PARIS – Wednesday at the French Open features second slate of the men's and women's quarterfinals matches, highlighted by a clash between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal and a matchup between Sara Errani and the highest remaining seed on the women's side, Serena Williams.
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
It's the match we circled when the draw came out and it's the match that will dominate the conversation on Wednesday. For the first time in over eight years, Djokovic and Nadal will meet each other in the quarterfinal stages of a tournament, an oddity that comes as a result of Nadal dropping down to No. 7 seven in the ATP rankings. "It does feel different because it's quarterfinals," Djokovic said. "I'm not used to playing him that early."
Said Nadal: "Of course I don't like playing a quarterfinal against Novak, that's for sure, and I hope that Novak won't like playing me in a quarterfinal."
No two players have faced off more in the Open Era. This will be their 44th career meeting, with Nadal holding a slim edge in their 23-20 head-to-head. Djokovic has never beaten Nadal in six tries in Paris, but then again, only one man ever has. The nine-time champion goes into Wednesday's match having won 70 of 71 matches at Roland Garros. That one loss came to Sweden's Robin Soderling in 2009. Beating Nadal in Paris is tennis' toughest task. Djokovic had his best chance in 2013, when he was up a break in the final set before losing 6–4, 3–6, 6–1, 6–7(3), 9–7 in the semifinals.
"I never won against him at Roland Garros, but on the other hand I was close a couple of times," Djokovic said. Last year the two faced off in the final and Nadal won 3–6, 7–5, 6–2, 6–4. "And the fact that I have a great season this year and I'm feeling good from every aspect of my game allows me to have belief and reason to go on the court and try to win."
All signs point to a Djokovic win. He has been far and away the most dominant player in 2015. He has lost just two matches all season and is undefeated on the clay after winning Monte Carlo and Rome. He is playing the best tennis of his career. He beat Nadal in a competitive two sets en route to that Monte Carlo final. And with an opportunity to complete his career Grand Slam this year, he has looked incredibly focused.
"He's the best player of the world without any doubt today," Nadal said. "Very dominant. Probably everybody [agrees] with me that probably he is the favorite here. But I am here to fight, and I hope to put him a difficult match. I hope to play my best. That's only way, and I gonna try to play my best."
Nadal had avoided talking about their potential quarterfinal all week. But after beating Jack Sock in four sets in the fourth round, Nadal laughed when the match-up was finally mentioned. He then proceeded to mention, repeatedly, that he would have to find a way to play his best tennis to have a shot. But that's a challenge we've seen him meet time and time again here in Paris.
"I will try to play one of my best matches, and in so doing, I will have the opportunity to beat him," he said. "I love Roland Garros. I love the tournament. I love the courts. I will pull out all the stops to win the match."
Through four matches Djokovic has not lost a set, while Nadal has lost one. His pre-Roland Garros lead-up has been spotty. For the first time in his career he arrived in Paris without a European clay title under his belt. He took losses to Djokovic, Fabio Fognini, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. But Nadal insists he's playing better with each week. His match-to-match consistency has been lacking but he has pushed away the nerves and anxiety that he played with in the first three months of the season.
"[This] is probably the toughest quarterfinal in my career here in Roland Garros, without a doubt," Nadal said. "But is not the final. It's a quarterfinals. And, no, the winner of that match will not be the Roland Garros champion. Will be semifinalist of Roland Garros. That's makes a big difference. Even if it's a special match, [it] is a quarterfinal match. It will not be a final like other years."
After a cool and wet start to the tournament the weather is supposed to warm as the week progresses in Paris. Asked how the conditions might affect the match, Nadal kept it very simple.
"The hotter it is, the better it is for me."
Andy Murray vs. David Ferrer
It's been a clay season of firsts for Andy Murray. He made his first clay court final, won his first (two) clay court titles and came into the French Open on an undefeated streak on the surface that has never been his best. Now he goes for another first: A win over No. 7 David Ferrer on clay. Murray leads the head-to-head 9–6 but is 0–4 against the Spaniard on clay. The last time they played on clay was in 2012, here in Paris.
"I feel like I have a better understanding of how I need to play on this surface than I did back then, probably," Murray said. "But David is a fantastic player on all of the surfaces. But
here he's had his best results. Out of all of the majors, he obviously made the final here. He's made some semis, as well. Obviously be a big test for me, that match."
Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani
Serena is the only top 5 player left in the draw. Can anyone stop her from grabbing her third French Open title and Slam No. 20? It's unlikely to be Sara Errani. The Italian is winless in eight matches against Serena and has won just two sets off her in her career. One of those sets came in April at Fed Cup, where a rusty Serena won 4–6, 7–6(3), 6–3.
"I'm glad I played that match, because now I kind of know what to expect," Serena said. "She played different than what she had played me in the past. And I also think playing Sloane today really prepared me for playing Sara Errani, because they both get a lot of balls back."
Serena has battled through three consecutive three set matches, after losing the first set each time. If she has a fast start on Wednesday this could be a quick day's work for the No. 1.
Timea Bacsinszky vs. Alison Van Uytvanck
Can No. 23 Bacsinszky book a spot into her first career Slam semifinal? She's the heavy favorite against surprise quarterfinalist Van Uytvanck, a No. 93 ranked Belgian who came out of broken quarter of the draw that was anchored by Eugenie Bouchard and Kristina Pliskova. Bacsinszky's story remains one of the most remarkable in tennis. A year ago she was ranked outside the top 100 and playing her way to the main draw via qualifying. A year before that she nearly walked away from the sport to pursue a career in hotel hospitality. The game had torn her family apart. But since her return to the tour she has played for herself and for the pleasure of playing the game on her terms. After beating No. 4 Petra Kvitova in the fourth round, she signed the camera with a message to her mother.
Here's Bacsinszky explaining why:
"I remember her eyes when two years ago I just woke up, read the email [from the WTA indicating she could play French Open qualifying], went down for breakfast. I'm like, I'm not going to eat. I was jumping. I had butterflies like in my stomach. I'm like, ‘I'm going to Roland Garros.’
She was like, ‘You got to be kidding me. Stop doing like quitting, not quitting. Be responsible. You're going to be ridiculous on court.’ I was like, ‘I don't care. I don't care. I want to go. I will probably keep on playing.’ She was like, ‘Well, we'll see.’
While I was driving I just called her again. I'm like, ‘Well, I'm going to play again. I don't care if I get bageled in my match. I don't care. I'm going to keep on playing. Be ready when I come back. We're going to sort it out.
How it's gonna be possible to make it happen, that I play again.’ She was like, ‘Okay, well, there's not much money left. I'm going to try to help you as much as I can. We will see how far you go. I'm going to support you.’ She said that.
Well, I remember when I just came back and I had those kind of sprinkles in my eyes, and she was like, ‘Okay, we're gonna find a solution. We're gonna try.’ Well, without her I wouldn't have been here. I think no one on earth would have given me any financial support or something two years ago with a broken foot, with, I don't know, the past that I had and everything. No one would have thought that.
She was the one."