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It is fair to say, at the quarter-final stage of Roland Garros 2021, the top half of each draw has more leading actors than the bottom half of secondary characters.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – with 38 Grand Slam titles between them – rule the men’s top half. The bottom half has zero major winners and only one finalist – 2019 US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev.
- According to INSIGHTS, Nadal’s chances of winning his 14th crown in Paris is 31% with Djokovic’s odds down at 23%. The next highest probability is Stefanos Tsitsipas with 18% and Medvedev with 15%.
The women’s top half, which includes defending champion Iga Swiatek and 17-year-old Coco Gauff, has more star power than the bottom half comprised of No. 22-ranked Elena Rybakina, No. 32 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 35 Paula Badosa and No. 85 Tamara Zidansek. Only 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova has previously been as far as a Grand Slam quarter-final, though this marks her seventh appearance.
It makes Tuesday a big day with first-time semi-finalists moving on and a first-time finalist guaranteed to play for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen this Saturday.
- In terms of INSIGHTS, Pavlyuchenkova’s chances of winning her first major this weekend are 7%. Defending champion Swiatek’s odds are highest at 29%.
The men’s bottom half has more gravitas with three of the four players seeded in the top six – No. 2 Medvedev, No. 5 Tsitsipas and No. 6 Alexander Zverev. The fourth is the dark horse of the fortnight – feisty 22-year-old Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
With the top half returning to action on Wednesday, Tuesday is an opportunity for the lesser lights to have their day in the Parisian sun or under the new Roland Garros floodlights.
Here is Tuesday’s line-up:
No. 2 Daniil Medvedev vs No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas
The two headed into Roland Garros with entirely opposite results on clay this spring – Tsitsipas had a stellar 16-3 record including a first-ever ATP 1000 title in Monte Carlo, a runner-up finish at the ATP 500 in Barcelona (losing to Nadal) and another title at the ATP 250 in Lyon. Medvedev was 1-2 in Madrid and Rome after dealing with a bout of COVID-19, and made headlines admitting to his strong disaffection for clay.
But that all changed once Medvedev got his bearings practicing in Paris, and now he has lost just one set in four matches. “I’m able with these balls, with these conditions, to make shots that are not going to let my opponent attack me straight away,” the 25-year-old Russian said. “Then I can take control of the game and be a great mover on clay.”
A week ago, Medvedev would not have been considered a serious threat to Tsitsipas. But his remarkable terre battue transformation along with his 6-1 head-to-head advantage over the 22-year-old Greek means he has a golden opportunity to quiet critics who have claimed he didn’t deserve to be the No. 2 seed ahead of No. 3-ranked Nadal. Medvedev last played Tsitsipas in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in February, beating him soundly 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. Medvedev has the psychological edge based on their history. Tsitsipas, despite riding a wave of clay-court success, will need a clear head if he’s to continue his fine season and overcome any residual effects of Medvedev’s past dominance. “I think I’ve played some of my best tennis when I don’t think much on court, when everything is being done automatically, on autopilot,” Tsitsipas said. “So less thinking, more action.”
- Head-to-head record aside, INSIGHTS is giving Tsitsipas a slight edge with a 51% chance he beats Medvedev on Tuesday.
No. 6 Alexander Zverev vs unseeded No. 46 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Now 24, Zverev is playing in his sixth Roland Garros and has previously reached the quarter-finals in 2018 and 2019. Davidovich Fokina, 21, has been a revelation at this year’s event with his rambunctious game-style and hyper-active demeanor on court. He put on a spectacular display in the third round when he out-dueled an in-form Casper Ruud 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(6), 0-6, 7-5 in four hours and 35 minutes in front of a rapturous Court 14 crowd. He exhaled with joy after that win and again on Sunday when he beat Federico Delbonis 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Fueled by adrenaline and his go-big-or-go-home strategy, Davidovich Fokina hit a total of 101 winners in those two matches.
On Sunday, after rallying from love-40 in the last game to serve out the match against Delbonis, Davidovich Fokina knelt down and tapped the clay. Later revealing just how exhausted he felt, he said, “I just wanted to hit the ball and whatever is it.”
