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2014 French Open: Thoughts on the Biggest Upset (Thus Far) and Third Round Predictions

The 2014 iteration of Roland Garros is in full swing now, and the tournament has taken a wild turn after just two rounds on the women’s side.  Gone are the top two seeds and two of the last three champions at Roland Garros; Serena Williams (2013) and Li Na (2011) crashed out in unceremonious and unexpected fashion.  We provided a quick explanation and reaction to second-seeded Li Na’s loss in the first round here.  In our recap of the second round, we focus our attention to Serena Williams’s exit.  How did the young, up-and-coming Garbine Muguruza actually dominate the world number one and defending champion?  How does this impact the draw (other than Maria Sharapova’s glee that she won’t face her nemesis)?  Those questions are answered and a preview of some third round matches you might want to catch.

 

A Couple Thoughts on the Upset of the Tournament (Thus Far)

Garbine Muguruza dominated Serena Williams in a 6-2, 6-2 win on Wednesday. (Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Garbine Muguruza defeats (1) Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2.  In a word, what happened?

Middle.  Credit the 20-year-old; she had a gameplan and executed it to perfection.  She served hard and hit hard, but it was generally where she hit the ball that was effective against the defending champion.  Garbine made sure to hit the ball into the middle of the court repeatedly, forcing Serena to create the angles for winners, only choosing to pounce and hit for angles when she had the right ball.  It’s an excellent tactic against many players—players would rather create angles or open the court from a wing, not the middle where they have to generate the angle themselves.  Serena can normally place the ball excellently enough to counter this kind of neutralizing tactic, but on this day, she was incapable of dealing with Muguruza’s flat, deep ball in the middle of the court.  What may have also aided was that Muguruza would hit the ball down the middle differently.  Despite hitting from roughly the same spot, Garbine didn’t simply hang on one shot during those rallies; she’d change it up from forehand to backhand and vice versa during the point.  It gave Serena slightly different looks during a point, and it may have helped contribute to the win.

 

How does this impact the draw?

Whenever Serena loses, it emboldens many of the other players, especially the players with an outside shot at contending.  The top players such as Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova are always going to think they have a good chance of taking home the title, however realistic that belief may be.  But everyone else?  They now see that the Serena’s name is no longer on the schedule, joining Li Na’s in the scrapheap and think they have a legitimate chance to take the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.  Last year we saw Marion Bartoli come out of the rubble of an upset-afflicted draw to win her first major; the women will remember that and think it can happen again to anyone–even them.  In the draw analysis of the women’s singles, I had tipped the eight women who I thought would reach the quarterfinals.  After two rounds, three of the quarterfinalists (Serena Williams, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta) have already crashed out.  With that mind, who might step up to reach the second week?

Section 1—Predicted Quarterfinalist: Serena Williams.

Remaining players: Garbine Muguruza, Anna Schmiedlova, Pauline Parmentier, Mona Barthel.

Each of these players toppled a seed en route to the third round, with the first two taking out the Williams sisters in the second round, Parmentier knocking off Roberta Vinci in the first round, and Sabine Lisicki retired against Mona Barthel after getting thoroughly dominated in Round 2.  The question for each of these players is: who will step up?  Muguruza looks to be the best bet—she’s the highest ranked of these four women and does have the experience of reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open this year—but can she avoid the distractions that come with pulling off such a huge upset?  We see time and again that a player can’t keep up the momentum and falls in the round following the upset.  Can Schmiedlova do it?  She’s a young player on the rise, but you got the sense when she won her previous match that it was more of Venus’s inconsistency and bad play than Schmiedlova seizing control.  Keep an eye out for Mona Barthel.  The young German showed progress in recent years but has struggled of late.  She’s a better player on hardcourts—her two career titles came on that surface—but with her big serve and groundstrokes, she could continue her run.

Revised Quarterfinalist: Garbine Muguruza

 

Section 4—Predicted Quarterfinalist: Flavia Pennetta.

