jankovic in the recent past, suggesting that the Serb might look forward to a livelier quarterfinal than we initially had imagined when examining her vicinity.

Enjoy the accelerating action tomorrow as Roland Garros marches into the middle weekend!  🙂

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+roland+garros&iid=8916179″ src=”b/c/b/3/Sports_News_7929.jpg?adImageId=13029603&imageId=8916179″ width=”380″ height=”616″ /]

 

 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=kuznetsova+roland+garros&iid=8888000″ src=”8/9/9/5/Tennis__French_e306.jpg?adImageId=12966022&imageId=8888000″ width=”500″ height=”342″ /]

Little of consequence transpired on Day 1 beyond the injury-related exits of Martinez Sanchez and Gulbis.  (Nice work with the voodoo doll, Mirka!)  Azarenka fans may be disappointed by her early demise, but the silver lining to this cloud is that the Belarussian will be forced into resting the hamstring injury that she unintelligently refuses to respect.  Perhaps the most surprising news of the day was Kuznetsova’s sturdy performance against the dangerous Cirstea after a predictably uneasy start.  The defending champion will have plenty of work to do against Petkovic on Wednesday, however, and we have plenty of work to do right now.  Day 2 preview straight ahead…

Murray (3) vs. Gasquet (Lenglen, 3rd match):  Few spectators will have forgotten their five-set Wimbledon collision two years ago, when the Scot thrilled his compatriots by rallying from a two-set deficit against the mentally fragile Frenchman.  Gasquet has won their other two meetings, however, and brings a 10-match winning streak from titles in Bordeaux (a challenger) and Nice, where he recorded his most impressive win since the cocaine investigation by defeating Verdasco in the final.  Neither the Scot nor the Frenchman enjoys playing on clay as much as other surfaces, and Murray has looked anywhere from uninspired to horrific during his 3-3 campaign at Monte Carlo, Rome, and Madrid.  If the match extends deep into a fourth or fifth set, however, he’ll have the fitness edge over a weary Gasquet.  The French crowd should aid their player in the initial stages, but don’t be surprised if they turn against him should he open poorly.  Located in the weakest quarter, the winner will be favored to reach the quarters or even the semis.  The fourth seed certainly could use any momentum that he can accumulate here to psychologically buttress him against the Murray Mania that looms in a few weeks.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=murray+roland+garros&iid=8889762″ src=”0/6/5/4/Andy_Murray_French_76ff.JPG?adImageId=12966035&imageId=8889762″ width=”500″ height=”381″ /]

Llodra vs. Bellucci (24) (Court 1, 4th match):  Although far from a star-studded matchup, this all-lefty clash opposes the artful, net-charging Frenchman and the baseline-rooted Brazilian in an engaging contrast of styles.  Both players have demonstrated a propensity for mixing flashy winners with ghastly errors, so expect some entertaining momentum shifts.  Court positioning will prove crucial in this match; can Llodra find his way to the net or will Bellucci keep him pinned behind the baseline?  Still vulnerable to outbursts of rash aggression, the Brazilian has noticeably improved over the last few weeks and displayed sufficient patience to oust Isner in Rome.

Dementieva (5) vs. Martic (Court 2, 2nd match):  Struggling to win matches of any sort recently, the world #5 succumbed last week to Pironkova in her Warsaw opener after premature exits in Rome and Madrid.  It’s a bit surprising to note that Dementieva has won multiple titles this year, for her form at the important events has been indifferent at best.  Opposing her is a lanky Croatian teenager who has matured rather slowly following success in the juniors but who scored eye-opening wins over Wickmayer in the Paris Indoors and Rezai in Miami while posting a competitive effort against Jankovic in Indian Wells.  The match rests in Dementieva’s ever-shaky hands, which means that another wobbly outing would give the 19-year-old upstart a chance.

Dokic vs. Safarova (24) (Court 6, 1st match):  Since the 2009 Australian Open, Dokic hasn’t recaptured the luster of that electrifying quarterfinal run; illnesses and recurrent personal issues have hampered her comeback.  Last year, though, she nearly defeated Dementieva here before retiring with an injury, so her high-risk style can reap rewards even on a slower surface.  Confronted with this challenging assignment, Safarova will need the positive momentum accumulated from victories over Wozniacki, Pennetta, Radwanska, and Sharapova during her three clay-court tournaments.  Will the thigh injury that forced her to retire from Madrid recur?  Expect a scintillating, offensive-oriented contest in which both competitors play much more aggressively than would the standard clay-court player.  If the relatively fast conditions observed on Sunday persist, this match could produce very high-quality tennis indeed.

