Coronation time? (2015 French Open Final Four Preview)

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June 4, 2015 by Parveer Mann

Those who stick around to watch the final four days at Roland Garros this year will be anticipating the predictable to occur. The seemingly invincible Serb captures his career slam and Serena inches closer to Steffi Graf’s open era mark. If that occurs, nobody can be disappointed that this year’s French Open lacked in interesting matchups or historical champions but it will surely lack final weekend drama. However, the beauty of the last weekend is that there is always a chance we may see that initial breakthrough or strange upset as everyone vies for their chance to stop the coronation.

Women’s Draw

(1) Serena Williams vs. (23) Timea Bacsinszky

It took a familiar opponent and the knowledge that she is only a few steps away from another title for Serena Williams to finally look like well Serena Williams. After enduring three consecutive matches where she lost the opening set in each, Serena jumped out early and used her cleanest serving performance (10 aces to two double faults) to put away Sara Errani in just over an hour.  The short match was probably a blessing after the significant time on court she spent in her earlier matches but with an ungodly 23-3 record in Grand Slam SFs, it may be her inexperienced opponent who will need all the help she can get.

Making her Grand Slam semifinals debut, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky surely will appreciate the mantra, “I’m just happy to be here.” After many tumultuous years that had her questioning her place in the game, Timea has unquestionably over performed her station in advancing this far. Her match with Alison Van Uytvanck in the quarters seemed destined for an emotional letdown after her huge win over Petra Kvitova in the previous round but Bacsinszky never ceded ground and her 39 winners easily set the pace. The primary benefit she has  going into her matchup with Serena is that she has faced two natural power hitters already (Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova) so facing Serena’s pace should be easier to get accustomed to.

Serena leads the H2H 2-0 (all in straight sets) with the last victory coming in Indian Wells this year and I see a similar fate for Timea again at Roland Garros. Prediction:  Williams in 2 sets

*Urban Tennis podcast cohost likes Serena 6-2, 6-1*

(7) Ana Ivanovic vs. (13) Lucie Safarova

Some expected a Czech lefty to still be alive in the women’s draw but it probably wasn’t Lucie Safarova. She was one of the few seeds pushed on the inaugural Sunday when it took two lengthy tiebreak sets to knock out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but since, she has played remarkable tennis. Her win over an ailing Maria Sharapova could have easily been written off as beating an opponent when she is down but Lucie was relentless in extending rallies. Plus, the lefty spin kept Sharapova off-balance all match and Lucie continued that approach into her match against Garbine Muguruza. Those two wins have vaulted Lucie into the top 10 come next week and into a well-deserved second grand slam semifinal in as many years.

As I wrote earlier this week, Ana Ivanovic has certainly deserved her place in the last four after a seven-year hiatus. This time she returns with a gained experience that only comes with failure and the seemingly positive outlook to overcome some of the stumbling blocks that have held her back in the recent past. The key for Ivanovic will be to remain consistent in her ground strokes especially the backhand and force Safarova to keep points alive on her racquet.

Overall, Lucie Safarova has the 5-3 H2H advantage including a win over Ana last year at Roland Garros. I expect that both players will feel tense to begin the match but should settle into a close baseline battle. Prediction: Safarova in 3 sets.

*Urban Tennis podcast cohost likes Lucie 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.*

Men’s Draw

(8) Stan Wawrinka vs. (14) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

You don’t have to go back far to remember the last time Jo-Wilfried Tsonga raised the hopes of French fans in Paris (it was in 2013 when he made the SFs) before delivering a lethargic performance to quietly exit the event. So both Tsonga and his fans will hope for better this time as he once again tries to become the first French man in over 30 years to win the country’s national title. One positive going into this weekend is that Tsonga showed incredible fight and resolve to comeback in his quarterfinal match after nearly letting a two set to love lead disappear against Kei Nishikori, often igniting furor in the crowd. It is that spirit and passion that the partisan fans wanted from him in 2013 and they hope will be ubiquitous come Friday.

Someone familiar with sending the crowd favourite packing is eighth seeded Stan Wawrinka. His performance over Roger Federer on Tuesday was disheartening for any Federer fan but also proof that Stan may have some of the best weapons on tour. His backhand was once again on full display and was a major reason in why he accounted for 43 winners in his straight sets win. Another key for Stan has been the sheer number of first serve points he’s won this fortnight including an outstanding 88 per cent against Federer.

These two last faced in the Davis Cup last year when Stan Wawrinka won in four sets in enemy territory. I expect similar tactics in this one and unless Tsonga can neutralize Wawrinka’s backhand, I don’t expect a different result. Prediction: Wawrinka in 4 sets.

*Urban Tennis podcast cohost likes Jo-Wilfried 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 8-6.*

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (3) Andy Murray

Nobody expected a venerable 39 match win streak to fizzle out in straight sets but that’s just the price for facing Novak Djokovic these days. His convincing win over Rafael Nadal clears what many see as his last hurdle to winning his first French Open title and the career Grand Slam. The achievement will come at a time when nearly everything is working for Djokovic including the timely drop shots he hit against Nadal. Plus, his ability to impose his will on another’s person serve has truly made him built to last in any match. The only worry may be his level of concentration after such a big win but it’ll benefit him that his next match is against a familiar foe.

How’s this for Andy Murray? He hasn’t lost on clay all year (something he’s never remotely done) and he’s looked very impressive doing so but he might face his longest odds yet against Novak Djokovic on Friday. It’s a sentiment he’s largely aware of but it has not stopped him from impressive showings against Jeremy Chardy and David Ferrer in consecutive matches.  However, he’ll have to find another level and possibly a more varied strategy if he wants to translate those results against the streaking Novak.

Overall, Novak has won the last seven meetings between these two including this year’s Australian Open final. I expect Novak to physically and emotionally bounce back after his history changing win and move one step closer to the title. Prediction: Djokovic in 3 sets.

*Urban Tennis podcast cohost likes Novak 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.*

(Clockwise: Williams, Safarova, Djokovic and Wawrinka)

(Clockwise: Williams, Safarova, Djokovic and Wawrinka)

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