RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There have been a few surprises at this year's French Open. Yesterday, in quarterfinal action, it was a Frenchman who provided the tennis tournament's biggest upset with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeating veteran champ Roger Federer in straight sets. On the women's side, top-ranked Serena Williams struggled but won her quarterfinal match. Defending champs, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, both play today.
For more, we turned to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. He's in Paris. Good morning.
JON WERTHEIM: Hi there.
MONTAGNE: So another early tournament lost this year for, I guess, we could call him aging champ Roger Federer yesterday. But also a bigger moment from France, wasn't it?
WERTHEIM: Yeah exactly, I mean those are some of the dual storylines. We had Roger Federer in the quarterfinal who wasn't able to win. And again, as a French television dramatized it, he was playing the unvanquishable opponent that is time. He was also playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who is a French player and a very good one. And it's been 30 years since a French male, Yannick Noah, won the French Open here. And now, Tsonga is just two matches away. So, in the next two days that's going to be the big story.
MONTAGNE: And world ranked number one, Novak Djokovic, is on the court today. And he's still grappling with the recent sad news of the death of his first coach. How is he looking?
WERTHEIM: Well, he called the death of his coach: She was a second mother to me. And he's a very emotional player and it remains to be seen whether this will galvanize him or distract him. But he did win his last match handily and dedicated to his late coach. And this is the one major that he has not won, so that's extra motivation for him. And, no, I think that's a real storyline. It'll be real interesting to see how this is off court incident will affect his play.
MONTAGNE: And Djokovic could potentially face Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, if they both make it through their matches today. Nadal was the pre-tournament favorite but he's lost some of his luster in this moment.
WERTHEIM: Whatever the French word for mojo is, Nadal has lost it at least in the first week of the tournament. He's won of this event seven times. He's going for his eighth title. He's lost one match in Paris since 2005. And yeah, he did not look like his old self for the first week. He's still in the tournament though. And no, I think you're right. I think a lot of people have circled the semifinal against Nadal and Djokovic as sort of the de facto final, that the winner will win the tournament. And it will be interesting. I mean, if Nadal does not elevate his game he will not win that match.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's quickly get to the only American still in it. That's Serena Williams. She's last won the French Open in 2002, long time ago. Is this her time again, do you think?
WERTHEIM: I think it is. And it's remarkable, I mean she hasn't even been to the semifinals until this year, for a decade. Which tells you something about her longevity here. She is the favorite to win. She had a tough match in the quarterfinals and yet she got through that. And she's really looking very strong.
MONTAGNE: And Maria Sharapova, let's don't forget her, also in the court today continuing her title defense.
WERTHEIM: She is the defending champion, as well. However she has a real block against Serena Williams. I mean, she has not beaten her in almost eight years. And I think there's this thought that as long as Serena is in the tournament, it's hers to lose.
MONTAGNE: Jon, thanks.
WERTHEIM: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Jon Wertheim writes about tennis for Sports Illustrated. He's speaking to us from the French Open. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.