June 5, 2014 by Parveer Mann
As the final weekend arrives at Roland Garros, each player left faces a unique opportunity and challenge. There are those trying to add to their history (Nadal and Sharapova) and those looking to cement it (Djokovic). The one trying to change his history on the surface (Murray) and those who are getting their first shot at it (Halep and Bouchard). Plus, the outliers (Gulbis and Petkovic) who have faced adversity and now have the chance to overcome it. Each will get the chance to create a new narrative and conquer their challengers before the sun sets on Paris this year.
On the women’s side, the only holdover from Melbourne’s last four is Canada’s Genie Bouchard. It is incredible to not only see the progress she’s made in the last year but on this surface. Her game or style is not necessarily adept to the nuances of clay (yet!) but it sure hasn’t mattered much. Instead, it has been her composure and attacking style that has continued to draw praise as it did in her comeback victory against Carla Suarez Navarro. She’ll need that fight against her next opponent, Maria Sharapova, someone who has made an entire career by grinding out victories.
This will be Maria Sharapova’s fourth consecutive appearance in the French Open semis and she seems more comfortable each year. However, it did take her traditional ‘grind it out’ approach to upend the talented Garbine Muguruza who had Sharapova down a set and a break. Sharapova holds a two to none advantage over Genie Bouchard including beating her in Paris last year. But it’s safe to anticipate a closer affair this time around.
I feel if Bouchard can hold her serve early and attack Maria’s serve then we should be headed to a great battle. Prediction: Maria Sharapova in three close sets.
This is a matchup very few could have envisioned even a few months ago. Despite Simona Halep’s quiet rise up the rankings these past few months; many knew it had mostly come without any significant traction at a Slam. Some were unsure if she even possessed the qualities needed to contend in the latter stages of a Grand Slam. However, this week she has proven that a conservative yet efficient playing style can be more than enough to survive especially when bigger more accomplished names have already fallen.
Meanwhile, Petkovic’s spot in this match was even more uncertain after she nearly considered calling it quits last year. Facing another long recovery from injury, Petkovic seriously questioned her position in the game. Luckily for all of us, Petkovic decided to persevere and has enjoyed some career best results this spring highlighted by her win in Charleston. After coming of a couple of three set affairs, she overcame both an early break and difficult conditions to easily handle Sara Errani and earn her first career semifinal spot. She’ll have tons of confidence heading into her match with Halep but will also need to find a way to consistently hold on to her serve and negate Halep’s return game.
Ultimately, I believe there is little margin between these two but feel that Halep is less likely to hurt herself when the nerves kick in. Prediction: Simona Halep in 3 sets.
When Ernests Gulbis’ on-court achievements start to rival his off-court ones, you know that he is having a good week. His victory over Tomas Berdych was probably the most routine match he’s played in a long time and that makes it noteworthy. We always knew Gulbis had a lot of talent but with very little patience to do the work required to achieve sustained success. It will be that patience that will be tested against Novak who will certainly try to irritate and sustain points whenever he can.
Conversely, Novak Djokovic enters the final weekend with as much confidence one can have without having actually won this event. His win streak over Rafael Nadal and general success this spring has buoyed his hopes and made him at least the co-favourite. He understands the French Open is the last slam he needs to complete the set and this may be his best opportunity to do it.
I think Gulbis will have to take solace in the fact that he will enter the Top 10 next week because I believe Novak wins easily. Prediction: Novak Djokovic in 3 sets.
Along with their opponents, both Nadal and Murray raced against the impending darkness to complete their matches on Wednesday albeit in a different manner. Nadal was technically proficient in winning 13 of the last 14 games against David Ferrer and finding that zone he is accustomed to reach. It is this kind of barrage that makes Nadal so lethal even when we start to pick apart his invincibility. The key component he will hope to carry through is his high first serve percentage that allows him to assert himself in points quicker.
On the other hand, Andy Murray played a highly entertaining but erratic match against the Frenchman Gael Monfils. It really seemed like he was ready to call it a night before he turned the tables and bageled Monfils in the fifth and final set. Obviously, Murray has not had success against Nadal on this surface but he is coming off one of his better performances against the Spaniard. The match these two played in Rome was the style and pace Murray would like to emulate when they clash again on Friday. If he does, he’ll give himself a chance to put some pressure on Nadal’s service and return games.
Personally, I think this will be a highly entertaining and tight matchup with a select number of points deciding each set. However, I’m not going to go against the defending champion in any circumstance. Prediction: Rafael Nadal in 4 sets.