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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.

Djokovic has beaten Federer and Nadal in the space of a week.

Although Nadal doesn’t tower atop the draw, the Paris Masters will offer ample intrigue over the next week as the year-end championships beckon.  The concluding Masters 1000 event of 2010 not only will determine the final entries in London but will provide a last window of insight onto the status of Rafa’s primary challengers for the most important title still absent from his collection.  We break down the Paris draw, one section at a time.

First quarter:  For the second consecutive year, Federer faces a local favorite in his opener.  Unlikely to permit an encore, however, the Swiss legend has reached the final in his last five non-majors and will enter Bercy eager to end a disappointing season on a positive note.  His second match might feature the talented but enigmatic Almagro, who held multiple match points here against Nadal last year but has faded in the last few months after a promising spring surge.  Edging towards a berth in the year-end championships, Ferrer eyes a third-round clash with lefty veteran Melzer, who conquered the world #1 at the most recent Masters 1000 tournament.  Since both the Spaniard and the Austrian have captured indoor titles this fall, they should collaborate on an engaging performance that juxtaposes the former’s tenacious consistency with the latter’s mercurial aggression.  Yet Federer won’t fear either of them in his potential quarterfinal, having compiled a perfect record and Ferrer and having comprehensively defeated Melzer at both of the last two majors.  He should arrive in the semifinals without undue anxiety, his winning streak comfortably intact.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Second quarter:  The champion at two of the last three Masters 1000 events, Murray slumped to a listless loss in Valencia last week just as he did in Beijing a week before winning Shanghai.  Always dangerous in the fall, 2007 champion and 2008 finalist Nalbandian could pose a stern opening test, although the Argentine succumbed rather meekly to Roddick in Basel.  After a sensational start to 2010, Cilic has curiously evaporated since March despite suffering no apparent injury or illness.  Drawn to face doubles partner Lopez in the second round, Verdasco must awaken swiftly in order to preserve his waning hopes for London.  A two-time finalist since the US Open, Monfils seeks to recapture the ephemeral magic that lifted him to the championship match (and nearly the title) here a year ago.  The flamboyant Frenchman should delight his compatriots with a miniature upset over Verdasco, but his passive tactics and defensive court positioning will render him vulnerable to Murray.  Leisurely loping behind the baseline, Monfils too often relies upon his outstanding defensive skills rather than his equally outstanding offensive potential.  By turning the match into a comfortable contest of consistency, this athletic underachiever probably will play directly into the Scot’s hands.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Transmission reference: XAW107

Third quarter:  Retiring from Shanghai with a leg injury, Roddick rebounded impressively in Basel with a comfortable victory over Nalbandian before colliding with Federer once again.  The American should start against resurgent left-hander Nieminen, while US Open semifinalist Youzhny could await in the third round.  Although he hasn’t encountered the Russian in over four years, Roddick should suffocate the fluid, versatile Russian with a power-centered style much better suited to a fast hard court.   In the lower half of this section, Soderling faces a compelling collision with Valencia semifinalist Simon, who displayed his fierce competitive spirit in a tense three-set victory over Davydenko last week.  Still emotionally volatile despite recent improvements, the Swede might falter in the hostile atmosphere of a Paris crowd.  The winner of that match should routinely dismiss Indian Wells champion Ljubicic in the third round before testing Roddick in the quarterfinals.  Nearly a semifinalist in Paris two years ago, the American should reach that round on this occasion.

Semifinalist:  Roddick

Fourth quarter:  Enduring an extended arid spell since reaching the Wimbledon final, Berdych might find himself in a third-round encounter with Davydenko, who has struggled almost as dramatically over the last few months.  Between the Czech and the Russian, however, lie a few notable dark horses such as Montanes and Kohlschreiber, so a surprise quarterfinalist might confront Djokovic on Friday.  In order to reach that stage, the Serb might need to overcome both heads of the American hydra known as Querrey and Isner.  But the gritty, underrated Monaco might ambush Querrey in the opening round, for the Argentine charged to the quarterfinals in Shanghai and defeated Murray last week in Valencia.  First reprising a recent clash with Llodra, Isner probably could duel with Djokovic for a set before fading.  Bringing much more momentum into the week than anyone else in his section, the Serb should glide smoothly into the weekend.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

***

We return to Paris for previews of the semifinals and finals, but first we will revisit the events of Basel, Valencia, San Diego, and Bali.  The next edition of TW(2) looms…

 

Transmission reference: BAS101

OnlyWire: The Magic Button!

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