Two of the men’s quarterfinals kick take place on Tuesday. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the last hope for the French, while we get to see another installment of Federer vs. Wawrinka.
Nishikori v. Tsonga
Kei Nishikori, seeded 5th, has moved through to his first French Open quarterfinal with very little fanfare. That likely is due to a cakewalk of a draw that has seen him avoid a seeded player thus far. Through four rounds, Nishikori has yet to drop a set and also was the beneficiary of Benjamin Becker’s withdrawal due to injury that means he is fresh and ready to go. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has flashed probably his best form since returning from an arm injury. Granted Tomas Berdych was not at his best in the 4th round, but a mentally strong Tsonga avoided a fold up to beat him in four sets. That was Tsonga’s first win over a player ranked inside the Top 20 since his return in 2015. His serve was solid with 13 aces and just four break opportunities given. He will need more of that if he’s to have a remote shot at taking down Nishikori.
This is meeting #7 between the two and it’s one way traffic with Nishikori leading, 5-1. The last two times they met, it was in the Paris Masters with Nishikori winning both in three sets. This will be their first meeting on clay. This is a large opportunity for both men. For Nishikori, it could be his second Slam semifinal. For Tsonga, it would be his first Slam semi since making it that far at Roland Garros in 2013. It could also be a massive momentum booster for him going into the meat of the season with the grass court season looming as a pivot point for the Frenchman who has had good success at Wimbledon.
This likely comes down to strength vs. strength. Nishikori’s return and defense are his calling cards and he’s also got some really solid groundstrokes when everything is working. Tsonga meanwhile will need to rely on the serve that has driven him to this point in the tournament, but has still shown some vulnerability. The crowd will obviously be on Tsonga’s side as the last Frenchman standing in Paris, but that won’t be enough. He needs the A-level serve and a relatively error-free day with his groundies and that might just push him to stretching this to a fourth or fifth set. The plus for him is that Nishikori has not been tested this week, so an early jump out like he did on Berdych could produce an intriguing ending. The French Open rarely produces a lack of at least one surprise for the semifinals. This smells like it could be that one. No one expects Tsonga to get there and that alone could make him more dangerous than at any other time.
Federer v. Wawrinka
It’s meeting #20 between the top two Swiss players. Both have looked fairly effortless in getting to this point. Federer’s first real test came in the 4th round against Gael Monfils, but Federer was too consistent over four sets for the Frenchman. Federer has returned to the quarters at Roland Garros after a two year absence and will look for his first French Open semifinal since 2012. Wawrinka has dropped just one set in four rounds, punishing Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the 4th round. Wawrinka’s serve outside of a shaky match with Dusan Lajovic, has been nearly unbeatable. For Wawrinka, it’s his 2nd quarterfinal in the last three years in Paris. Back in 2013, he was denied a semifinal by Rafael Nadal in a very straight forward match.
Federer & Wawrinka have met once on clay this season with Federer whipping Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2 in Rome. Since Wawrinka broke an eleven match losing streak to Federer in Monte Carlo last year, Federer has won three straight including last year’s clash at Wimbledon. Wawrinka’s main issue since early in the season has been a combination of desire and consistency. Perhaps he’s one of those players who really just ramps it up for Grand Slams at this stage in his career, but that also makes it difficult to maintain that level of excellence that is needed to push all the way to to the end. Federer seems much more at ease at this level and seems to be back in Wawrinka’s head. The winner her will like his chances still to get to the Final as this is the “weaker” part of the draw with Djokvoic, Murray and Nadal not a factor until the Final.
Give Federer another shot to get one step close to another Slam Final.