May 31, 2022

2022 Roland Garros Men's & Women's Quarterfinals Part Deux

Rublev vs Cilic :

Many do not know this, but Rublev grew up in the deepest forests of Siberia. One day, while listening to Opeth (with headphones of course so as not to disturb the gentle snowbirds and articunos) he stumbled across a baby deer. It was frozen to the ground and quite scared. Now you may not know this, but Rublev has dragon-breath. So he lowered his music, shook out his glorious hair, and gently melted the ice with his fiery magic. Now you’re probably asking, is this story real? Haters will say it is fake. But that baby deer knows the truth. And who did that deer grow up to be? You guessed it. Marin Cilic.

Fast forward 1000 years, and these two magical beasts are meeting again. Rublev got here in kind of odd fashion, via a withdrawal from Jannik Sinner. The first set was a 6-1 win for Sinner, and it was pretty unfortunate that his knee made him stop but this was a slight issue for him against McDonald also so Rublev just hanging in there was his main job. Cilic had to play a full match, and he showed that he was more mentally prepared against Medvedev this time. Medvedev seems to go into outlast mode against Cilic, and at Wimbledon Marin had run out of gas. Here he never stopped, and it’s possible that playing Fucsovics and Simon in the previous two rounds have put Cilic in an excellent rhythm on offense since beating them means playing measured but aggressive tennis for a whole match. Medvedev got upset, and tried some dropshots and standard clay tactics, but he’s really not dominant on the surface with his playstyle.

Rublev has had some tough matches already, and likely would have lost to a healthy Sinner. Cilic has had an easier draw in many respects, but has only dropped one set (Fucsovics). Both will be fresh for this, and it really will be a matter of who can get the last swing in. Rublev hits the ball huge, but there’s way less variety to his game than Marin. Cilic’s play against Medvedev put him into the conversation for the title, and his serving is the huge difference between him and Rublev. Every set where Marin serves first will apply great scoreboard pressure to Rublev, who’s likely to be playing the longer service games. Rublev dominates their H2H, but those are all on hardcourt and honestly Cilic’s losses don’t matter much. When he’s on fire, he’s a threat to anyone. When he’s not on fire, he’s generally awful and beats himself. He’s had a lot of long stretches of L’s on tour, but is a player like Keys who will find a rhythm one random week and dominate. I don’t think it will be as straightforward as Medvedev at all, since Rublev has great power and wants to play the style Cilic does. I do think that Cilic’s serve will be a tiny bit of an edge. Cilic in 5.

Rune vs Ruud :

I’m not crafting a Ruunedveblev monster in my basement, but that’s only because I don’t have room. These two Nordic nuggets have set up a really interesting contest, the first of many I would assume on clay. Holger Rune is from Norway, and Casper Ruud is from Denmark. Why do I include this info? Not sure. Both have cool flags though if you’re into vexillology or googling.

Rune pulled the upset of the tournament. There have been a lot of pleasant surprises but his play against Tsitsipas was tremendous. He just looked much fresher and the newness of his game on tour is paying dividends. When Rune was swinging on both wings (but especially the backhand) it looked like Tsitsipas was never really certain which way he was going. This freezes your opponent, and readers will know that when you’re covering two shots, you tend to make an average return off of whichever your opponent chooses. He his his backhand down the line often and it really exposed the one last glitch in Tsitsipas’ forehand. There is a lot of arm to it, which helps his stability when he’s defending against the crosscourt forehands, but hurts him a bit when he’s changing direction quickly back to that side. He left balls short and Rune made him pay.

Tsitsipas stayed composed during the loss, which was a good sign but the wrong move I think. This is painful to say since I always want these guys to mature and take losses better, but it looked like he was actively trying to remain composed despite the flow of play. Demonstrating your maturity is good, but it just made him look a bit burnt out and resigned to the result and Rune took advantage. The crowd will always pick you up as an underdog when you’re down in the scoreline so it would have been good for Stef to try to fire himself up. There were also points where Rune was a bit nervous and Tsitsipas handed him errors. He’ll need to work on his return of serve on the backhand wing, but overall it was a decent claycourt season for him and nobody can win em all.

