Three to see: Bench those backhand compliments...

Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori love watching each other play, but only one can advance to the quarter-finals.

Dominic Thiem, Roland Garros 2018, Simple Messieurs, 1er Tour©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

Dominic Thiem vs Kei Nishikori

Big because…

It’s not only a clash between two of the most enjoyable players to watch – when they’re not playing each other, they both love admiring each other’s backhands, the pair of them say – but these are also opponents who also seem enlivened by the Roland-Garros ambience. ‘The Dominator’ Thiem trying to devour ‘Special Kei’. Now, this is going to be fun.

Head-to-head history

They’ve played twice, on the grass in Halle in 2015 and, perhaps more pertinently, on the Roman clay a year later, with the Japanese winning both contests. Thiem, intriguingly, still doesn’t yet know what it feels like to take a set off a player he says he loves to watch.  


Form coming in

Thiem is in fine form – anyone who’s beaten Rafa Nadal this term is to be feared, of course – but as usual he has been working hard. Too hard, perhaps? He had three tough three-setters while winning in Lyon last week and his first week at Roland-Garros has seen him negotiate a couple of tricky four-setters against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini. Nishikori seems to be improving all the time since returning from a torn wrist tendon, but he too was given a serious – and very entertaining – workout when he had to come from two sets to one down to beat Benoit Paire.

Roland-Garros 2018, Kei Nishikori©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Roland-Garros history

The Austrian has made Paris the Slam where he feels he is most likely to succeed, reaching the semi-final for the past two years, but Nishikori too has the capacity to do better than his two quarter-finals here. Last year, he played some lights-out tennis before losing to Andy Murray, and in 2015 was ousted only in a five-set classic against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Tactical duel

Thiem says he knows Nishikori likes to come in early and attack on any surface but he will try to take advantage of the slower clay conditions, “to push him back a little bit from the baseline,” and get that precious split-second more to wind up his big weapons, particularly that spectacular one-handed backhand.

Caroline Wozniacki© Philippe Montigny / FFT

Caroline Wozniacki vs Daria Kasatkina

World No.2 Wozniacki, who is beadily eyeing her second Grand Slam title of the year, has waltzed to this stage for the loss of just 11 games, yet it has still felt as if her title credentials have still been somewhat overlooked – just two quarter-final appearances in 10 attempts suggests she will slip up at Roland-Garros sooner or later. Could it be against Russia’s crafty new number one Kasatkina, who at 21 has already acquired a habit of downing reigning Grand Slam champs, including two wins already this year over the Dane in St Petersburg and Indian Wells?


Anett Kontaveit vs Sloane Stephens

US Open champion Stephens says she’s been able to wander round Paris fairly incognito, “looking kind of crazy” while scoffing Macadamia nut brittle ice cream. But if she keeps winning, there’ll be no hiding place for her here any more. The American had a two-and-a-half-hour slog to get past Camila Giorgi on Saturday and now, in sight of her first quarter-final here after four previous last-16 appearances, she faces an even tougher duel with the rising 22-year-old Kontaveit, whose confidence should be sky high after conquering Petra Kvitova on Saturday. The Estonian has never been in a Slam quarter-final, but her powerful game demands that it’s only a matter of time.