While the men's draw has remained mostly upset-free in the 2012 French Open, the women, as is usually the case, have suffered some attrition. Serena Williams' first ever first-round loss in a grand slam, combined with No. 26 Svetlana Kuznetsova's romp over No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, means two things: Two of the hottest players on the tour heading into the French are gone, and the draw has very much opened up for No. 10 Angelique Kerber and a dominant No. 2 Maria Sharapova.
Women's Group 1 (Through Three Rounds)
No. 1 Victoria Azarenka
No. 6 Sam Stosur
No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova
There are only eight Top 15 players remaining in the French Open field; three of them are in this group. Victoria Azarenka has looked strong since a slow start in the first round, but she has her work cut out for her against Cibulkova, against whom she is 1-1 on clay, and probably Stosur, the U.S. Open champion. (But before we move Stosur forward, she has to take out Sloane Stephens, who looked fantastic in the third round.)
Women's Group 2 (Through Three Rounds)
No. 10 Angelique Kerber
No. 21 Sara Errani
No. 26 Svetlana Kuznetsova
Germany's Angelique Kerber entered the French Open playing some of the best tennis on the WTA Tour. The 24-year old was dominated by Maria Sharapova in the third round of the Australian Open, but she has claimed quite a few scalps since then. She got revenge on Sharapova a couple of weeks later in Paris on her way to a tournament title. She thumped Li Na and advanced to the semifinals at Indian Wells. She dominated Jelena Jankovic and Carolina Wozniacki on her way to a title in Copenhagen, then whipped Wozniacki again two weeks later. She took down Petra Kvitova in Rome before falling to Sharapova. And now she enters the first round as the only Top 20 player remaining in her group. At this moment, only Sharapova has an easier path to the semifinals.
Women's Group 3 (Through Three Rounds)
No. 4 Petra Kvitova
No. 7 Li Na
It is difficult to bet against the U.S.'s Lepchenko at this point, isn't it? She has won three three-set matches (she has won the third sets 6-4, 6-4 and 8-6 so far) and has taken out two seeded players -- No. 19 Jelena Jankovic in the second round, then 2010 champion and No. 14 seed Francesca Schiavone in the third. She was ranked in the triple digits not too long ago, and this tournament should easily boost her into the Top 50. That said, the degree of difficulty now takes an enormous step up. She must face power hitter Petra Kvitova in the fourth round; Kvitova did drop a set in the third round, but of the six sets she has won, only one has been closer than 6-2. And Lepchenko somehow gets by Kvitova, last year's champion, Li, will probably be waiting in the quarterfinals. Your most likely outcome in this group: an absolute slugfest between Kvitova and Li in the quarters.
Women's Group 4 (Through Three Rounds)
No. 2 Maria Sharapova
No. 23 Kaia Kanepi
Maria Sharapova has played six sets at this year's French Open. She has lost five games. Long considered her worst surface (she has won three slams but has only advanced to the semifinals at the French), the clay is getting along quite well with the 25-year old from Bradenton-via-Russia. And so is the draw; both No. 5 Serena Williams and No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki have fallen, leaving just Kaia Kanepi (the survivor of a grueling three-setter versus Wozniacki) and two unseeded players. She defeated her fourth-round opponent, the 30-year old Zakopalova, in straight sets both in Madrid this year and at Wimbledon last year, and she would be a heavy favorite versus either Kanepi or Rus (who took Sharapova to three sets on clay last year).
Even before No. 3 Radwanska and No. 8 Marion Bartoli each fell, Angelique Kerber had to have been considered a favorite, or close to it, in Group 2. That means that we still have at least one big, hot name remaining in each group, and semifinals of Azarenka-Kerber and Kvitova-Sharapova are still in play. Those matchups would be great for the women's game, but hey, if Stephens and Lepchenko wanted to spoil the party, that would be fine, too.
Sunday Matches to Follow:
- Men's 4th Round: No. 7 Tomas Berdych vs. No. 9 Juan Marin Del Potro. You will get tired just watching these two power hitters pound away at each other. The announcers will call this "big boy tennis" an infinite number of times, and they will be very much correct.
- Women's 4th Round: No. 6 Sam Stosur vs. Sloane Stephens. This is Stephens' first trip to the Round of 16 in a grand slam. Can the 19-year old from Florida raise her game another couple of notches?
- Men's 4th Round: No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 22 Andreas Sappi. Rafael Nadal has looked nearly flawless so far. Can Nola keep pace against the first Italian to reach the Top 25 in quite a while?
- Women's 4th Round: No. 1 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova. The last time these two played on clay, Cibulkova won a three-setter at Amelia Island in 2008. She also "defeated" Azarenka earlier this year when the world No. 1 withdrew with an injury. Their last five matches have all gone to three sets. In other words, this isn't a good matchup for Azarenka. It will be a fight.
One Final Note
If you don't care about a given sport (like, say, tennis), please do not purchase the rights to televise it. The Peacock, as always, elected not to show yesterday's early matches live, meaning we had to wait four hours to see any of Lepchenko's win over Schiavone. Then, with their coverage window over and Wozniacki-Kanepi deep in the third set, NBC went ahead and switched to the Prefontaine Open. I know tennis is more of a niche sport than a major sport at this point, but that's really, really awful. And of course, expect more tape-delayed, abbreviated goodness today, with a coverage window of just 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:00 p.m.