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Thursday will see at least a couple of streaks on the line – Novak Djokovic’s 35 matches without defeat, 33 since the start of the season, and Rafael Nadal’s new habit of losing at least a set whenever he plays on clay. After being taken to three in the semi at Madrid by Roger Federer, he then lost in straight sets in the final to Djokovic and – most incredibly – was two games from defeat against Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi on Wednesday afternoon.
The third set of that match – which Nadal won to love – was more like the Majorcan of old, but many are beginning to think that maybe his three defeats to Djokovic this year (each time in a championship match) have created a chink in the king of clay’s armour. Whether he will be tested by his third round opponent, Feliciano Lopez, remains to be seen. Often it is easier for unheralded outsiders to play without any pressure (and indeed hope of winning) against Nadal and pull off a surprise, while solid top 20/top 30 players tend to be caught between two stools: attack and get picked apart and lose heavily, defended and get worn down and lost slightly less heavily.
Djokovic meanwhile goes from strength to strength. He too faced a lowly-ranked opponent on Tuesday in the shape of Lukasz Kubot but took him apart absolutely mercilessly. Thursday sees a remake of the 2008 final, where Stanislas Wawrinka took the opener only for Djokovic to battle back and lift the trophy – a sight most pundits expect to be repeated this year.
Roger Federer, now the forgotten man to a certain extent, dispatched the dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with a minimum of fuss on Wednesday night and will fancy his chances against another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, while Andy Murray should also be confident of overcoming Potito Starace, who will have the crowd behind him but should not pose a threat to the Scotsman.
In the women’s draw, seeds fell with alarming alacrity on Wednesday, but the top four are still standing and finding their path to the semis a lot clearer than it was 24 hours previously. Caroline Wozniacki – who sailed past Anastasia Rodionova – will face Yanina Wickmayer who merely had to wait for Ana Ivanovic to fall prey to doubts in their second round tie. 12 double faults later and the Belgian was through for a crack at the world no.1, though Wozniacki will never have a better chance at winning her first WTA Premier on clay.
Jelena Jankovic gained revenge for her Madrid defeat with a win over Lucie Safarova and will start favourite against Anabel Medina Garrigues, while Victoria Azarenka’s clash with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is one of only two where two seeds are opposed, the other being no.7 Maria Sharapova versus no.10 Shahar Peer. Francesca Schiavone, Na Li and Sam Stosur will be wary however of suffering a similar fate to Marion Bartoli, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrew Petkovic and of course Ana Ivanovic who all fell by the wayside on Wednesday.