It’s funny how we always get the feeling that the women’s field is unpredictable and ‘free for all’ despite the relative consistency that the top women have displayed at the Slams recently. At the Australian Open, 3 of the 4 top seeds made it to the semifinals. Granted, that wasn’t as perfect a record as the one that the men put up (all 4 top seeds reached the semis in Melbourne), but it was nothing to sneeze at either. Here at the French Open, 3 of the top 6 female seeds have made it to the semis, and with Andy Murray‘s exit yesterday, the men haven’t stitched together a perfect record to overshadow the women’s feats this time. And yet, all anyone can talk about is how the women’s field is a shambolic mess where nothing and nobody can be relied upon.
Maybe it’s time to disprove that notion and create order out of the apparent chaos. Here’s a look at how the 2 women’s semifinal matches will likely take shape:
Semifinal 1: Samantha Stosur vs Sara Errani
Knock knock. Who’s there? Sara. Sara who? Sara you-better-get-to-know-me-now Errani. The feisty Italian has literally come from nowhere to storm her way to storm to the French Open semis. Uh, wait, scratch that. Errani actually entered Roland Garros on the back of a fine claycourt season, having won 3 clay titles and putting together a 15-match winning streak on the surface at one point. But did that stop any of us from completely giving her name a miss when we were compiling our lists of contenders and dark horses? Errani has done the perfect stealth job at this year’s French Open, putting in solid performances when no one was looking, and giving all of her opponents fits with her accomplished claycourt game. She moves exceptionally well on the surface, and can defend like there’s no tomorrow, so it shouldn’t really have come as such a shock to see her in the semis. In any case, now that she’s here, we may as well sit up and take note. Remember the last woman to make a surprise run to a Slam semifinal? Angelique Kerber has been doing pretty well for herself ever since that performance, thank you very much.
So will Samantha Stosur become the latest upset victim of Errani and her wiles? For all of Errani’s skills, it’s hard to imagine that. Stosur’s primary weapons, her kick serve and high topspin forehand, are almost too strong on clay, and they will come in even more handy against the relatively short Errani. The only way I can see Stosur losing this match is if she gets engulfed by an attack of nerves worse than the one she suffered in the 2010 French Open final. But now that Stosur has a win over Serena Williams in a Slam final to boast of, I don’t see that happening.
Prediction: Stosur def. Errani
Maria Sharapova has been flirting with talk of the career Slam, a feat that she is seemingly ‘destined’ to achieve, for a while now. Last year she looked like the overwhelming favorite to take the title and ‘fulfill her destiny’ until she ran into a hard-hitting opponent in the semifinals. This year, she’s again looking like the overwhelming favorite to win it all, but she’s run into a harder-hitting opponent in the semifinals this time. To be fair though, Sharapova hasn’t had a flawless tournament so far, so calling her the ‘overwhelming favorite’ is a bit of a stretch. After making short work of her first 3 opponents, the ‘bad Sharapova’ made several cringe-inducing appearances in her 4th round match against Klara Zakopalova, spraying errors all over the court; there was a particularly disturbing bout of double faults too. She seemed to have righted the ship against Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals, but there’s no telling when she’ll go off the boil again.
So will Petra Kvitova and her laser groundstrokes destroy Sharapova’s long-cherished dream of joining a select group of players to have won all the four Majors? She has the potential to do so, certainly. As you’ve probably heard a million times by now, when Kvitova is on fire, there’s no player in the world who can stop her. But I can count one, maybe two sets in the entire tournament in which Kvitova was truly in the groove. Her patches of spectacularly good shot-making have been a little too widely spaced recently, and Sharapova’s bludgeoned groundstrokes and dramatically improved defense/movement will make it considerably harder for Kvitova to work her way into the match. To defeat an opponent as determined as Sharapova, Kvitova will need to be ‘on’ for pretty much the whole match. She managed to do that at Wimbledon last year, but for some reason I think she will falter just a little too frequently this time, which will let Sharapova squeak through (or should it be shriek through?).
Prediction: Sharapova def. Kvitova