Tuesday June 5th, 2012

The French Open quarterfinals start up Tuesday. Here's a breakdown of the key storylines to watch on the first day of the quarters.

Novak Djokovic vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (second match, Court Philippe Chatrier): These two, who for my money are the two best at combining talent, athleticism and fun into their games, never fail in providing some theatrics whenever they meet at the Slams. Their 2011 clash at Wimbledon saw Djokovic prevail in four sets, but not before the two flew around the court and gave us a few points to remember. Despite their 5-5 head-to-head record, Djokovic has won their only meeting on clay, just a few weeks ago in Rome. He also didn't have to play two days in a row due to France's medieval refusal to install lights at Roland Garros (seriously, can't we just get a few tiki torches around Chatrier?). The problem for Djokovic is that he's coming off a confidence-shattering performance against Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and while he was able to pull himself out of it in five sets, it was clear from his comments afterwards  that he wanted to get as far away from that match as possible. It's likely that weather will continue to be cold and windy, which seemed to bother Djokovic against Seppi.

My pick: Djokovic in four sets.

Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro (second match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): Tennis Channel has been running a series of short interviews with players about their favorite memories from Roland Garros. Del Potro talks about his five set loss to Federer in the semifinals in 2009. He rather adorably refers to it as a "magnific match" and though he lost 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, Del Potro would get his win four months later at the U.S. Open. As much as theirs is a rivalry that causes tennis fans to reflexively drool, Federer owns an 11-2 record over the Argentine, and hasn't lost to him since 2009. In fact, the two have already faced off four times in 2012 and Del Potro hasn't been able to win a set. Roger's looked OK by his standards, but confessed that he had trouble hitting through the damp court during his four set win over David Goffin on Sunday. Despite the fact that he's had a few hiccups in the early rounds, I suspect he'll find his form against Del Potro. He knows how to play the him and to be fair, Del Potro's struggling with a knee injury.

My pick: Federer in three sets.

Samantha Stosur vs. Dominika Cibulkova (first match, Chatrier): If you're a high seed you love to see your draw open up. What you love less is the increased pressure that comes with all of the sudden being deemed favorite to make it through your section. The test for Stosur over the next few days is how she'll deal with that pressure. She's the presumptive favorite to make it to the finals out of the top half and managing pressure has never been part of the recipe for success for Stosur. She's much better as an underdog. She has a tough test against Cibulkova, who upset Victoria Azarenka on Sunday and who's been here before, making the semifinals in 2010. Both these women know how to play on clay and you'd think that Stosur's heavy spin would give the diminutive Domi problems. But if the courts are playing as they have been over the last two days, the Aussie is going to have a tough time hitting through the court. She'll have to rely more on point construction, which is a tougher task given Cibulkova's ability to run everything down.

My pick: Stosur in three sets.

Angelique Kerber vs. Sara Errani (first match, Lenglen): First of all, both these women deserve some credit for the career years they're building. They may not be household names, but if you take their 2012 results alone, both Kerber and Errani are having better seasons than fellow quarterfinalists Stosur and Petra Kvitova. Both have an incredible opportunity here to make their best career result at a Slam, and this match will pit Errani's clay court prowess against Kerber's power and shotmaking. While Errani has more match wins and titles on clay, Kerber's the one with the bigger wins, beating the likes of Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, and Venus Williams in her clay run-up. Kerber was my dark horse pick before the tournament and I'm sticking to it, but Errani's two wins over Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova were eye-openers. On a heavy court, she just might be able to pull off the upset. My pick: Kerber in two sets.

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