Of the four round-of-16 winners at the French Open today, 4th seed Victoria Azarenka had the least complicated path to victory. Her opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, can put up a good fight but Azarenka managed this match with minimum stress and defeated the Russian player 6-2, 6-3.
It wasn't quite as easy for 7th seed Maria Sharapova, who had to deal with Agnieszka Radwanska's relentless defensive game for two hours. The 12th seed can move around on clay better than Sharapova can, and she made a point of moving her opponent around as much as possible. In the second set, Radwanska had two set points on Sharapova's serve, and three on her own, but she saw them all disappear, and the 7th seed left the court with a 7-6, 7-5 victory. Sharapova has beaten Radwanska almost every time they've played each other, but some of their matches--like today's--are fun to watch. (The stats say it a lot: Radwanska hit 13 winners and made 12 unforced errors, compared with Sharapova's 47 and 44.)
Also moving to the quarterfinals is Li Na, whose new-found comfort on clay proved to be the undoing of Petra Kvitova. In the first set, Kvitova served especially well, but Li's serve improved as the match went on, and--as the length of the rallies increased--the Great Wall of China became a problem for the 9th seed. Kvitova has been dealing with a shoulder injury of late, which may (or may not) have had some impact on her service issues. The Czech player did go up 3-0 in the third set, but Li--who is one of those players who is often steadier if she is not ahead in a set--staged a strong comeback.
Li went into a major slump after her run to the Australian Open final, though she did reach the semifinals in Madrid, where she was beaten handily by Kvitova. Li picked up her game in Paris--perhaps the last place anyone expected her to perform well. Seeded 6th, Li is the first Chinese woman to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open.
A match I enjoyed very much was the contest between Andrea Petkovic and Maria Kirilenko. It featured a bit of everything (though ESPN almost totally ignored it). Petkovic easily won the first set, but Kirilenko, who knows her way around the net and has a lovely all-court game, found her groove in the second set. Petkovic went up 4-2 in the third set, after which Kirilenko held at love, then broke her opponent. She was broken back, however, and Petkovic held serve to win the match 6-2, 2-6. 6-4. The 15th seed is now headed for her second major quarterfinal of the year.
Two quarterfinal matches will be played tomorrow. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone. It will be Pavlyuchenkova's first major quarterfinal, and she will have her hands full. The defending champion is a much better mover than the Russian, and she has a kind of slow cook going, in terms of momentum.
Also playing tomorrow are 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and Marion Bartoli. They have played each other only three time (that's a surprise), and Kuznetsova won two of those matches. All three were played on hard courts. Theoretically, Kuznetsova has the edge, given her talent on clay courts, and Bartoli's general dislike of them. Bartoli has the crowd on her side, however. Each has fragility issues--Kuznetsova can go off mentally, and Bartoli has frequently experienced physical issues that have caused her to either retire or significantly reduce her level of play.
Should Schiavone and Kuznetsova both win, their semifinal match will be of particular interest, given that they played one of the greatest WTA matches ever in the round of 16 at this year's Australian Open.