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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


The eagerly anticipated potential men’s French Open final between long-time rivals Nadal and Djokovic is no longer on after the unseeded Cecchinato produced the performance of his life and became the first Italian player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in 40 years, when he knocked out a fatigued twentieth seed Djokovic in four sets. Cecchinato will now face seventh seed Thiem for a place in Sunday’s final and Thiem will be playing his third straight French Open semi-final after beating an injured and fatigued second seed Sascha Zverev in straight sets 6-4 6-2 6-1 yesterday.

Thiem is the hot favourite to beat Cecchinato and it’s hard to imagine the ruthless Austrian will give up this great opportunity to reach a first Grand Slam final on current form. However, Thiem can’t afford to underestimate the late-developing Italian who has reached this point on the back of some good clay form in the build up to the French Open, which culminated in him winning the title as a Lucky Loser at Budapest, Hungary back in April. The head-to-head also stands at one all; Cecchinato won their only meeting on clay in straight sets at a Challenger in Italy back in 2013 and Thiem won in three sets later that year on hard courts at a Challenger in Doha.

Today’s men’s quarter finals are between top-seed and defending champion Nadal and eleventh seed Schwartzman and third seed Cilic (advised 10/3 to win Second Quarter) and fifth seed Del Potro. Nadal leads the head-to-head 5-0 against Schwartzman, which includes two straight sets wins on clay at the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 Series last year and at the Madrid Masters 1000 Series this year. Schwartzman’s chances of winning are of course slim and the best he can probably hope for is Nadal’s level to drop during the third set like it did against Marterer and he might be able to nick a set, which Nadal continues to prove on clay is a remarkable feat itself against him, when he is close to, or at his best.

The other quarter final between Cilic and Del Potro could also be a one-sided affair as Del Potro leads the head-to-head 10-2, he has won their last seven matches in a row between 2012 and 2017, six of these in straight sets, and he also won five of their six matches that were played over the best of five sets. Since dropping his only set of the tournament so far, which was the first set of his first match against Mahut, Del Potro has looked stronger with each set and match and he’s looking more and more like the player who won the Indian Wells Masters 1000 Series this year.

He was impressive beating ninth seed Isner 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the fourth round and he will need to produce an even better performance against Cilic if he’s going to win today. I expect Del Potro will emerge victorious as I think he’s the more talented, gifted and mentally strong player and as mentioned above Cilic’s game clearly does not match up well against Del Potro’s. Also, from a personal perspective I would love to see Del Potro face Nadal in the semi-finals as it has the potential to be one of the all-time great Grand Slam matches.

On the women’s side the much anticipated and hyped fourth round clash between arch rivals Sharapova and Serena Williams failed to materialise after Serena had to withdraw pre-match due to injury. However, the USA are still guaranteed a player in Saturday’s women’s final after tenth seed Stephens and thirteenth seed Keys both won their respective quarter final matches yesterday against Kasaktina and Putinseva in straight sets. Stephens has the advantage being the more natural mover on clay and because she leads the head-to-head 2-0, which includes her straight sets win against Keys in the US Open final last year.

Today’s women’s quarter finals between world number one and top-seed Halep and twelfth seed Kerber and third seed Muguruza and twenty eighth seed Sharapova should both deliver high quality encounters as all four players are looking in great shape and playing great tennis at present. The head-to-head between Halep and Kerber stands at four-all and this will be there first meeting on clay. Of the two Halep has proven to be the better and more consistent player on clay having won big WTA titles on the surface, she made two French Open finals, last year and in 2014 and if she produces her best today I can only see Halep winning this one.

This will be 2016 French Open winner Muguruza’s and two-time winner Sharapova’s fourth meeting on the women’s tour and Sharapova leads the head-to-head 3-0, but all three matches came back in 2013 and 2014. Two of the wins were on clay, including here in 2014 when Sharapova won 2-1 and went on to win the title, but it’s safe to say Muguruza is a much improved player since then having won two Grand Slams since 2016. With two in-form and fierce competitors on show I’m expecting an enthralling long, close match, and I expect Muguruza to better Sharapova’s aggression and intensity and come out on top on this occasion.


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