June 2, 2009

Bracket Busters

Yesterday I tweeted my predictions for who would make the semifinals in Roland Garros.

I should've know better.

After years and years of starting out strong in my March Madness pools only to fumble the ball at the one-yard line ( about your mixed metaphor), I've come to expect I won't fare well in my forecasts. And with Day 1 of the quarterfinals put to bed, I've been reminded why I don't buy lottery tickets.

Four of the eight quarterfinal matches took place today and I chose exactly none of the winners.

I figured Robin Soderling would have been wiped out, both physically and emotionally, after he scored the upset of the decade, and I hoped that four straight three-set victories for Maria Sharapova over some feisty opponents would well prepare her to handle a comparatively inexperienced twenty-year-old. I've never been a big believer in Andy Murray, especially since he's never won a title on clay, but pundits kept insisting this was his tournament. And Victoria Azarenka was looking good this fortnight, and I chose her to notch the upset over the current world #1.

Of course Soderling proved he had more mettle than I gave him credit for and handed Nikolay Davydenko a quick loss, and Maria's good luck came to an end as she won only two games against Dominika Cibulkova. Andy Murray put up a bit of a fight in the second set but ultimately lost 4-6 to Fernando Gonzalez in the fourth, and despite a solid 6-1 lead in the first set, Azarenka had trouble breaking Dinara Safina again and also went out 4-6 in the third.

That leaves me with four more chances to redeem myself.

I feel my best chance is with Roger Federer and Gael Monfils, in which I put my money on the former #1 who's going for his record-tying fourteenth Grand Slam title. The two have played four times before and Roger has only dropped one set -- incidentally at Roland Garros last year. But then again Monfils has the French crowd behind him, and if he can rattle Federer like he did Andy Roddick yesterday, I can see my pick wither in the heat.

And then there's the battle of former #1 Serena Williams and former #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova. Serena won their last three meetings, but neverthe less I picked the Russian, who put up quite a fight in Melbourne last January. Besides, Svetlana has only lost one set in Paris and made two straight finals in Stuttgart and Rome. Then again, Serena is Serena and she seems to find a way to pull out wins no matter how far down she gets.

The matchup between Tommy Robredo and Juan Martin Del Potro should be a good one -- two powerful clay court players that have had amazing years. Robredo has won two titles already in 2009 while DelPo took the crown in Auckland and scored his first career victory over Rafael Nadal in Miami. While I gave Robredo the nod based on his experience and his dominating record on the surface, Juan Martin has sailed through his bracket, losing only one set in a tiebreak to home-grown hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The biggest wildcard is the final women's match between Australian hotshot Samantha Stosur and Hungarian upstart Sorana Cirstea. Stosur, relatively a veteran, has had a break-out year, beating players like Aggie Radwanska, Amelie Mauresmo and even Safina. But nineteen-year-old Cirstea has had an amazing tournament, beating three seeded players in a row, including Jelena Jankovic, my original pick to win the whole enchilada (crepe??), in the Round of Sixteen. Here again I'm going for the upset -- after watching Sorana play I think she's clearly on her way to being a big force in this sport.

So will I mount a comeback like Dinara did today? Probably not. In any case, I'm now taking bets on whether I get any of my semifinal picks right.

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