French Open 4th seed Simona Halep, the highest-ranked woman left in the draw, advanced to her first-ever French Open quarterfinal today when she defeated Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3. It was a bit hard to watch Halep and Stephens because--at least for one very long set--all the real action was taking place in the Jankovic vs. Errani match--more on that in a moment.
Halep wasn't at her best, but it's a good sign that on an "off" day, she can still win. The Romanian's serve, which has looked so good in the last few weeks, was tentative, and lacked the big pop and careful placement we've seen from it lately. Halep's movement was as great as always, though, and when the big points loomed, she knew how to win them. She worked her way slowly through the first set, gaining confidence as she went. By the time the second set rolled around, Stephens hadn't exactly folded, but she was clearly beatable.
Halep broke Stephens six times out of six opportunities. The 4th seed hit 19 winners and made 25 unforced errors. Stephens hit 15 winners and made 35 unforced errors. Stephens did a good job of getting her serve in, but she didn't really do too much with it.
Halep will need to get her new serve back in gear and clean up her game for her quarterfinal match.
Errani and Jankovic. Oh, the drama! The first set lasted 81 minutes and was as thrilling as anything you would hope to see on a clay court. Naturally, there were "things" going on. Prince was in the stands watching the Italian and the player formerly known as world number 1. Some Serbian fans were very annoyingly intense. Jankovic played with a painful right thigh, and was seen by both a trainer and a doctor, who applied massage, re-wrapped the thigh and provided some medication.
But for all her pain, JJ held at set point at 6-5 in the first set. Errani broke her, and then went on to win the tiebreak 9-7. The scurrying Italian fireball hit the softest drop shots throughout, repeatedly frustrating an already frustrated Jankovic. Errani broke Jankovic right away in the second set, and ultimately won it, 6-2. Errani also found a workaround for that second serve of hers--she got her first serve in 90% of the time.
There were some breathtaking rallies in this match, several of which went over 20 shots. Errani's next task will be to play Andrea Petkovic, who was able to fend off a spirited Kiki Bertens, 1-6, 6-2, 7-5.
In today's final match, which was moved to Court 1 so that it could be played before darkness fell, 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Lucie Safarova 6-2, 6-4. It wasn't until the middle of the second set that Safarova looked to be truly in the contest, and though she was able to take advantage of some of her opponent's errant ways, it was too little too late. Kuznetsova has always played her best at the French Open, and she looks as good as ever.
There are now two former champions left in the draw, as well as two Spaniards and two Russians. There are no Kikis remaining.
Here is the quarterfinal draw:
Garbine Muguruza vs. Maria Sharapova
If Muguruza didn't think getting Serena Williams in the second round was her worst nightmare, she might think that getting Sharapova in the quarterfinals is. The 2012 champion's three-set victory over Sam Stosur left no doubt that she is to be feared from now on. For her part, Muguruza still seems kind of relaxed, thanks partly to a smart coach, who took the Spaniard's phone away from her after she upset Williams.
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Eugenie Bouchard
Bouchard has pretty much had a romp through this event, taking out Angelique Kerber in the round of 16 as though it were nothing. Now she's up against an actual clay court expert, albeit one whose nerves have historically given her a lot of trouble.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Simona Halep
Halep's performance today left something to be desired, especially in the serving department. Assuming she gets her serve back on for the quarterfinals, it could be very entertaining to see her and Kuznetsova play each other for the first time. The Russian is great on clay, but she can go mentally off at big moments. Spectators will see a lot of red dust as these two slide and spin and put on what I think will be the best show of the day.
Sara Errani vs. Andrea Petkovic
Sara Errani is a woman on a mission. In her own way, she is Sharapova-like in France. After going through a terrible slump, the Italian has her mojo back, and Petko will have to serve very well and be on her toes every moment to counter the volleys, spins and drop shots coming off of Errani's racket.
In doubles, the run of Kiki Mladenovic and Flavia Pennetta was ended today by Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. Also winning today were Marina Erakovic and Arantxa Parra Santonja, as well as 4th seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. Perhaps most interesting, today's other winning team was the Spanish duo of Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, who are both still in the singles draw. In fact, they are headed for a semifinal collision in the singles draw--only first they have to defeat Maria Sharapova and Genie Bouchard, respectively.