Roland Garros: Day 6 Preview

A 16-year-old and a local favorite take to the main stage at the French Open on Friday.

Published May 29, 2009 12:00

Roland Garros: Day 6 Preview
Michelle Larcher de Brito

PARIS, France - The seeds start to collide in the top half of this year's French Open draw on Friday, although the likes of Dinara Safina, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka won't have the limelight all to themselves. Portuguese phenom Michelle Larcher de Brito has a chance to showcase her talents on the main stage, while Maria Sharapova will be hoping for an easier time after surviving a nail-biter on Wednesday against fellow Russian Nadia Petrova.

Aravane Rezai (FRA) vs. (Q) Michelle Larcher de Brito (POR)
Rezai leads 1-0

Roland Garros is a notoriously tricky stage for French players, so it's nice to see a young player who has being doing well being rewarded with a showcase match on Court Philippe Chatrier. Now 22, Rezai was much-vaunted when she arrived on the Tour, but after breaching the Top 40 in 2007 her progress stalled. It may be that her maiden title run at Strasbourg last week has unleashed a new phase; the fact that she has won 13 of her last 15 matches on clay, and hasn't suffered a letdown this week, is encouraging. Sixteen-year-old, Florida-based Larcher de Brito, who has been attracting comment for her noisy ball-striking as well as her talent, is the first Portuguese player of either sex to reach the third round of a Grand Slam and has already guaranteed her Top 100 debut when the new rankings are released on June 6. With a place in the last 16 at stake, neither will go quietly.

(32) Iveta Benesova (CZE) vs. (8) Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
Ivanovic leads 4-0

While defending French Open champion Ivanovic holds a definite edge in this rivalry, the pair hasn't played in nearly three years. Added to that, Benesova has undergone a mid-career transformation over the past 12 months. At Roland Garros last year the Czech lefty, now 26, had to play qualifying before working her way to the third round. Since then, she has improved her ranking from No.70 to No.35 (in April she actually rose as high as No.25), and although her claycourt season has been bothered by injury and illness, has pocketed good wins over Julia Goerges and Alla Kudryavtseva this week. Ivanovic is in another league, of course, and since edging a tight first set against Sara Errani in the first round has gone from strength to strength. If she wants to keep her title defence alive she'll have to raise her level another notch today, though.

(3) Venus Williams (USA) vs. (29) Agnes Szavay (HUN)
Williams leads 1-0
Venus can only hope her second round scare against Lucie Safarova was her bogey match of the week, because Szavay is another player with the ability to cause the former world No.1 lots of trouble. Certainly a three setter could be on the cards, for these two went the distance on the clay of Acapulco a few months ago. After a brilliant breakthrough season in 2007, when she won two titles and was runner-up at two others to finish the season in the Top 20, the pressure of expectation seemed to weigh heavily on Szavay, who has failed to keep pace with peers such as Agnieszka Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. But recent results, including a quarterfinal run at Madrid and strong fourth round efforts at Indian Wells and Miami, suggest the powerful 20-year-old is back on the right track.

Court 1
(9) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) vs. (22) Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP)
Azarenka leads 1-0

If both of these young players might be considered future Roland Garros champions, it can only happen this year for one of them. Right now Azarenka has the edge, with three tournament wins - including Miami, which required just one fewer win than a Grand Slam, making it as much a mental as a physical test. And, while clay might be Suárez Navarro's natural turf, it was the Belarusian who prevailed in their meeting on the surface at Stuttgart, in surprisingly easy fashion. But since reaching the quarters here last year on her Grand Slam debut, Suárez Navarro has earned a reputation as a giant-killer at the majors. If super-intense Azarenka gets down on herself, the more easygoing Spaniard will be only too ready to take charge. But that's a big if.

More to watch...

Maria Sharapova plays qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova last up on Chatrier, while top seed Dinara Safina plays a potential Russian successor, No.27 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, on Court 1. No.20 seed Dominika Cibulkova plays Gisela Dulko on Court 2. China's Li Na, the No.25 seed, takes on Olga Govortsova of Belarus on Court 7. Defending doubles champions Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual, back as the third seeds, are also in action against Andreja Klepac and Ekaterina Dzehalevich.

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