French Open Top Seeds: Women Fall, Men Stay

A series of upsets has eliminated the top three women players before the quarter-finals for the first time ever at the French Open. But on the men's side, the top players are all still in: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Doug Robson of USA Today tells Melissa Block the latest.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to tennis and the battle on clay at the French Open. On the women's side, a series of upsets has eliminated the top three seeds before the quarterfinals. That's the first time that's ever happened at the French Open. A different story on the men's side, where the top players are all still in: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Douglas Robson is at Roland Garros covering the French Open for USA Today. Welcome to the program, Doug.

Mr. DOUGLAS ROBSON (Reporter, USA Today): Nice to be here.

BLOCK: And let's talk about all those surprises on the women's side; the top three seeds eliminated - Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijster, Vera Zvonareva. What is going on with the women?

Mr. ROBSON: Well, before the tournament started it looked like it was good to be up for grabs and it certainly lived up to that billing. Obviously, there's a big vacuum here with players like Venus and Serena Williams missing, but no one is really stepped up and seized the mantle here in the women's game. And we've seeing that being played out here on the red clay of Paris.

BLOCK: Let's talk about those who are still in, who advanced to the quarterfinals - last year's surprise champion, the Italian Francesca Schiavone and the first Chinese player ever to reach the quarterfinals, the number six seed, Li Na.

Mr. ROBSON: Yeah. Well, Schiavone was such a great story last year and most people remember after she won the finals she kissed the clay. You know, and we said, well, you know, she had her moment in the sun. She was 30 years old, you know, not light likely to happen again. But with the way this draw is shaping up, she looks like someone that could actually come back and repeat, which none of us would have foreseen in the last few months.

And Li Na is a really strong, aggressive player who made the Australian Open finals. She sort of struggled after that. She said mentally she just was kind of out of it. But she's had a solid clay court season, and now she looks like she might do so more damage here in Paris.

BLOCK: And on the women's side, who else looks good to you, Doug?

Mr. ROBSON: Well, Maria Sharapova who just won her fourth-round match is someone who has not really had a great clay court credentials, but she won a big tournament coming into the French Open. She described herself in the past on clay as being a cow on ice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBSON: So it's not her favorite surface. But she has the mental capacity to go all the way here. And if she wins, she'd complete a career grand slam, which is a pretty rare feat.

BLOCK: Well, Doug, let's talk about the men's side now. Last year's winner, Rafael Nadal, how does he look this year in 2011?

Mr. ROBSON: Rafael Nadal has only lost once in his entire career in Paris. He's 42-and-one, but he's looked like a shaken man this year. He comes into the tournament trying to tie Bjorn Borg's record for six French Open titles.

But his last two press conferences have been eye-opening. He's kind of bared his soul. He said I'm not playing well enough to win this tournament. He describes himself the other day as being a 25-year-old who felt like 100 from the pressure and all the matches he's played.

This is stunning stuff to hear from a player who most people consider the best competitor in the sport.

BLOCK: Wow, it's really stunning when you think about that in comparison with what the number two seed, the Serbian Novak Djokovic is saying. He says: I'm definitely playing the best tennis of my life. And it's a great story line: he's won 43 straight matches, 41-and-0 in 2011.

Mr. ROBSON: Djokovic really is the story. And the streak is the story of the year. I mean, he has answered the bell at every call this season. He's beaten everyone on every surface.

He knocked off Nadal twice in clay court finals. And he looks unflappable; two more wins and he's going to break John McEnroe's Open era record for the best start of a tennis season and. And if he makes the finals here in Paris, he'll also secure the number one ranking, which no one has owned in the sport besides Federer or Nadal since 2004.

BLOCK: Well, enjoy the rest of the French Open.

Mr. ROBSON: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's the Douglas Robson of USA Today, covering the French Open in Paris.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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