Here are the storylines and matches to watch on Day 9 of the French Open. Play begins at 5 a.m. ET. Click here for the order of play.
Rafael Nadal needs a straightforward win: He hasn’t looked like the dominant force he was in the last three clay lead-ups, dropping the first set in his first two matches and consistently misfiring in his third-round win against Fabio Fognini. Up next is Kei Nishikori (third match, Court Philippe Chatrier), who’s into the fourth round for the first time in Paris. A tidy win for Nadal would be good for his confidence and also get him on and off the court quickly. He’s already spent more than eight hours on court through three matches. That sort of workload doesn’t bode well as we enter the second week. He needs to be at his freshest, especially with a possible semifinal against Novak Djokovic looming.
Djokovic plays with a heavy heart: The Serb learned after his third-round victory Saturday that his first tennis coach, Jelena Gencic, had died in Belgrade. He reportedly broke down in tears and canceled his post-match news conference. He’ll play Philipp Kohlschreiber (second match, Court Philippe Chatrier), who beat Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 at the French Open in 2009.
Three American women try to join Serena Williams in the quarterfinals: Sloane Stephens will try to nab her second top-five scalp, this time against defending champion Maria Sharapova (fourth match, Court Philippe Chatrier). Sharapova, who hasn’t dropped a set in three matches, breezed past Stephens 6-2, 6-1 in Rome less than three weeks ago. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is into the fourth round by virtue of a three-set win over No. 6 Li Na, takes on No. 12 Maria Kirilenko (second match, Court Suzanne Lenglen). Lastly, Jamie Hampton, fresh off an upset of Petra Kvitova, meets Jelena Jankovic (fourth match, Court Suzanne Lenglen).
France’s Richard Gasquet eyes quarterfinals: It’s been 13 years since the French have sent two men into the quarterfinals. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga booked his spot Sunday, and Gasquet will try to follow him Monday. He’ll oppose Stanislas Wawrinka (third match, Court Suzanne Lenglen).
Matches to watch
Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishkori (third match, Court Philippe Chatrier): Nadal is 4-0 against Nishikori, who hasn’t won a set since their first meeting, in 2008 on grass at Queen’s Club. It’s been a great tournament for Nishikori, who hasn’t posted great clay results in his career, but it ends here. Nishikori doesn’t have the pure power that Nadal can struggle against, like the seven-time champion did versus Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan in the first two rounds.
Richard Gasquet vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (third match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): Easily the match of the day, this one features two players with gorgeous one-handed backhands going head-to-head for just the second time. It’s also the most evenly matched in terms of seeding, with Gasquet seeded seventh and Wawrinka ninth. Gasquet won their only meeting, at the 2006 Paris Masters, when it was still held on carpet. Both men are having strong years. Wawrinka comes in on a roll after making the final of Madrid. Given his form and bigger serve, I give him the edge here.
Sloane Stephens vs. Maria Sharapova (fourth match, Court Philippe Chatrier): Earlier this year, Serena Williams beat Stephens in straight sets in a lead-up tournament in Brisbane, Australia, only to lose to her in three sets two-and-a-half weeks later at the Australian Open. Sharapova rolled over Stephens in straight sets in Rome last month and now they face off in a Slam. Serena hadn’t dropped a set before that match against Stephens. Sharapova hasn’t dropped a set in Paris. I’m just saying. Anything can happen.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Maria Kirilenko (second match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): Kirilenko beat Mattek-Sands 6-1, 6-4 at the Sony Open in March in their only career match. She won’t give away cheap points, meaning Mattek-Sands will need to be ready to grind. Tapping into the mentality that Mattek-Sands had in her win over Sara Errani in April in Stuttgart, Germany, will help.
Jamie Hampton vs. Jelena Jankovic (fourth match, Court Suzanne Lenglen): Hampton, who is in the fourth round of a major for the first time, beat Jankovic 6-4, 6-3 at the BNP Paribas Open in March. Much like the task before Mattek-Sands, Hampton will have to be ready to grind this out with Jankovic, whose consistency and counterpunching can drive a player batty. The key for Hampton is to serve well (as she did against Kvitova on Saturday) and take advantage of Jankovic’s second serve. Drawing the Serb into the net, where she’s not comfortable, wouldn’t hurt either.