Remaining players: (8) Angelique Kerber, (18) Eugenie Bouchard, (31) Daniela Hantuchova, Johanna Larsson

The prediction in this part of the draw was that chaos would reign, and the seeded players would crash out, leaving Pennetta the last woman standing.  What’s actually happened is the exact opposite: the other seeds have advanced while Pennetta suffered a second round exit to the Swede Johanna Larsson.  This makes things quite interesting in picking the quarterfinalist out of this group: Bouchard’s in form, riding on a seven-match win streak; Kerber is the best player rankings-wise and reached the fourth round last year; and Hantuchova can randomly summon up great tennis in her advanced (for tennis) age.  All of them are capable of winning two more matches here, and Larsson can surprise them all as she did with Pennetta.

Revised Quarterfinalist: Eugenie Bouchard

 

Section 8—Predicted Quarterfinalist: Li Na.

Remaining players: (28) Andrea Petkovic, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Kiki Bertens, Kristina Mladenovic

As I wrote in previewing Petkovic’s last match, the pressure has surely shifted to the German as the favorite to make it out of this part of the draw.  This was made only more clearly when the highest-ranked player left here, twenty-fourth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, retired from her second round match in the third set.  It’s not necessarily going to be easy for Petkovic though.  Mladenovic and Bertens are two players who love hitting the ball deep, flat, and hard on every point.  It doesn’t always work out for them, but the style of play has thus far in getting them to the third round.  Soler-Espinosa is a clay court specialist who is capable of playing defensive, counterpuncher tennis.  Still, it might be wisest to stick with the player who is most able to play against either style of opponent.

Revised Quarterfinalist: Andrea Petkovic

 

This is not the end–or the beginning of the end–for Serena Williams.

To those who believe this loss is a sign or symptom of Serena’s imminent demise, forget it.  While the scoreline is disconcerting, Serena will be fine.  Up next are the grass courts, the green salve for what generally ails the Williamses.  And Serena will be motivated to reclaim the most prestigious title in all of tennis: a Wimbledon title.

 

Third Round Matches to Catch—Men’s Singles

Djokovic Quarter: (19) Kevin Anderson vs Ivo Karlovic; Head-to-Head:  Anderson 2-1 Karlovic

Nothing like going to a clay court event to watch a hard court match!  Anderson and Karlovic are two of the better hard-hitting servers on the ATP tour.  Karlovic backed up his win over eleventh seed Grigor Dimitrov—a win, as pointed out, might have been more due to the fact that Dimitrov failed to adjust against Karlovic than anything—to reach the third round and now faces off against the South African.  These two have never faced off on clay, and in their most recent face-off, Karlovic retired after one game.  There will be a lot of quick points, aces, and tiebreaks.

Prediction: Anderson in four sets.

 

Wawrinka’s Murray’s Quarter: (14) Fabio Fognini vs (23) Gael Monfils; Head-to-Head: Fognini 3-2 Monfils

Fognini has managed to avoid the terrible play and distasteful outbursts that have plagued him as the clay court season has progressed, but now he takes on Gael Monfils, a crowd favorite at any tournament but especially here at his home major.  Both will attempt crazy shots throughout this match, and both will succeed often and fail often.  They will entertain the crowd with their antics.  The question will become whether or not Fabio Fognini can focus on his tennis and not the crowd if he falls behind; if Fognini starts losing, will he play the role of villain to rile up the Parisian crowd against him?

Prediction: Monfils in five sets.

 

Federer’s Quarter:  (6) Tomas Berdych vs (27) Roberto Bautista Agut; Head-to-Head: Berdych 1-2 Bautista Agut

These two have played all three of their matches in the last 16 months, but all have been on hardcourts.  On that surface, Bautista Agut’s hard flat groundstrokes troubled Berdych, who was deprived of his time to set up for his own flat and hard groundstrokes.  While the red clay has a tendency to absorb some of the speed of shots and the heavy, rainy conditions at this year’s Roland Garros will aid in that, that difficulty will have an impact on both player’s games.  Berdych may be given slightly more time to prepare his next salvo, but Bautista Agut has played quite well on the clay this spring with a semifinals run in Madrid.

