2013 French Open: Men's quarterfinal primer


The first week of a grand slam is for tennis fans. The second week is for sports fans. So if you are just starting to tune into the 2013 French Open, it's time for the quarterfinals! Here's what you need to know about each of four wonderfully intriguing matchups.

Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas

Matchup Seed AB Rank AB Clay Rank Head-to-Head Wins Head-to-Head on Clay Avg. opp. Rank (AB clay) % of games won thus far
Djokovic 1 1 2 4 1 56.3 64.5%
Haas 12 11 14 3 0 74.0 60.3%

Tommy Haas is 35 years old, but really, his legs are only about 32. He tore up his shoulder and missed all of 2003. He missed half of 2008 and most of 2010 as well.

Path No. 1: He entered the ATP Top 100 in May 1997, entered the Top 20 in February 1999, entered the Top 10 in September 1999, entered the Top 5 in January 2002, entered the Top 2 in May 2002, and fell completely out of the rankings in November 2003.

Path No. 2: He re-entered the Top 100 in June 2004, entered the Top 20 in November 2004, fell to No. 47 in October 25, re-entered the Top 10 in January 2007, and fell to No. 87 in November 2008.

Path No. 3: He re-entered the Top 20 in July 2009, fell out of the Top 100 in July 2010, and fell completely out of the rankings in February 2011.

Path No. 4: He re-entered the Top 100 in June 2012, re-entered the Top 20 in October 2012, reached No. 14 heading into the French Open, and could re-enter the Top 10 next week.

Careers like this aren't supposed to happen. Haas is only four years younger than Jimmy Connors was when Connors made his famed out-of-nowhere run to the U.S. Open semifinals in 1991. And now he faces the No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is widely seen as the only person who can prevent Rafael Nadal from winning his eighth French Open in nine years, but first he has to get past Haas, who downright whipped him, 6-2, 6-4, in the round of 16 at Miami not too long ago.

Since Haas entered Path No. 4, these two have played three times (all on hard court) with Djokovic taking four of seven sets. Haas survived Isner Plays Random Epic Five-Setter Day on Saturday and thrashed Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round on Monday. Djokovic, meanwhile, has been a bit uneven; he entered the French Open sporting a run of lackluster (for him) play, and he was taken to at least 4-4 in each of his three sets against David Goffin in the first round. After smoking his second- and third-round opponents, he came out flat against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round (perhaps with good cause) but handled the No. 16 seed in four sets. Haas is easily the best opponent he has faced thus far; a slow start could be quite damaging. One has to like Djokovic's chances against anybody of any age in a best-of-5 situation, but against Haas, the longer the match goes, the better it probably is for the World No. 1.

Rafael Nadal vs. Stan Wawrinka

Matchup Seed AB Rank AB Clay Rank Head-to-Head Wins Head-to-Head on Clay Avg. opp. Rank (AB clay) % of games won thus far
Nadal 3 2 1 9 4 36.8 59.4%
Wawrinka 9 10 7 0 0 42.3 56.8%

Stan Wawrinka has probably played the best tennis of his career during the 2013 clay court season. He reached the finals in Madrid, taking out Andy Murray in Monte Carlo, whipping David Ferrer in Portugal, and knocking off both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych en route to the Madrid Open finals. On Monday in the fourth round, he came back from two sets down to survive Richard Gasquet in what may have been the most entertaining match of the tournament.

Even playing at this level, however, Wawrinka has found few ways to win points against Rafael Nadal, who handled him with ease, 6-2, 6-4, in the Madrid finals.

Nadal has struggled with slow starts thus far in the French Open. He dropped the first set against both Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, he was taken to a first-set tiebreaker with Fognini in the third round, and he held off Kei Nishikori by just a 6-4 margin in the first set in the fourth round. After the first set, however? Different story. Once Nadal gets rolling, he looks like The Nadal Of Old; a fast start is necessary for Wawrinka, not only because that's when Nadal is at his most charitable, but also because Wawrinka's legs had to be complete jelly on Monday evening. Nadal's defense has just been too much for Wawrinka in the past; will it be any different this time around?

David Ferrer vs. Tommy Robredo

Matchup Seed AB Rank AB Clay Rank Head-to-Head Wins Head-to-Head on Clay Avg. opp. Rank (AB clay) % of games won thus far
Ferrer 4 4 3 6 5 65.5 69.5%
Robredo 32 34 13 2 2 54.8 58.1%

Half of the final eight players in the men's draw are at least 31 years old, which is just astounding. Granted, Tommy Haas has stolen everybody's thunder -- 31-year-old Tommy Robredo isn't even the oldest Tommy remaining in the draw -- but Robredo has found a different way to get attention: spot everybody two sets. Igor Sijsling took the first two sets from Robredo in the second round, but Robredo came back to win, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. Gael Monfils did the same in the third, and Robredo took the last three, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2. And in the fourth round, Nicolas Almagro took the first two before falling, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Granted, neither Monfils nor Almagro are known for their rock-steady ability to hold leads in majors, but this is just a staggering achievement, something that had not been accomplished at a major since Henri Cochet did it at Wimbledon in 1927.

Robredo is probably going to pull another rabbit out of his hat against David Ferrer; the fellow 31-year-old Spaniard has owned Robredo of late, taking the last three meetings (all on clay) rather handily and winning six of the last seven sets. At Buenos Aires, the two met in the semifinals, and Ferrer coasted, 6-3, 6-2.

Robredo certainly won't be cowed by the moment -- this is his fifth appearance in the French Open quarterfinals (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009); he's been around the block. But since the draw was announced, the tournament has taken on a "This is Ferrer's time" vibe. Ferrer has reached the semifinals of four of the last six slams but has never broken through to the finals. With Nadal and Djokovic on the other side of the bracket, this is the best opportunity he's going to get.

Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Matchup Seed AB Rank AB Clay Rank Head-to-Head Wins Head-to-Head on Clay Avg. opp. Rank (AB clay) % of games won thus far
Federer 2 3 4 9 1 71.3 65.8%
Tsonga 6 8 16 3 0 47.8 66.7%

It only feels like these two meet in every slam. Still, they have met in four slams since 2010: the 2010 Australian Open semis, the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals, the 2011 U.S. Open quarterfinals, and the 2013 Aussie quarterfinals. Tsonga found a brief rhythm against the all-time slams leader -- he won twice in a row in 2011 -- but Federer has handled the series overall. Meanwhile, the only time the two met on clay, Federer cruised, 6-4, 6-2.

Still ... have you seen Tsonga in the last week? The Frenchman, who did not enjoy a stellar clay-court season heading up to Roland Garros, has smoked a strong set of opponents. After falling asleep versus Gilles Simon for a couple of sets, Federer looked incredible in closing out the fourth and fifth sets to advance to the quarterfinals; Tsonga, however, has yet to fall asleep.

Based on both history and clay-court prowess, Federer holds the edge here. But damn, has Tsonga looked good of late.

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