The 2017 junior Wimbledon champion, Davidovich Fokina is 1-7 versus Top-10 players, his only win coming against No. 10 Matteo Berrettini in Monte Carlo in April. With the No. 6-ranked Zverev leading their head-to-head 2-0 after wins at the US Open and in Cologne on hard courts late last year, the German is the clear favorite. But Davidovich Fokina is playing with an energy and intensity that would be dangerous for any opponent to under-estimate.
- Per INSIGHTS, Zverev has a whopping 71% chance of reaching his first Roland Garros semi-final.
No. 21 Elena Rybakina vs No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
No matter what happens in their Court Philippe Chatrier match, both will still be in the tournament: They are partners in the doubles quarter-finals.
Both native Russians, although Rybakina now represents Kazakhstan, these two are a study in contrasts.
At 19, Pavlyuchenkova is a tour veteran with a career-high ranking of No. 13 (in 2011) and 12 WTA titles to her name, though none since 2018. Rybakina is just 21 with two titles (Hobart in 2020 and Bucharest in 2019), though she’s still riding high after an upset of Serena Williams on Sunday.
In terms of temperament, Pavlyuchenkova has always been borderline combustible. After upsetting Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round, she spoke about her 2011 Roland Garros quarter-final against eventual champion Francesca Schiavone. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, quarterfinal, oh, what’s happening?’” she said. “I was so emotional. I will never forget that match. 6-1, 4-1 up against Schiavone. I was just so in the emotions. I was like everywhere. I was too young (19). I didn’t know how to handle it.”
On the other hand, Rybakina is the picture of tranquility on court, showing no emotion at all even when she wins. “Everybody laughs about my reactions,” she said. “To be honest, for me it’s much easier like this, not to show any reactions. I’m a really calm person.”
Pavlyuchenkova claims to have finally discovered a calmer, more disciplined approach to her tennis; she’ll be put to the test mentally and physically by Rybakina. One thing both players share is easy power, something that will be on display in their first ever meeting on Tuesday.
- INSIGHTS is expecting a tight contest between these two doubles partners: Rybakina has a 53% chance of winning compared to Pavlyuchenkova’s 47%.
No. 33 Paula Badosa vs No. 85 Tamara Zidansek
An example of the host of surprises that have marked Roland Garros this year is that the Badosa – Zidansek quarter-final was supposed to be, if things went according to seeding, between No. 2 Naomi Osaka and No. 6 Bianca Andreescu. The entire world knows what happened to Osaka, fewer people recall that Andreescu was eliminated in the first round by an inspired performance from Zidansek. Recording her first win at the French Open, the 23-year-old Slovenian outlasted the 2019 US Open champion 6-7(1) 7-6(2), 9-7. Zidansek backed up that victory with solid play and mental toughness, including a hard-earned 0-6, 7-6(5) 6-2 win over Czech Katerina Siniakova in the third round.
Zidansek reached the final of Bogota on clay in April but she can’t rival Badosa’s impressive record entering the second Grand Slam of the year. The 23-year-old Spaniard was 13-2 on clay, highlighted by her first WTA 250 title, in Belgrade.
Badosa survived one of the most thrilling matches in the third round when she overcame Ana Bogdan 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in two hours and 51 minutes of tension-filled action in Court Simone Mathieu.
“Every shot that I’m playing, I think I’m hitting it different since a few months ago,” Bodosa said.. “I’m feeling more confidence.”
In the eighth major appearance for the Spaniard and the ninth for the Slovenian, neither Badosa or Zidansek have been anywhere near the semi-finals of a Grand Slam. Both have put their heart and soul into their efforts so far and that will make for an intriguing, first-time match-up in Wednesday’s opener on Court Philippe Chatrier.
- Like the showdown between Zverev and Davidovich Fokina, INSIGHTS is giving lopsided odds with Badosa harboring a 73% chance of reaching the semi-finals. At 0.46, this match has the biggest difference in UTR Ratings.