Prediction: Bautista Agut in five sets.

 

Djokovic’s Quarter: (2) Novak Djokovic vs (25) Marin Cilic; Head-to-Head: Djokovic 8-0 Cilic

Marin Cilic has generally been overwhelmed by Djokovic in these contests, but in their last encounter earlier this year, the Croat did take the first set over the Serb.  That match was on hardcourts, though, and after a torrid start to 2014, Cilic has cooled off quite a bit, reaching just one quarterfinal in his four clay court events.  Djokovic’s a man on a mission, and given Cilic’s game has failed to trouble him much before, he should be able to advance rather easily.

Novak Djokovic had some light-hearted fun with a ball boy in his second round victory. (Source: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Prediction: Djokovic in three sets.

 

Third Round Matches to Catch—Women’s Singles

Williams’s Sharapova’s Quarter: (9) Dominika Cibulkova vs (18) Samantha Stosur; Head-to-Head: Cibulkova 0-4 Stosur

Stosur’s high-bouncing kick serve poses problems for the diminutive Cibulkova, as the Australian Open finalist hasn’t won a set against the Aussie.  The two met just recently in Madrid, and Stosur thoroughly defeated Cibulkova, surrendering only four games. For Cibulkova to win, she’s going to have to target Stosur’s backhand, which is her weaker wing, while hoping that Stosur’s forehand is off all match long.

Prediction: Stosur in two sets.

 

Radwanska’s Quarter: (14) Carla Suarez Navarro vs Taylor Townsend; Head-to-Head: First Meeting

Taylor Townsend has had a breakout of sorts at the French Open this year, doubling her career wins on the WTA tour and making her best performance at an event (now sitting at 4 wins and in the third round).  She upset Alize Cornet, who had far more experience and a biased crowd behind her, in three sets, rebounding nicely from the disappointment of dropping the second set despite having a break lead.  If the young American wants to keep it going though, she’ll have to face off against the most aesthetically pleasing one-handed backhand in the game who’s had success at this event before.

Prediction: Suarez Navarro in two sets.

 

Halep’s Quarter: (11) Ana Ivanovic vs (23) Lucie Safarova; Head-to-Head: Ivanovic 2-4 Safarova

I picked Ivanovic to make the quarterfinals in the draw analysis, but with big upsets already occurring, there’s always the chance for more.  Enter Safarova, who’s come so close to pulling off the upset time and time again, only to fall short.  Safarova’s got an edge up on the head-to-head matchup, but they haven’t played since 2012 and only once on clay.  That was at Ivanovic’s peak—2008, when Ivanovic won the French Open—and the Serb demolished the Czech, allowing only three games to Safarova.

Former Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic takes on upset-minded Lucie Safarova in the third round. (Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)

Prediction: Ivanovic in three sets.

 

Li’s Jankovic’s Quarter: (6) Jelena Jankovic vs (26) Sorana Cirstea; Head-to-Head: Jankovic 2-3 Cirstea

This matchup is a contrast in styles: Jankovic is a baseline counterpuncher who uses a deep ball to allow her to get back into position during long rallies while Cirstea plays an aggressive, streaky style with flat and hard groundstrokes from the baseline.  This has troubled Jankovic in the past, but their last meeting happened in 2012, and since then Jelena has turned her game around to return to the top ten.  Cirstea has swept both of their meetings on clay, including a win at Roland Garros five years ago, but the difference this time around may be their confidence.  Including this year’s French Open, Jelena Jankovic is 15-5 on clay; Sorana Cirstea is just 2-4.

Prediction: Jankovic in two sets.

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