Our latest batch of random thoughts, observations, links and other goodies from the the French Open …
• I loved what French Open semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said about why he chose to go without a coach last year and how it brought him to the point where he was ready to listen to Roger Rasheed. "I made the choice of being alone," Tsonga told French reporters after beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. "I decided to practice alone because it was a challenge for me to see how much I love tennis. And making sure I was not trying just to respond to other people's expectations and that I really wanted it myself. I realized that I just loved tennis, that it was something extraordinary, that I would really want to do that."
• For the second time in the last three Grand Slam tournaments, the women's final four is Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Sara Errani. To which I respond, "Wow, way to go, Sara Errani!"
• That 12th game in the fourth set of the third-round match between Tommy Haas and John Isner is probably the most I've ever laughed out of sheer incredulity. Isner fought off nine match points.
• Pet peeve: The overuse of the phrase "blew match points." It takes two to tango, and Haas really "blew" only one of the 12 match points he lost overall against Isner, with a double fault. Credit Isner for saving the others.
• Given the number of points earned at the Slams, here's something to keep in mind when people talk about a player's "true" level and his or her ranking. Making the fourth round or quarterfinal of a major is always commendable, but what if your path was paved with gold as opposed to land mines? Looking at the average ranking of opponents is one data point to give some context to a player's run. I looked at the average rank of the opponents for all the women who made the French Open round of 16, which included 12 seeds and four unseeded players. The player with the toughest road to the fourth round was unseeded Svetlana Kuznetsova (average rank of opponents: 41), while the player with the cushiest path was No. 15 Roberta Vinci (148). Azarenka had the second-toughest path (43) -- an unlucky draw for the No. 3 seed.
• In terms of context, it's notable that Sloane Stephens has had some nice draws at recent majors. The average rank of her first four opponents at the Australian Open was 63. She had an even softer draw in Paris, where the average rank of her first three opponents was 109. That's not to undermine Stephens' success at the last two Slams, but it's an important metric to consider when setting expectations. In the same way I'm inclined to forgive Ryan Harrison's general futility at the Slams (he still hasn't made a third round) because of his tough draws, I'm also inclined to downplay Stephens' success.
• The French Open's decision to play the quarterfinals simultaneously is infuriating to everyone other than ticket holders and the players. On one hand, I have to commend organizers for not kowtowing to TV interests and making Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play at the same time, for example. On the other hand, TV is forced to jump in and out of matches, which completely ruins the flow of the coverage.
• During ESPN's broadcast of Sharapova's victory against Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, Mary Jo Fernandez repeated that old myth that Sharapova gives nothing away in her body language -- that you would not be able to tell the score just by looking at her. Later, in the Tennis Channel replay of the match, Martina Navratilova said the same thing. That may have been true when she was younger, but since Sharapova returned from shoulder surgery, she wears her frustrations and fears all over her face. What you see now is a woman fighting her urge to panic and often succeeding. But placid she is not.
• The number of stare-downs and glares shot across the net during the Sharapova-Jankovic match made me really wish there was more of that on the men's tour. It's fun.
• Friday's semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic is impossible for me to call. History and numbers tell me it's Nadal in four sets. But if you believe in destiny and share in Djokovic's fatalistic view of the world, a title run for him is a story that practically writes itself.
• Notable stats for those who feel compelled to argue the men should be paid more because they play more sets and thus provide more entertainment. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes it goes the other. So let's just stop talking about it.
• Writing a Roger Federer career obituary after a loss on his worst surface to a quality opponent who has beaten him at a Slam before seems rash. Let's wait and see what he does at Wimbledon (where it'll be the 10th anniversary of his first major title, in 2003).
• As announced by Laura Robson, Jamie Hampton is now on Twitter.
• No American boys are left in the juniors event, but two American girls are still flying the flag in the quarterfinals: Taylor Townsend and Louisa Chirico.
• Townsend has really mastered this whole Vine thing.
• The debate regarding fifth-set tiebreakers came up again in the wake of Stanislas Wawrinka's victory over Richard Gasquet (8-6 in the fifth) and Haas' victory over Isner (10-8 in the fifth). From what I can tell on Twitter, the only people who seem to enjoy playing out the fifth set are the ones who are under no threat of ever having to play a fifth set. Yes, tennis should be a test of physicality, but why cripple one guy's chances in the tournament by giving him the potential for no end in sight to a marathon match? We've seen that happen with Isner multiple times and, sure enough, Wawrinka was wiped when he had to face Nadal in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Here's how two former players, Andy Roddick and Robbie Koenig, see it.
• You really couldn't ask for more from Gasquet in his loss. But you also have to shake your head at his 1-15 record in the fourth round at Slams.
• Dear Agnieszka Radwanska: Learn how to move on clay. You will win things.
• Elena Dementieva is teaming with Navratilova in the Legends doubles event at Roland Garros. If there's a stream for that, I will watch it.
• How about those thirty-something Tommys (Haas and Robredo), who showed the kids how it's done on the most grueling surface?
• Grass thoughts: Aegon Championships, Aegon Trophy, Aegon International, Aegon Classic. Anyone know which tournaments are which?
• After losing to Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round, Ana Ivanovic told reporters she believes she's a more complete player now than when she won the French Open in 2008. Maybe that's true. Back when she made three Slam finals, won one and ascended to No. 1, she had two game-changing weapons (a blistering forehand and a big serve) and one glaring weakness (her backhand). Now, her serve is still a mess, her forehand has lost its bite and her backhand is only marginally more consistent. Her game may have been unbalanced five years ago, but now it's a "more complete" mess.
• This is Alexandr Dolgopolov's car. Apparently: http://instagram.com/p/aBU4K1nF6x/