Sifting through the charred ashes left behind by the implosions of Djokovic, Murray, and Del Potro, a visitor to the Paris Masters might consider the tournament’s latter rounds a dystopian fantasy of what men’s tennis might look like without the legendary top four. Through a brighter lens, though, the next few days will allow fans to see pairings of players unfamiliar with each other and relatively unaccustomed to the magnitude of their surroundings. Those circumstances might prove a recipe for drama as each quarterfinalist copes with the pressure of capitalizing on a rare opportunity.
Simon vs. Berdych: Whereas the former relaxed on Thursday following a walkover from Nishikori, the latter edged through a three-set comeback against Anderson. Adding to the Frenchman’s confidence on the eve of his clash with the sixth seed is his lead in their head-to-head meetings, although three years have elapsed since their last. Then, in retrospect, Simon’s career had reached its peak with a series of upsets over elite opponents, while Berdych still awaited a breakthrough that would arrive the next year. Not stunning in either of his first two matches, the Czech deserves credit for surviving a surprisingly inspired effort from the towering South African, who often stripped the initiative from him early in points. Back to a more comfortable role as the undisputed aggressor, Berdych must focus on pinning Simon behind the baseline and then finding ways to finish points either with angles or coming to the net. The atypically slow court in Bercy will allow the home hope more time to ignite a war of attrition, where he will hold an advantage if he can orient rallies from backhand to backhand. But the former champion has displayed a patient, poised approach in matters large and small for most of the fall, and it should serve him well here.
Janowicz vs. Tipsarevic: In a startling rags-to-riches narrative, Janowicz burst from the qualifying draw to win three main-draw matches over Kohlschreiber, Cilic, and finally Murray. A nation known largely for women’s tennis and for the explosive doubles squad of Fyrstenberg/Matkowski, Poland never has produced an ATP singles player of significance. Janowicz’s relentless serve and equally relentless confidence under pressure can remind one of a more controlled Rosol, and his gritty rally from saving match point in the second set against Murray may mark a turning points in a hitherto unremarkable career. Likely to reach the top 40 with a victory over Tipsarevic, he faces the challenge of harnessing his elation from Thursday’s upset to record another against a less prominent but still heavily favored opponent. Little remains at stake for the second-ranked Serb, who clinched his London berth (the first on his own merits) with a rollercoaster victory over Monaco. Always an enigmatic competitor, the Jeyll-and-Hyde Tipsarevic could methodically dismantle Janowicz with his superior experience or let his thoughts drift towards next week as the qualifier’s intensity burns through him.
Tsonga vs. Ferrer: The only quarterfinal between two seeded players, this match marks just their third career meeting and remarkably their first on a hard court. As most would expect, Ferrer won their only clay meeting comfortably, while Tsonga returned the favor with ease at Wimbledon. Each endured a three-set victory more arduous than expected here, and either would enter the semifinal as a clear favorite against an unseeded opponent. Buoyed by the home crowd, Tsonga won the title here in 2008 and reached the final in 2011 at an event known for recent overachievements by home players. On the other hand, Ferrer quietly has compiled the best season of his career with quarterfinal appearances or better at every major and six total titles. Like Simon, this counterpuncher should aim to expose the unreliable backhand of his more powerful foe before the latter’s massive forehands batter him off the court. Although the Spaniard showed adept net skills in closing out Wawrinka, he should gain greater success by digging into his trenches behind the baseline and locating his passing shots crisply when the Frenchman rumbles to the net. Since both men have struggled dismally all season against rivals of their quality, one man’s drought will end on Friday as another man’s futility continues.
Llodra vs. Querrey: Count the scalps collected by this pair of sharpshooters: Djokovic, Del Potro, Isner, Raonic. Thoroughly earning their appearances in the quarterfinals, these unheralded figures combined to sweep aside all four seeds in their section. Able to defuse the towering serve of another American, Llodra will feel optimistic regarding his prospects of setting up his second semifinal here in three years. A lefty doubles specialist with a quirky personality, he will pose a contrast in flair (or the lack thereof) with the straightforward Querrey. The second-ranked American impressed by following his startling upset over Djokovic with a solid performance against Raonic, withstanding the temptation to bask overnight in his accomplishment. Despite their different characters, Llodra and Querrey both anchor their games behind serves that set up the first stroke, often a volley for Llodra and usually a forehand for Querrey. Limited in their defensive abilities, they should unleash a series of short, sharp exchanges reminiscent of the matches that unfolded on this court in its swifter incarnations. The rankings would suggest that the American should receive the edge, but the Paris crowd and Llodra’s success in unsettling Querrey’s friend Isner incline one to envision an upset.