Order of Play: Wednesday June 6
Four semi-final spots are up for grabs as Muguruza and Sharapova headline blockbuster Wednesday schedule.
Big because …
A pair of multiple Grand Slam champions with the on-court credentials and off-court marketing profiles to boot, this showdown offers the ultimate statement win for the victor as they close in on another major trophy. With Serena Williams pulling the pin before she and Sharapova had the chance to lock horns in the fourth round, much is expected from this clash, the only women’s quarter-final between former Roland-Garros champions and former world No.1s.
All three meetings between the two fell within the space of a year and all fell the way of Sharapova. That was three years and nine months ago and both have been through huge changes since, with Sharapova failing to add to her Grand Slam tally of five and Muguruza winning her first two majors. Sharapova eased past the rising Spanish talent in Rome 2013 but needed three sets to end Muguruza's bold run in the 2014 Roland-Garros quarter-finals, after Muguruza had stunned Serena in the second round. Sharapova would go on to claim her second Paris title that year. Three months later, it was the Russian again through in three in a hard-court duel in Montreal.
Form coming in
Muguruza had not reached a clay-court quarter-final in 2018 while Sharapova posted her best results of the season with a quarter-final run in Madrid and a semi-final finish in Rome. The Spaniard has played lights-out where it really matters in Paris, however, yet to drop a set in victories over former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and former finalist Samantha Stosur. Sharapova somehow survived scampering Dutch spoiler Richel Hogenkamp in a scrappy first round before putting the foot down against Donna Vekic and last year’s semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova. Both women will be fresh after Williams handed Sharapova a walkover and Lesia Tsurenko retired after just two games against Muguruza in the fourth round.
The red clay in Paris is where Muguruza had her first taste of Grand Slam qualifying. While she came up short of reaching the main draw in 2012, four years later she was planting a kiss on the Coupe-Suzanne-Lenglen, having reached the quarter-finals in both years prior. With a 19-4 record it is her strongest major. Once the self-dubbed “cow on ice” when sliding on clay, Sharapova would be the first to admit her Roland-Garros record is quite the anomaly on her Grand Slam CV. On what was typically her weakest surface, she went on to become a two-time champion (2012, 2014), the only Slam she has captured more than once.
Two of the taller competitors on tour – both above 1.8 metres – the extra time and higher bounces on the clay play perfectly into Muguruza and Sharapova's hitting zones off both wings. It’s very much first-strike tennis from both, as two heavy-hitting baseliners seek to take control of the point early, with Muguruza holding an edge in the movement stakes. If both can bring their third-round form (Muguruza over Stosur, Sharapova against Pliskova) then we’re in for a treat.
As heady anticipation again begins to swirl around world No.1 Simona Halep’s bid for a maiden Grand Slam title, the Romanian will get no truer quarter-final test of what she’s made of than against two-time major champion and former No.1 Angelique Kerber. Their head-to-head ledger reads 5-4 in Halep’s favour, including her match-points-saving showdown of the tournament at this year’s Australian Open, where she reached her third slam final. Halep was brutal against Elise Mertens in the fourth round and on the red dirt, holds the edge over Kerber. Through to just her second Roland-Garros quarter-final, the German did secure their only prior clash on clay in Fed Cup two years ago and comes off wins over proven dirt-ballers Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia. “Long match then, I think,” Kerber grinned. “We both play really well from the defence, but we are both trying to improve being more aggressive.”
Ten-time champion Rafael Nadal can close to within a set of tying Bjorn Borg’s record of 41 straight completed sets won at Roland-Garros should he see off one of the shortest men on tour, Diego Schwartzman, without conceding a set. It is not an incentive that will fuel Nadal, however. Efficiency may drive him, sure, but Grand Slam titles are the only records that matter to the Spaniard. German southpaw Maximilian Marterer dared stretch him to a third-set tie-break in the fourth round, while the 5’7” Schwartzman was making hard work of it, scurrying back from two sets down to fell big Kevin Anderson. The Argentine will not be overawed despite a 0-5 record against Nadal. “This year in the Australian Open, I played against him in the round of 16 and I won one set,” he said. “Then I have many, many chances, break points, and break up in many sets ... All the matches, I played against him I have my chances.”
While Roger Federer and Nadal have resumed hogging all Grand Slam trophies between them in the past 18 months, there is a sense a pair of former US Open champions could be lurking once more. Roland-Garros is not where you’d expect either player to secure major No.2, however both Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro have stepped it up on the big stages recently. Cilic has reached a Wimbledon and Australian Open final in the past 12 months while Del Potro reached a US Open semi-final and claimed his first Masters 1000 crown in Indian Wells, both times beating Federer. Del Potro boasts a 10-2 record over the Croat. “I will try to play a similar match but he has other weapons (than John Isner), he has good shots from the baseline and good shots down the line,” Del Potro said after his straight-sets fourth-round win.