Wednesday June 6th, 2012

David Ferrer (above) is unbeaten against Andy Murray in three previous matches on clay. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Andy Murray vs. David Ferrer (second match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): When it comes to tags, describing someone as the British No. 1 probably doesn't tell you as much as describing a guy as Spain's second-best clay-courter. Murray may hold a 5-4 record against Ferrer but he's never beaten him on clay in three tries and has only managed to take one set back in 2006. Ferrer comes into Paris as strong as ever, making the final of Barcelona and Rome and the quarterfinals of Madrid, each time losing to the eventual champion (that would be Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for those keeping score at home). Here, Ferrer hasn't dropped a set, and he's been so good he drove Mikhail Youzhny to apologize to the crowd for how badly he was getting beaten. Meanwhile, Murray's bothered by injury, he's been on the brink of being ousted, and he needed to dig deep to find his best form to escape Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Murray has made five straight Slam semifinals, but I think that streak ends tomorrow. Three out of five sets against Ferrer might be too much to ask. Ferrer's just that good on this stuff.

Prediction: Ferrer in three sets.

Maria Sharapova vs. Kaia Kanepi (first match, Court Philippe Chatrier): Sharapova is the front-runner for the title right now and she knows it. Her draw, which originally projected a quarterfinal clash with Serena Williams opened up dramatically, and if all goes to play, she would play Petra Kvitova in the semifinals, a player she's beaten twice this year including in the semifinals of Australia, and Sam Stosur, a player she absolutely owns. Sharapova couldn't have asked for anything more as she tries to complete the career Grand Slam, which means are the moments where everything can go awry. The big question here is how will Sharapova rebound from a disastrous performance in the fourth round against Klara Zakapalova. That three hour and 11 minute match should have taken both a physical and emotional toll on the Russian, who struggled in the cold and windy conditions. Kanepi has the power and the talent to pull off the upset. She's a former junior champion here, has made the quarterfinals here twice now, and she's been ranked as high as No. 16 before injuries knocked her out. She'll try to knock Sharapova back with her power early on and then -- and this has been the most difficult thing for Kanepi her career -- try and hold on.

Prediction: Sharapova in two sets.

Rafael Nadal vs. Nicolas Almagro (second match, Chatrier): In this intrasquad match, Nadal will try and take out the one Spaniard who has never acted like he's willing to concede to Nadal's clay superiority. Almagro, aka "The Prickly Spaniard", has a bit of edge to him when he plays. He's intense, not afraid to show it, and given his increased consistency over the last two years, he believes he can be even better. That confidence and belief is integral as he takes on a Nadal who has been an utter wrecking ball all tournament. He's only dropped 19 games in four matches, won 17-straight games in beating No. 15 Juan Monaco, and he's won 30 straight matches on red clay. The last time these two played each other was in 2010 here at Roland Garros, where Almagro lost a tight three-setter, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-4. But really, this is all bluster. To believe that Almagro can win three sets from Rafa in Paris this year is to completely ignore the numbers. I like numbers.

Prediction: Nadal in three.

Petra Kvitova vs. Yaroslava Shvedova (second match, Lenglen): This is a first-time meeting between these two and you have to think that Shvedova's last two weeks are going to catch up with her. She had to win three matches of qualifying to even make the main draw, where she's won an additional four matches. On top of her singles schedule she's also into the semifinals of doubles with Vania King (side note: what a great tournament for Slava!). I hate to sound like a broken record but if you read enough of these match previews, you know what I'm about to say about Kvitova. If she's on her game few, let alone Shvedova, can stop her. She could blast her way through this match in an hour or she could hit every ball to the Louvre. Shvedova will need a bit of that if she's to get herself into this match and make Kvitova start thinking. If the weather stays cool, I like the Czech's chances of making her second straight Slam semifinal. Prediction: Kvitova in two sets.

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