Saturday, May 29, 2010

French Open Dark Horses Running Wild

Robby Ginepri is the last American man standing

At the French Open, it's best to expect the unexpected. The 2010 edition has been a shining example of this. After seven days of play, we've already seen two qualifiers from outside the top-100 reach the round of 16, in addition to several unseeded players.

In other words, it isn't only the weather and the decision making of tournament referee Stefan Frannson that is unpredictable. With the conditions having such a profound effect on the way the clay plays - and the regularity of stifling rain delays - momentum is hard to build and rhythm is hard to maintain.

Essentially, all the chaos serves to level the playing field more than at the other Slams, and once again we are seeing the rise of several unheralded players as we get deeper into the draw.

Here is a look at the biggest surprises of the tournament heading into Sunday:


1. Robby Ginepri - When asked if he was feeling at home at Roland Garros, 98th-ranked American Robby Ginepri replied "Well, my initials are RG." Sure, it's a strange coincidence, but after Ginepri outlasted former champ and clay court aficionado, Juan Carlos Ferrero in five sets today, you have to wonder: how far can he go? Next up for Ginepri is Novak Djokovic.

In seven previous Roland Garros appearances, Ginepri has been bounced in the first round six times. In 2008, however, he did advance to the fourth round before losing to Fernando Gonzalez.

2. Teimuraz Gabashvili - What? Teimuraz who? You mean the guy that looks like R.E.M.'s front man Michael Stipe?

Yes, that's the one. Gabashvili stormed through the qualifiers, and since then he has proceeded to not lose a single set (including qualies, it's a remarkable 15 straight) in the main draw either. Nobody was paying much attention until he outclassed the No. 6 seed Andy Roddick today by hitting four times as many winners as the American. The No. 114-ranked Russian has already gone beyond his previous best performance, which was reaching the second round in 2009, so he should be loose when he plays Austrian Jurgen Melzer in the fourth round.

3. Jurgen Melzer: Melzer isn't an unknown, or flirting with being outside the top-100 like Ginepri and Gabashvili, but we are talking about a player who was 0-11 in third round Grand Slam matches in his career going into today.

Not anymore. A decisive straight set victory over heavily favored Spaniard David Ferrer has people reminiscing about another left handed Austrian who also had success at the French Open - former No. 1 and French Open champion Thomas Muster.

4. Thomaz Bellucci: He's been on our radar ever since his first title in Gstaad as a qualifier (2009). He is the first Brazilian since Gustavo Kuerten to finish in the year end top-50, and here he is, getting ready to face Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.

Does he have a chance?


Chanelle Scheepers: The 26-year-old South African played her way through the qualifiers, then upset Gisela Dulko in the second round. She had a WTA-tour record of 8-14 prior to the start of the tournament, and her previous best performance at the French is a first round loss in 2009.

If that's not a dark horse, I do now know what is. She will face Elena Dementieva in the round of 16.

Yaroslava Shvedova, gunning for glory

Yaroslava Shvedova: Unseeded and ranked 36th, Shvedova started her French Open journey with a win over Sara Errani. Then she upset No. 8 seed Agneiska Radwanska in the second round and No. 28 seed Alisa Kleybanova in the third round. She's becoming quite the giant killer.

The 23-year-old Russian-born who plays for Kazakhstan did advance to the 3rd round at Roland Garros last year, where she was defeated by Maria Sharapova.

Jarmila Groth: Born in Slovakia, but playing under the Australian flag, the No. 107-ranked wildcard Groth also made the third round at Roland Garros in 2009. She defeated Kimiko Date Krumm in the 2nd round, and she'll face her fellow dark horse, Yaroslava Shvedova in the fourth.


  1. Took me awhile, but have to say Ginepri's upset of Ferrero is probably the biggest win of his career (given that he beat a former champ in five sets on on the Paris clay). Not sure if he can beat even a woozy Djokovic but I agree with what McEnroe said earlier in that the win and its points will help Ginepri stay relevant for another year.

    Not sure if any of the ladies you mentioned can do much more damage in the second week. I'm not expecting a surprise semifinalist out of this group.

  2. After reading this post, it's fair to say that Nole has a lot of assignments to do right now. His serves against Hanescu were a big mistake when he'll face Ginepri. Ginepri looks healthy and his stats are all healthy too. As for Nole, he can always find a way to win and be consistent with his serves and groundstokes.

  3. Thanks Erik and Survivordean...

    Ginepri is playing "mature" tennis - calm, focused, steady - and it goes a long way in an event such as this.

    I'm very excited to see what Gabashvili can do tomorrow. He looked like a god against Roddick.

    I don't know Shvedova that well, Erik, but it seems to me she might have a shot to go a little deeper.

    Dean, if you told Nole that he'd have nobody in the top 20 to face in the 4th and 5th rounds, he'd probably have thought you were crazy. Here is his chance not only to get through, but to do so without getting sapped. He's in pretty good shape right now...


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