Much of the buzz at this year’s French Open concerns Rafael Nadal’s incredible dominance so far (he only gave up one game in three sets of his second round match!) in his pursuit of a tenth trophy at Roland Garros.
The other topic on people’s minds is whether Novak Djokovic can regain the form he had last year when he won his first French Open, completing a career grand slam. Since then, his competitiveness and desire has appeared to dwindle, and he fired his long standing coaching staff and hired former champ Andre Agassi to hopefully re-inspire his career.
Nadal and Djokovic are fated to meet in the semifinals if seeding goes to plan. The top two seeds in the other half of the draw are number one Andy Murray and number three Stan Wawrinka, both coming off relatively quiet and unsuccessful clay court tournaments heading into the second major of the year.
Murray has been suffering from a right elbow or arm injury obviously affecting his serve, while Wawrinka seems to be once again pacing himself, saving his best play for the majors.
In Murray’s fourth round match, he battled Karen Khachanov, an unseeded 21 year old from Russia who consistently out hit Murray on almost every point, but couldn’t do it consistently enough to break down Murray’s supreme defense and scrambling ability.
The wiley veteran sliced, diced, drop shotted, and lobbed to frustrate the young power player into unforced errors. Numerous times Khachanov jumped all over Murray’s weak second serve, getting strong returns in deep, forcing Murray into a defensive shot to stay in the point. but instead of another shot to continue the pressure, the young Russian would go for a low percentage winner without much success.
Each of the first two sets just had a total of two breaks of serve, both in Murray”s favor, resulting in a 6-3,6-4 advantage.
The first game of set three saw Khachanov spot Murray a 0-40 lead before getting back to deuce, only to be broken on the fourth try. This seemed to be a gift for Murray to close out the match and head into the quarterfinals to face Kei Nishikori of Japan, but Khachanov broke back in the eighth game after almost drilling Murray with the ball in a quick exchange at the net followed by one of the rare misplayed drop shots by Murray.
Murray quickly regained his focus and broke right back, forcing errors, and then served out the match decidedly, winning 6-3,6-4,6-4.
Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland had a tougher match up with fifteenth seeded Gael Monfils of France. This was their sixth meeting, and their first since their only grand slam meeting at the 2011 Australian open which Wawrinka won.
The home crowd gave Monfils a lot of encouragement in a close first set but Wawrinka gained a set point with Monfils serving 5-6 on an unforced error. With the tension rising, Monfils double faulted the set away.
Both players appeared a little dinged up with Monfils turning an ankle early in set one and Wawrinka taking a medical time out after set one for apparent back spasms.
Set two was similar to set one with no early breaks of serve, and both players playing rather conservatively, forcing the set into a tiebreaker. On his third set point, Wawrinka came to the net to hit a cross court volley to take a two sets to love lead in the best of five match.
Set three saw an early break by Wawrinka to lead 2-1 and another break at love to take a commanding 4-1 lead, looking to close out the match. Errors by Monfils were now coming in bunches and the home crowd was disheartened but still trying to urge the Frenchman on to fight back.
Wawrinka served for the match at 5-2, and with two match points at 40-15, Monfils got back to deuce. On the third try, Wawrinka hit one of his patented top- spin backhands for a winner to close out the match. He meets Marin Cilic of Croatia in the quarterfinals.
Only Andy Murray of the top four seeds has yet to win at Roland Garros and it looks like one of the four, and especially Rafael Nadal, are heavily favored to win it this year.
Written by Evan Fabricant
Photos by Dana Gardner