On the second Tuesday of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, eight male tennis players remain out of the original group of 128 that started the tournament. Some of them are predictable, though there are a couple of surprises. But the top 5 seeds are still in it – which shows that there hasn’t been any massive upset yet, except for Alexander Zverev losing in the first round to Fernando Verdasco.
Quarterfinal 1: Andy Murray vs Kei Nishikori (Wednesday)
Head to head: 9-2
It’s shocking that World no. 1 Murray made it to the quarterfinals. He has had a miserable season, winning only one title (Dubai), and losing early in Madrid, Monte Carlo and Rome after a failed Australian Open campaign. He has beaten only one top-10 player this year and looked scratchy here on clay, despite reaching a career-best final last year. Yet, Murray has found a way, defeating some tricky opponents and growing in confidence and strength. He still looks way off his best, but his demolition of Juan Martin Del Potro showed that he can still do it on his day.
His opponent is Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori – who reached this stage of the French Open for the third consecutive time. Nishikori has had it rough, outlasting South Korean Chung Hyeon in the fourth round in five rain-affected sets, before overcoming Verdasco in the fourth round in four. He won just twelve points in the first set, going down 0-6 to the Spaniard before turning it around. He isn’t as physically strong as Murray, but will count on his consistency and lack of errors to overcome the Brit. This will be quite a match, though it won’t be the best of the lot.
Quarterfinal 2: Novak Djokovic vs Dominic Thiem (Tuesday)
Head to head: 5-0
World no. 2 Djokovic is playing his first tournament with new coach Andre Agassi. He has steamed through to the quarters, with just one major scare in the third round, when he was two sets to one down against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. He is the defending champion, though is still a shadow of the player that held all four Slams when he won at Paris last year. Two weeks ago, he destroyed young Austrian Thiem, who is touted as a future World no. 1 with Zverev. Thiem has had a solid claycourt season otherwise; he had defeated Rafael Nadal only a day before facing Djokovic at Rome, beating him finally in his third attempt in three weeks. He remains the only one to beat Nadal on clay this European season. He will look to forget the 6-1 6-0 thrashing by the Serb as a bad tired nightmare, and will look to start afresh and take forward his budding legacy. This will be the one to look forward to.
Quarterfinal 3: Rafael Nadal vs Pablo Carreno Busta (Tuesday)
Head to head: 3-0
This should be quite a walkover. Nadal hasn’t come close to losing a set at his favorite tournament this year. Barring an injury or a miraculous performance by either Thiem or Djokovic in the semifinals, Nadal looks set to win his tenth French Open title. He has barely lost any games – forget sets – on his way to the last eight. His opponent, a clay specialist Spaniard who beat Milos Raonic in the fourth round, will be lucky to take the match beyond the 90-minute mark. Nadal has had it fairly easy compared to his opponents, but could face his conqueror Thiem in the semis, or even everyone’s greatest fear – Stan Wawrinka – in the finals.
Quarterfinal 4: Stanislas Wawrinka vs Marin Cilic (Wednesday)
Head to head: 11-2
Wawrinka has won his last 7 matches against the enigmatic Marin Cilic, who is yet to show the form that won him the 2014 US Open title. Wawrinka, meanwhile, is the only player other than Nadal, who is yet to lose a set in this tournament. The Swiss player, no. 3 in the world, usually has one Slam a year where he hits beast mode towards the latter stages. Dangerously, he has looked infallible right from the first round this year – and this could worry his next opponent. It will also worry Nadal, who will only be wary of Wawrinka, given his Grand Slam finals record. He has played three finals – two against Djokovic (French Open, US Open) and one against Nadal (Australian Open) – and won all three. Cilic will be the least of his problems.
Andy Murray (1) vs Stan Wawrinka (3)
Novak Djokovic (2) vs Rafael Nadal (4)