Serena v Maria: the latest chapter
Angelique Kerber takes on last remaining local hope Caroline Garcia in a fourth-round blockbuster.
Seven French hopefuls entered the third-round fray across the singles draws, but only Caroline Garcia remains. The seventh seed is adamant that flying the French flag will not be a burden – “I don't think it's going to put much pressure on me,” she says – but the microscope will well and truly be focused on her match with two-time Grand Slam champion Kerber. The German has cruised under the radar in Paris, but will be fiercely determined to book just a second career Roland Garros quarter-final.
The home charge was the victor in their only previous clay duel, sliding on the Madrid clay back in 2014, but Kerber holds a 4-2 overall winning record. Significantly, their last encounter witnessed a rejuvenated Kerber thrash Garcia 6-1 6-1 in the Californian desert at Indian Wells and it evidently still hurts. “It was a terrible loss,” said Garcia, 24. “She’s playing way better this year. Last year she had a complicated year, but she managed to finish top 20 so that means she's still a great player.”
Form coming in
Garcia grew into her clay-court campaign, prevailing in gruelling battles over Sharapova and Svitolina en route to a semi-final run in Stuttgart, before reaching the final four in Madrid without dropping a set. World No.1 Simona Halep then halted Garcia’s impressive preparations in the Rome quarter-finals. There must have been concern in the Kerber camp following an early Stuttgart exit. However, the left-hander returned to form to also feature in the Rome quarter-finals (where she lost to Svitolina). In Paris, Garcia has rattled through, with just one dropped set versus the tricky Peng Shuai. Kerber has also built momentum, overcoming a stern test in Kiki Bertens 7-6(4) 7-6(4) last time out.
Paris has never been the most fruitful of hunting grounds for 2012 quarter-finalist Kerber, who suffered first-round exits in 2016 (as the reigning Australian Open champion), and last year (as the top seed). Meanwhile, Garcia had failed to reach the third round in six previous attempts, but made a memorable breakthrough on home soil last summer, falling in a finely-poised quarter-final with second seed Karolina Pliskova.
Kerber has astonishing defence yet can still swat away any short ball. For Garcia, the tactics would be to utilise her doubles prowess to rush the German with canny net play. The seventh seed must also pounce on the Kerber second serve, which can become particularly loopy. Kerber, meanwhile, has to apply the pressure, testing Garcia's nerves early on with deep returns. If Kerber's serve is motoring, I’d be telling the German to look for that first strike with her cannonball groundstrokes.
The German youngster hasn’t exactly sprung from the periphery, having posted a third-round showing in Melbourne. The world No.70 chalked up two commanding victories either side of a standout triumph over Next Gen talisman Denis Shapovalov in Paris. Very few will fancy the 22-year-old to topple an imperious Rafael Nadal, but the ‘Decima’ defending champion is wary. “I saw him play the other day against Shapovalov. And I saw him play a little bit against Zverev,” the world No.1 said ahead of their first meeting. “He's a player that has a good potential. He's a player that has a good serve, good forehand. He hits the ball with big topspin. He has power, so he's a dangerous opponent.”
What a contrast we’ll witness on court. The towering Anderson will look to launch bullet serves to anchor his improved all-court game against the diminutive Schwartzman. Anderson, now entrenched in the top-10, has navigated past stern tests in Pablo Cuevas and Mischa Zverev to book a third clash with the in-form Argentinian, who is yet to drop a set in Paris. Anderson won both previous battles, but Schwartzman is a very underrated player, with relentless court coverage and a rock-solid game. Look forward to some lung-bursting rallies and creative shot making in this duel.