Baseline Buzz: What to watch
PARIS -- Etymology, please?
OK, could you use it in a sentence?
We understand if you get tangled trying to spell Tomljanovic, which, for the record, has Croatian roots. But, like her relatively unknown cohorts who have produced all these upsets, we might be spelling her name with little assistance when all is said and done.
Still, if you're on a budget plan, you might want to think long and hard before putting down any euros on any one of the three going forward. The top three seeds on the WTA Tour, as you're probably aware by now, are gone before the end of the first week, a dubious accomplishment we've never seen in Open era tennis.
But, look past all the carnage and one prominent name still emerges. Maria Sharapova, who double-bageled her last opponent, has to be doing cartwheels heading into the second week. She is, after all, the 2011 champ here and, since the onset of the clay season, has really picked up her game, winning titles at Stuttgart and Madrid.
So with that, what else should we look forward to as the French Open begins its final week? ESPN.com tennis editor Matt Wilansky and senior writer Greg Garber kick it around with espnW's Jim Caple in another rollicking installment of Baseline Buzz:
Wilansky: So what we're saying is that clay courts are what we thought they were? Remember back in the day, when Muguruza was about a week out of pull-up diapers and we had no clue who was going to win in the French? In eight years, from 1997 to 2004, there were eight different winners. It's why we loved (or didn't) this event. But then Justine Henin happened and infused some rare stability with three straight titles. But here we are at it again, with six different winners in the past six years. For the record, I am intrigued by all the names the casual tennis fan likely isn't familiar with. Muguruza, just 20 years old, won a title at Hobart back January, and now she's on to her first round of 16 in a major. With one more win, a potential matchup with Sharapova awaits. And simple math says that if Muguruza can beat Williams, who has 15 straight wins over Sharapova, then
Garber: I know you are a Fed Fanatic, Mr. Tennis Editor, and I must admit I am extremely curious whether the 17-time Grand Slam singles champion still has the chops to seriously contend for a major final. In Australia, he knocked off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray to reach the semifinals before succumbing to Rafael Nadal in straight sets. Federer gets Ernests Gulbis in a Sunday fourth-round match and would face the winner of Tomas Berdych-John Isner in the quarters. No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic lurks as a possible semifinal opponent. That, I fear, might be too big an ask for Federer, but I'd like to see him get there.
Caple: Personally, I'm pulling for Djokovic to win it all because that means more news conferences with him. I'm dazzled by anyone who can speak five languages and be funny in them, as well. On the court, I'm interested in how far Sloane Stephens can go. She has never reached the final of any tournament, not just Grand Slams, but she would quiet her critics if she did so here. The first test is Monday's match against Simona Halep, who at No. 4 is the highest-ranked woman left. The two were relatively equal two years ago, but Halep has caught and passed Stephens, who seems to get excited only about the majors. But since the women's draw has been all about upsets, maybe this is Sloane's time.
Wilansky: Based on her performance Saturday, we can at least move past the glum and disinterested narrative that followed Stephens into this tournament. But I am actually just as intrigued by Halep. Last season, only Serena had more titles than the emerging Romanian. And here is Paris, Halep has yet to be challenged in a single set. Actually, she has dropped no more than two games in half of her six sets. Some (cough, cough) might even consider Halep the favorite to win the title.
Garber I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on Nadal the next few rounds. He came into Roland Garros a little nicked up; three losses in the clay season? The guy's a complete mess, no? Well, maybe not. Rafa has looked suspiciously like Rafa across the first week, and you get the idea his confidence is returning at his home away from home. When you've won eight major titles in one place (and no one else ever has), you've earned the right to be comfortable and relaxed.
Caple: Heck, Rafa has won more Slams just at Roland Garros than all the remaining women have won anywhere combined. The three former champs still playing have won seven majors -- four by Sharapova, two by Svetlana Kuznetsova and one by Samantha Stosur. Sharapova is looking very good. She won at Madrid and Stuttgart and doesn't have to face Serena, who, as mentioned earlier, has beaten her the past 15 times they've played. She also is just off that double-bageling. So, as wide open as the women's side looks now, I'm saying she's the big favorite.
Wilansky: It also should be noted that Sharapova has won 50 of her past 55 clay-court matches. She's about as comfortable on this surface as a polar bear on ice, if you know what we mean. There's a possibility Sharapova could play Eugenie Bouchard in the quarterfinals, which would be a curious, even compelling, matchup. Like Stephens, Bouchard is a player with enormous talent but scattered results. She has lived fairly dangerously the past two rounds, but, also like the Sloaner, Bouchard played her best tennis this season under the spotlight, reaching the semifinals of the Aussie Open.
Garber: One last thought from me: After watching John Isner play his first three matches here, I'm wondering whether he can win one more. He's been to the third round three times now at Roland Garros but, until now, never the fourth. A win over No. 6 seed Berdych would launch him into a quarterfinal, most likely against No. 4 Roger Federer. I talked with Isner earlier this year, and one of his major points of emphasis was playing more aggressively to avoid playing too many sets early in Slams. He already has played 12 sets, eight of them tiebreakers. Curious to see how his stamina is against Berdych.
Caple: If you ask me, Isner seems to have the stamina to endure whatever comes his way, even the Paris metro to Roland Garros every morning. I don't know what the deal is, but it has become like the Tokyo subway. It was so crowded today that, at the stop nearest to Roland Garros, there was virtually no room in the train for passengers to get in and almost no room on the platform for us to get out. You would have thought Sharapova was making an appearance. But I'm really hoping for Isner to advance to the quarters because doing so would be a nice shot in the arm for the U.S. men. Not that I expect him to end the U.S men's Slam drought.