This French Open is turning out to be a quiet one for the #Nextgen ATP crew, as well as many of the talented young WTA players. Well into three rounds of play, veterans are having an excellent tournament. The names Williams, Verdasco, Goerges, Stosur, Gasquet, Petkovic, Isner, Wozniacki and Sharapova ring a bell, don't they? At least one of them features in each match we're nominating as the most intriguing of Day 7 at Roland Garros:
No. 451 Serena Williams vs. No. 11 seed Julia Goerges (Williams leads series, 2-0)
With her comeback in its infancy, Williams is unlikely to pencil in a "W' over Goerges before the last ball is struck. But she's entitled to feel confident in the wake of her second-round fightback against a very tough customer: 5-foot-5 Ashleigh Barty. Another reason Williams might feel confident: Goerges is a 5-foot-11, hard-hitting, power-serving player, but she's never been able to match Williams when it comes to aggressive tennis.
The fact that Goerges hasn't taken a set from Williams looks ominous, but they last played in 2011. It would be unwise to discount Goerges, who's in the midst of an impressive -- albeit more elongated -- comeback of her own. Ranked as high as No. 18 in 2012, the German player was out of the top 100 by early 2014. Many wrote her off as being just too inconsistent and wild, but she proved them wrong in 2017, then cracked the top 10 for the first time in her career early this year. She attributes her revival partly to playing a lot of successful doubles, usually with Karolina Pliskova.
Williams has played just seven singles matches this year, including her two wins at Roland Garros. Goerges has been busy; she's 49-20 in singles over the past 12 months, 13-7 on clay with a final in Charleston. But Williams has never really needed a lot of match play to hit her high notes. Her conditioning may become an issue, but so far so good. Coming off a win in which Williams was able to summon up the qualities that have defined her as a champion, she has good reason to rub her hands in anticipation of this one.
Prediction: Look for lots of errors, lots of winners, aces galore -- and a straightforward Serena win
No. 9 seed John Isner vs. No. 87 Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Isner leads, 2-0)
Things could be a lot worse for Isner. He could be meeting No. 87 Herbert in doubles. The 6-foot-2 Frenchman is far more accomplished in that branch of the game, having two majors and six Masters titles with a guy Isner knows all too well: Nicolas Mahut. Given Isner's history with Herbert, the United States' best clay-court player is entitled to feel optimistic. His straight-sets win over Herbert in the first round at Roland Garros in 2014 was the easier of his two wins.
That win was a shining example of the basic Isner match template. He won it 7-6, 7-6, 7-5, relying, as he so often does, on the anxiety his opponents feel when they face that massive serve. For some reason, opponents in clay matches may feel even more stressed, because the slower court speed is supposed to make it easier to break serve. But the lethality of Isner's serve transcends court speed. His height of 6-foot-10 enables him to hit angles unavailable to shorter men irrespective of surface. Thus the frustration and gnawing doubts mount as a match against Isner wears on. Meanwhile, the slower courts allow Isner an extra split second to make his own returns, or groundstrokes.
Herbert is 6-3 over that past 52 weeks on clay, just one of those a main tour win before his performance here. He had the best singles win of his career in the second round at Roland Garros, winning a dramatic overtime (9-7 in the fifth) duel before an adoring crowd over fellow countryman Jeremy Chardy.
Prediction: Isner is in a good place these days, mentally. Herbert might be emotionally drained by the big win. Isner in straights.
No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova vs. No. 28 seed Maria Sharapova (Sharapova leads, 1-0)
It's surprising that these two similar players have only played once, in a Fed Cup clash resolved without undue drama. But that was in 2015, before Pliskova really hit her stride -- something she's on the cusp of doing again. She's an outstanding 48-18 over the past year, with titles on clay and grass and quarterfinal-or-better results galore. On clay, she's 11-3, including a win at Stuttgart.
Sharapova, who returned from a doping suspension in April 2017, can't match that record. She's won just one title since her return, a minor one in China. But she's been improving in recent weeks; her record on clay over the past year now is up to 9-3. She has looked really dangerous after her first-round match with qualifier Richel Hogenkamp nearly ended in disaster. But as is so often the case when a player returns to win from the brink of defeat, she appears confident, relaxed and full of resolve.
At times, this may appear like a match between a player and her doppelganger. Both women are long and lean, given to first-strike tennis based on aggressive serving and pounding forehands from on or inside the baseline. Going into Roland Garros, Pliskova was the 2018 tour leader, with 198 aces. Sharapova is more of a spot server now, but she still hits it big. The more effective returner will have a great edge in this one, especially if she can also win the battle of the unforced errors.