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12 pm CET: Na Li (4) vs. Sam Stosur (7)
The opening match at 12 pm should on paper be the closest, with No.4 Na Li facing No.7 Sam Stosur. They also both check in at 1.72m and 65 kg if their stats are to be believed… The smart money will be on the Australian however. She leads their head-to-head 2-0, including a 6-3, 6-3 win on the Stuttgart clay a year ago. More importantly, Sam has the advantage of having silenced the Centre Court crowd on Friday afternoon with an imperious display in her 6-2, 6-4 win over home favourite Francesca Schiavone. Her forehand was faultless and her temperament ice-cool. Na’s experience from this year’s Australian Open final is sure to come in useful however.
Not before 2 pm: Nadal (1) vs. Gasquet (16)
Another game between two players with similar vital statistics (1.85 m, born 15 days apart) yet with vastly different trophy cabinets. Both were set up to be the future of their country’s tennis this time ten years ago, but while Nadal went on to win Roland Garros in 2005 and start writing his name in the history books over and over again, Gasquet has always flattered to deceive.
Nadal has an 8-0 advantage over the Frenchman, the most recent win coming on the Monte Carlo clay earlier in the season for the loss of only six games. There is also the fact that the Majorcan has enjoyed a certain amount of success over another stylish mover with a one-handed backhand… for Rafa, taking on Ritchie will feel like devouring Roger, as he has done on so many occasions on the slowest surface on the tour. Gasquet will play with the freedom of a man having gone further than expected and with nothing to lose, however , and if Rafa’s health concerns were to play a part, then who knows…?
Not before 4 pm: Caroline Wozniacki (1) vs. Maria Sharapova (7)
Neither player looked convincing in their quarter-finals – Wozniacki pushed to three sets by an ailing Jelena Jankovic and Sharapova a set down when Victoria Azarenka hyper-extended her right elbow and was forced to retire in tears. And yet this is the banner tie of the day – the new no.1 and current poster girl for women’s tennis against… the old no.1 and poster girl for women’s tennis. The two photogenic blondes have met four times, 24-year-old Russian taking the first two in 2006 and then here in 2008 on her way to the semis, the 20-year-old Dane then squaring the equation with wins at last year’s US Open and at Indian Wells a few months ago (en route to victory).
If Sharapova can serve well then she will be in with a chance. If she plays like she did against Azarenka however, then Wozniacki will grind her down slowly but surely.
Not before 8 pm: Andy Murray (4) vs. Novak Djokovic (2)
The comparisons continue – only a week separates the two in age, and for many a year, they were “the next generation”, occupying third and fourth slots in the rankings and waiting for either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to come back down to earth. And then Djokovic won the Davis Cup in December 2010 and has not looked back since. He has started the season 35-0 and is undefeated in 37 including those two wins for Serbia. Murray meanwhile went on his annual (if twice in a row can be qualified as such) post-Australian Open final slump, shuffling through the US hard court swing and flattering to deceive in the clay Masters.
By making the semis at Barcelona (taking Nadal to three sets) and here, Murray is proving that all that time spent on clay at the Sanchez-Casal academy as a teenager was not purely to get a suntan (and if it was, it failed). Whether he can be the man to stop the Nole roll remains to be seen, but a great match awaits.