Nishikori vs. Giraldo (Court 6, 3rd match):  Yet another product of the renowned Bolletieri Academy, Nishikori burst upon the stage in 2008 by defeating Ferrer in a five-setter at the US Open.  Although chronic injuries have undermined his attempts to consolidate that breakthrough, his expert movement and low-risk style have achieved their best results on hard courts but also could prosper on the consistency-demanding clay.  Unfortunately for the Japanese prodigy, a more recent breakthrough artist confronts him in the first round.  Giraldo followed his upset of Ferrero in Rome with a sturdy effort in Madrid, where he nearly toppled the towering Isner.  Far more experienced on the surface, he should overcome NIshikori in the end, but first we should see some extended, well-constructed rallies.

Oudin vs. Medina Garrigues (Court 8, 1st match):  Last year’s US Open quarterfinalist has amply demonstrated the mental tenacity required to thrive on the grit.  On the other hand, the diminutive American has struggled with the high-bouncing surface (which makes us wonder how the petite Henin has handled it so well) and with the heavy spins employed by clay specialists.  A semifinalist in Strasbourg, where she won a set from Sharapova, Medina Garrigues long has flourished on her favorite surface with a sturdy, well-rounded game.  The aging Spaniard has perceptibly faded over the last several months, however, and may still be weary from a two-match, one-day effort last week during the aforementioned Strasbourg run.  Expect plenty of service breaks as Oudin attempts to seize one last opportunity to gain momentum before defending her impressive summer results.  Scheduled to face the winner in the second round, Dementieva must be hoping not to see the Georgian, who has beaten her once and taken her to three sets in their other two meetings.

Errani vs. Shvedova (Court 10, 3rd match):  Can an adroit counterpuncher with a high tennis IQ survive in a WTA where power is at a premium, even on the most counterpuncher-friendly surface?  The Italian will seek to disrupt the Russian-turned-Kazakh’s timing with elegant spins and delicate touch, needing to construct the points more meticulously than her opponent.  Shvedova’s strategy is quite straightforward:  see ball, hit ball, watch opponent flail helplessly at ball, repeat.  Courts have been playing relatively fast so far this year, which bodes ill for Errani; still, it’ll be intriguing to see whether she can weave a web around a ball-bruising but stylistically limited opponent from the second tier of sluggers.

Troicki vs. Robredo (21) (Court 17, 3rd match including completion):  One never knows what to expect from Troicki on any given day, for the least famous Serb oscillates between inspired shotmaking and inexplicable avalanches of routine misses.  On the other hand, one knows exactly what to expect from Robredo, who has made a living out of tormenting the inconsistent plebeians of the ATP while lacking the offensive weapons to challenge the elite.  That comment might sound like an insult, but it isn’t; in an era of Slam-obsessed superstars, fans should respect a player who competes at the same level on every occasion even as they admire the brilliance of higher-ranked players.  Will Troicki’s game ebb or flow at crucial moments?  If it flows, Robredo might be in trouble; if it ebbs, the Spaniard will take full advantage.

Briefly notedThe allergy-addled Djokovic tentatively begins his Roland Garros campaign against ball-bruising Russian Evgeny Korolev; although this match normally wouldn’t garner our attention at all, we’re curious to observe the state of the Serb’s fitness, which would be crucial in upcoming rounds.  Not at her finest on clay, Radwanska has been assigned a potentially stern test in the person of Elena Baltacha, who has quietly recorded some impressive wins this year over Li Na, Cirstea, Kateryna Bondarenko, and Chakvetadze.  (Actually, maybe cross out the last one from the “impressive” category.)  Elsewhere, Barrois and Dulgheru attempt to translate their success from Warsaw and Strasbourg to Paris against the respectable but unintimidating duo of Garbin and Hradecka, respectively.  Can Dushevina follow up her near-upset of Serena in Madrid with a sturdy performance against the unpredictable Alona Bondarenko?  In a ridiculously saturated top quarter, Stosur can’t afford many missteps.  The 2009 Roland Garros semifinalist opens her tournament opposite a Romanian star of the future, Simona Halep, who finally is making headlines for the right reasons.  But the place to be in the late afternoon on Tuesday is Court 1, where Safina nemesis Kai-chen Chang collides with someone special:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+roland+garros&iid=5380312″ src=”4/7/3/c/4FRANCEPARISTENNISFRENCH_OPENWOMENS_SINGLESIVANOVIC_22e3.JPG?adImageId=12965999&imageId=5380312″ width=”500″ height=”495″ /]

We were a bit concerned when Ana mentioned that an illness had prevented her from preparing as effectively as she would have wished.  Nevertheless, a decent performance in Paris would help her prove that Rome wasn’t a mirage.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+roland+garros&iid=5380306″ src=”0/a/4/7/1FRANCEPARISTENNISFRENCH_OPENWOMENS_SINGLESIVANOVIC_2240.JPG?adImageId=12965996&imageId=5380306″ width=”500″ height=”376″ /]