Can Nicolas Almagro slug his way past the ultimate clay-court slugger, Rafael Nadal? Can Andy Murray limp all the way to the semis? Can one of two women pull a huge upset?
Day 10 of the 2012 French Open had all the drama one could hope for in just four matches: dramatic comebacks (Roger Federer comes from two sets down to beat Juan Martin Del Potro, and Novak Djokovic saves four fourth-set match points on his way to a five-set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), dominant displays (Sam Stosur plays "like a man" and beats Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4, 6-1), and out-of-relative-nowhere stories (No. 21 Sara Errani advances to her first grand slam semifinal).
A quick perusal of the docket suggests the same type of well-rounded drama could be on display on Wednesday.
Men's Quarterfinals: No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 12 Nicolas Almagro. I am not going to go overboard and say that if Nadal doesn't lose to Almagro, he isn't going to lose in the French Open. That would be unfair to both Novak Djokovic, who beat Nadal in three slam finals last year and plays his absolute best when behind, and Roger Federer, who is Roger Federer. Still, of the six remaining players in the men's draw, only Almagro can match Nadal's relative dominance (he, too, has yet to drop a set, though he has lost 43 games to Nadal's paltry 19) and offensive upside (No. 6 David Ferrer also has yet to drop a game, but he has struggled to compete with Nadal, losing 20 of the last 23 head-to-head sets). Almagro is an exciting player who plays a bigger game than his six-foot frame would suggest. He has yet to defeat Nadal, but in their last three meetings, he has taken two sets from Nadal and taken three others to tiebreakers. Unlike many players who thrive on clay, Almagro's deficiencies come on defense, but when he gets an opportunity to control a point, he strangles it. Nadal is still the obvious favorite, but this could be an exciting, aggressive match regardless.
Men's Quarterfinals: No. 4 Andy Murray vs. No. 6 David Ferrer. Against growing odds, Andy Murray has overcome a back injury and a series of slow starts to reach the quarterfinals. In both his second- and fourth-round wins, he dropped the first set, 6-1, before catching fire. He seems to need an hour to warm up and get into the match, but that might be okay against Ferrer, who would play a single point for an hour if he could find a willing partner. Ferrer is all speed, stamina and defense (okay, that's not entirely fair -- you don't reach No. 6 in the world without a solid offense as well; we'll just say he's lacking in this regard compared to the five players ahead of him), and this match could get better as it ages.
Women's Quarterfinals: No. 2 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 23 Kaia Kanepi and No. 4 Petra Kvitova vs. Yaroslava Shvedova. Sam Stosur is looking fantastic on the other side of the draw, but if you want an outright, big-name, heavyweight slugfest on the women's side, root for a semifinal between Sharapova and Kvitova. The two have played twice in the last three slams, and after Kvitova's domination of the Wimbledon finals, Sharapova responded with a dramatic win in the Australian Open semifinals. Sharapova looked as dominant as possible, dropping just five games in her first three matches, but she had to work to get past Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round. Kvitova, meanwhile, got her scare in the third round, going three sets with Nina Bratchikova. Still, both avoided upsets and have looked dominate otherwise.
Rooting for the two favorites might not be much fun, but look at it this way: either way, you can't lose. Either you get your huge slugfest, or you have a major underdog (or two) to root for in the semifinals. Kanepi, a 26-year old from Estonia, has had to battle both her opponent and herself in her last two matches; she blew many second-set opportunities against No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki but still managed to win in three sets, and in the fourth round against Arantxa Rus, she sandwiched dominant sets of 6-1 and 6-0 with a 6-4 glitch in the second set. She is ranked 23rd in the world, so she isn't a complete unknown; still, she had yet to advance beyond the third round in a major before this fortnight in Paris.
Then there's Yaroslava Shvedova. The 24-year old from Moscow ranked 142nd in the world heading into the French Open. She missed a good portion of the 2011 season with a knee injury. She failed to qualify for the 2012 Australian Open, she lost early in minor tournaments in Colombia and Mexico in February. A doubles and clay-court specialist, she did once rank as high as 29th in the world, but she had only once advanced beyond the third round of a slam: the 2010 French Open. No matter. She has dropped only one set thus far -- the first set of her fourth-round win over defending French champion Li Na. She responded with a 6-2, 6-0 throttling. She is almost as hot as any remaining player in the draw, but she is also a significant underdog against the big-hitting Kvitova.