French Open Day 9 matches to watch: Stephens faces the highest seed left
PARIS -- Here are the storylines and matches to watch on Day 9 of the French Open. Play begins at 5 a.m. ET. ESPN2 will televise from 5 a.m.-10 a.m. and Tennis Channel will pick up coverage from there. Click here for the order of play, and see the full TV schedule here.
Stephens eyes quarterfinals: No. 15 Sloane Stephens faces the highest seed left in the women's draw, No. 4 Simona Halep (third match, Court Philippe Chatrier). Given Halep's transformation over the last 12 months, their previous meetings probably don't mean much. Stephens leads 2-1, but Halep won their one match on clay, in Barcelona in 2012. Neither player has dropped a set at Roland Garros. Halep had never been beyond the second round until this year, while Stephens is into the second week of her sixth consecutive Grand Slam tournament.
Stephens always finds some mysterious way to deliver at the Slams, regardless of how terribly she plays during the rest of the season. Halep is a smart player who should be able to neutralize Stephens' power, but she can also be erratic. Assuming Stephens doesn't come out flat and spraying errors, this should be a good matchup.
Murray and Verdasco set for a rematch: The last time No. 7 Andy Murray and No. 24 Fernando Verdasco (third match, Court Suzanne Lenglen) played each other, Murray came back from two sets down to win 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. Verdasco hit incredibly big in that match, Murray's toughest of a tournament he won. Murray is 9-1 against the Spaniard, who is into the fourth round after defeating No. 12 Richard Gasquet. Both men will be playing for the third consecutive day, as their third-round matches were suspended on Saturday and completed on Sunday afternoon. The biggest question is whether Murray's body can recover after being extended by Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Scot's first five-set match since that Wimbledon meeting with Verdasco.
Nadal's back a concern?: When eight-time champion Rafael Nadal revealed that he was feeling some back pain after his third-round match, a few eyebrows went up in the press room. The discomfort is affecting his serve, Nadal said, and he hasn't been serving his hardest all week. He shouldn't have any problem with No. 83 Dusan Lajovic (second match, Court Philippe Chatrier), who has had a breakout run here, but we'll be watching to see how his back is hampering the rest of his game, if at all.
More matches to watch
Gael Monfils  vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (fourth match, Court Philippe Chatrier): Monfils complained of nearly "dying" during his five-set victory over Fabio Fognini, and now he's back on court against the man who dismissed No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. I'm just not convinced that Monfils is fit enough to go much deeper in the second major of the year. He hasn't played more than three best-of-three matches in a tournament since early February, let alone three best-of-five.
Svetlana Kuznetsova  vs. Lucie Safarova  (fourth match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): This is a battle of veterans who just scored two big wins -- Kuznetsova beat No. 5 Petra Kvitova and Safarova knocked out No. 11 Ana Ivanovic -- and have a huge opportunity in front of them. They've split their six matches (none since 2012) and haven't played on clay. This is a tough match to call, with both players playing some great tennis. The winner will play either Stephens or Halep in the quarterfinals. Jelena Jankovic  vs. Sara Errani  (second match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): They're both the highest seeds left in the bottom quarter of the draw, and the winner will play either Andrea Petkovic or qualifier Kiki Bertens. In other words, the winner has a great chance to move into the semifinals. Errani has won two of their three matches and beat Jankovic 6-3, 7-5 last month in Rome.