Serena hunkers down, focuses, dominates

Updated: June 1, 2009

Drawn and quartered

PARIS -- The men's draw is a shambles in the wake of stunning departures by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the men viewed as most likely to succeed this year at Roland Garros.

The women's side is looking increasingly like a showdown between World No. 1 Dinara Safina and the woman she supplanted at the top, Serena Williams. If things work out, it could be a smackdown, a definitive meeting after some harsh words concerning the relative merits of their reigns at the top.

If history means anything -- and Nadal's ouster after going 31-0 here suggests its influence on current events is suspect, at best -- Williams has a vast edge in experience. She has won 10 Grand Slam singles titles, including the last two, and the rest of the remaining field has a grand total of four (three by Maria Sharapova and one by Svetlana Kuznetsova).

On Monday, Williams won the first nine points of her fourth-round match with Aleksandra Wozniak on the way to a 6-1, 6-2 pummeling in a snappy 53 minutes. Although clay is the surface that rewards her game the least, Williams has played the French Open seven times since 2001 and has reached the quarterfinals no fewer than six times.

She has won it only once though, in 2002, in the process of producing her career-best Serena Slam.

Wozniak, who described herself as "tight," like a "rock," called Safina and Williams co-favorites.

Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Serena Williams pristinely defeated Aleksandra Wozniak to advance to the French Open quarterfinals.

"I would say both because people -- they have favorites," Wozniak said. "So one, they love Safina and they love Serena, so definitely, the best player is going to win Roland Garros this year."

Said Williams, "I feel like it was my most focused match so far. I'm just happy to still be here."

So is Kuznetsova (a 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 winner over Agnieszka Radwanska), Williams' opponent on Wednesday.

"She's playing unbelievable on clay," Williams said. "Honestly, I feel like I have nothing to lose. I feel like it will be a really good match."

Williams holds a 5-1 head-to-head advantage over Kuznetsova, including a three-set quarterfinal win at this year's Australian Open. The French Open, however, is played on clay.

"I feel a little bit more comfortable on clay than her," Kuznetsova said. "I have to try and use it to advantage for myself."

The other women's quarter from the bottom half of the draw:

Sorana Cirstea of Romania -- the longest shot left in the tournament on either side -- meets No. 30 Samantha Stosur, a 6-1, 6-2 winner over unseeded Virginie Razzano.

On Tuesday, the two quarters from the top half will feature Safina versus 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka, plus Sharapova versus the No. 20 seed from Slovakia, Dominika Cibulkova.

If the two Russians win, it would set up a delicious semifinal and their third meeting at Roland Garros in four years; Safina won drama-filled, three-set matches in 2006 and 2008.

Five things we learned on Day 9

1. Sorana Cirstea is having a terrific run: All the striking -- and unseeded -- 19-year-old from Bucharest, Romania, has done is win four main-draw matches, including straight-sets victories over French favorite Alize Cornet and No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki -- and on Monday a 3-6, 6-0, 9-7 tour de force against No. 5 seed Jelena Jankovic.

Coming into the tournament, a number of experts picked Jankovic to win.

The third set alone required 89 minutes, and Cirstea won when she knocked off a short backhand swinging volley after squandering two previous match points. Cirstea started the first three months of the season 0-for-2009 but never stopped firing for the lines.

"I didn't know how well she could play, but I know how well I can play," Jankovic said. "I'm not producing that game, so it's obvious. The way you play, this is the result you're going to have at the end of the day.

"That's all I can say."

2. And the last Spanish player remaining is … Tommy Robredo: Who'da thunk it? With Rafael Nadal on his way home for a dip in the pool, Robredo -- in his ninth consecutive season in the top 30 -- enters the fourth quarterfinal here at Roland Garros.

"There is also Marc Lopez, who is playing doubles with me," Robredo explained earnestly. "I don't see it as pressure. I'm not putting all the 40 million Spaniards behind me thinking that if I lose they are going to lose, no?"

3. Juan Martin del Potro could … go … all … the … way: After getting dismantled by the spidery Argentine, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave him some serious props.

"I think he can win the tournament," Tsonga said. "He can go to the very end of this tournament. He's got the game that it takes to go to the very final level. He's one of the players who are very constant and consistent compared with Nadal, Djokovic or Federer."

4. History repeats itself. History repeats itself: On Sunday, Robin Soderling stunned four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal. The last Swede to take down a world No. 1 in a Grand Slam? Magnus Norman, here in 1997, with a third-round victory over Pete Sampras. Norman is Soderling's coach.