Ruud beat an in-form Hurkacz, and he has dominated his matches with Rune on tour. He was actually Darren Cahill’s pick to win Roland Garros at the beginning of the season, and his only real hiccough here was a tricky match against Sonego who he ended up outlasting. All the short balls and errors that Tsitsipas gave Rune will be gone in this. Ruud plays a traditional claycourt style. Kick serves, backhands with height, and heavy forehands. The tendency for a letdown after a huge win is real just because of the emotional dump and the tendency to feel “satisfied”, so Rune will need to know that reaching the semifinal here will require a ton of hard work. Ruud’s slightly more conservative style does make him a bit of a gatekeeper, but Rune has played a lot of tennis this week. Beating Shapovalov, then Gaston, then Tsitsipas is good enough to say that he can win, I’m just not sure that any of those guys can present the same defensive and intelligent test that Ruud can. This should be a great match. Ruud in 5.

Kudermetova vs Kasatkina :

This is a tough match because the tournament needs to end this week and these two can defend the baseline for the rest of forever. This style of player is the reason there isn’t a constant Serena type week-in week-out champion on tour right now. Extremely quick, completely solid, but without a huge serve. Beating either takes two full sets of great offense and cardio and that tends to take it out of you in the next round. Someone like Kvitova may be more dangerous on paper but when you’re done beating her you’re relatively fresh. By the time you’re finished with Kasatkina your arm feels like falling off. So which is better? We’re about to find out (definitely not from this article though).

Kasatkina was generally the winner in their junior career, and won their only pro meeting in 2021. She’s dropped only 14 games on her way to the quarters and last round she rolled again despite Giorgi being at her best. Kudermetova had a tour of the many faces of Madison Keys, getting soundly outhit in the first but then winning fairly simply in the next two. In the third set, she broke Keys every single time she served. In the tennis matchup, Kudermetova is going to have a slight edge in power. Kasatkina uses more shape and variety, while Veronika bludgeons the ball. Kudemertova hits more aggressively on her backhand also, but that’s where Kasatkina’s speed comes in. She has excellent slices on the run, and doesn’t really fatigue. Her forehand gets good height on clay, and since Kudermetova is very prone to going 3 sets, she will probably prove the more consistent player. Kasatkina in 3.

Swiatek vs Pegula :

Today this is tricky and yesterday it wasn’t. Iga Swiatek stepped onto the court against Zheng with the most buzz you can really have on tour. She was being talked about as the eventual champion of a major and it was only the first week. I agreed. I still kinda do. Nobody bothered to inform Zheng though. The first set was standard Iga stuff. She broke out to an early 3-0 lead and things looked bleak for Zheng. The great thing about professional players is that they don’t give up. Zheng held her resolve, and broke back. She gave up the break again, and the “Iga is just relentless” vibe returned. Zheng broke back again, and in the tiebreaker she was able to capitalize on her power and some tight errors from Swiatek to win. That was probably the end of the bright points for Zheng, who managed just 2 more games in the match. The third was tense though even with Iga up an early break, and it was a great glimpse of the future from Zheng who played solid despite struggling with cramps.

Overall it was a really high quality match. Swiatek made 97% of her second serves 68% of her first. She saved 8 out of the 10 break points she faced and changed gears to play a little more secure after losing the first. The reason Pegula is a tricky challenge is because of how Swiatek lost the first. She was in a rush to apply offense and it brought on errors. Zheng hits big and you can’t just redirect her shots, and Swiatek didn’t seem to register that intially. Her frustration tends to lead to more forced offense, and really the first set could have been hers if she was a bit more measured. I’m sure her team wanted her to keep her opponent moving since Zheng’s lateral movement is her biggest weakness (both wings are super solid) but the panic is exactly what Pegula will expose if possible.

Jessica Pegula is extremely steady. It’s possible with top tier offense to control her, but she doesn’t deviate from her own game even if this happens. Begu was playing excellent ball, but her dips in level meant instant points since Pegula just doesn’t miss much. She’s a great counterpuncher and deals with power superbly, so it’ll be interesting to see how many errors she can earn from Swiatek. Problems for Pegula will be serve percentage. She doesn’t go huge with her serve and landed only 59% against Begu. Swiatek pretty much hugs the baseline on returns and this will give Pegula trouble. Zheng was a good test of Swiatek’s defense but Pegula is like a more powerful/athletic version of Kovinic. At this point Swiatek can hit levels that her opponents can’t. She’s likely to pull away early in sets when she’s fresh or there’s any sort of emotional dump from her opponent. Pegula is going to make you play a ton of balls though, and she keeps the ball very low over the net generally. I’d expect a similar scoreline as the Zheng match with Pegula stealing a set but Swiatek having enough time to find her rhythm. Swiatek in 3.