5. Tennis Tweet of the day: "TRAVIS PARROTT: $2,000 down the drain: In Paris, I made a late mistake and it cost me, and especially my wife, dearly." -- After forgetting to sign in for mixed doubles and forfeiting the guaranteed first-round purse

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Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.


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Dark times

Roddick

Monday's Andy Roddick-Gael Monfils fourth-round match offered plenty of drama as it was: It would be the charismatic, elastic, irrepressible French favorite playing to a raucous home crowd versus the big-serving American, already further than he'd ever been before at Roland Garros.

But when three preceding matches on Court Suzanne Lenglen ran long, a new dramatic element was introduced. This bout, which began at 7:46 p.m., would be a race against daylight. Sunset in Paris would be at 9:46 p.m.

Do the math.

Midway through the second set, Roddick began lobbying chair umpire Enric Molina to halt play.

"I can't see anything," Roddick said. "Don't tell me it's OK. You're not playing."

In the end, they made it just under the wire, with Monfils winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Frankly, this was a worst-case scenario for Roddick, who officially succumbed when his forehand volley didn't carry the net.

Roddick, whose signature shot is the ace, had four for the match; Monfils authored no fewer than 17.

No. 2 seed Roger Federer, a come-from-behind winner over Tommy Haas in five sets, awaits Monfils in the quarterfinals.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had won his past 13 matches in France (including Paris Indoor and Marseille), but he lost to No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro in a fourth-round match 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4.

Del Potro meets No. 16 Tommy Robredo, who took down Novak Djokovic-slayer Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Del Potro was asked whether, with Rafael Nadal and Djokovic out of the way, there was more pressure on his narrow shoulders.

"Well," Del Potro said, thoughtfully, "I see things the other way around. From my side, I can tell you that all the players are good, even Roger, who's on the bottom of the draw. Now I have to fight against Robredo.

"That's what I was thinking about. That's going to be really difficult."

Fair enough.

Tuesday's top-half quarters look like this:

First, No. 23 Robin Soderling versus No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko, then No. 3 Andy Murray versus No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez.

Murray knows Gonzalez quite well; they've split two professional matches, and he's been practicing with him for the past week here at Roland Garros.

"In practice, it's not the same as playing against him in matches," Murray said. "He's very unpredictable, which makes it tough to play against him. You don't want to leave the ball in the middle of the court against him."

-- Greg Garber

Britain's hope

Robson

Though the boys' singles draw features zero players from Great Britain, so the hopes of the late, great empire in a few weeks at the All England Club rest with Andy Murray.

On the women's side, Anne Keothavong (No. 56) is the only player from Great Britain ranked among the top 100, but there seems to be help on the way.

Laura Robson is ranked only No. 485, but at 15 years old, she already has established herself as the future of British tennis. She is the No. 1-ranked International Tennis Federation junior and the top seed here in the girls' singles.

On Monday, Robson had a scratchy start against Russia's Karina Pimkina, dropping the first set before rallying to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

With a standing-room-only crowd in intimate Interview Room No. 3, Robson, stretched out her newly lacquered red fingernails on the podium in front of her.

Asked whether she was happy, she coyly asked, "Are you talking about my match or my nails?

She said that in the three months since the Australian Open junior tournament, she took a few weeks off from tennis to deal with growing pains -- literally; she has reached 5-foot-10. She also spent time kayaking, rock climbing and training.

Robson was born in Melbourne, Australia, but her father, Andrew, is an oil executive for Royal Dutch Shell and moved the family to Singapore when she was 18 months old and to England when she was 6. Robson began attending a junior academy at age 7 and has been marked as a phenom ever since.

Octagon, the sports management firm, signed her at the age of 10, and Adidas followed a year later.

Robson broke through last year, winning the Wimbledon junior tournament -- at the tender age of 14 -- and creating massive expectations. Then she fell in the final of the Aussie juniors, losing to Ksenia Pervak of Russia 6-3, 6-1.

That's behind her now. She's waiting to receive word whether she will receive a wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon (extremely likely) before she makes the rest of her summer schedule.

For now, she's toiling on clay, her least-favorite surface.

"I'm a bit iffy," Robson said. "Obviously, my game suits a faster surface.

"And … I don't like what it does to my socks."

-- Greg Garber

Critic's choice

Gonzalez

No. 3 Andy Murray vs. No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez: This should be a close one. The Chilean is the better clay-courter and played well on the red brick road here. Murray is getting more and more comfortable on clay and knows he might be the one man in the draw who could give Roger Federer fits in a final. The match will be on the slighter harder surface of Philippe Chatrier Stadium, which would seem to favor Murray, but Gonzo's forehand will be a potent weapon there.

ESPN.com prediction: Gonzalez in four.

-- Bonnie D. Ford